By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden said on Saturday the United States was ready to offer “all appropriate means of support” to Israel after an attack from Palestinian Islamist group Hamas and warned “any other party hostile to Israel” not to seek advantage.
The attack from the Iran-backed militant group erupted amid efforts by Biden and his team to negotiate a landmark normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia and a U.S.-Saudi defense pact.
Biden spoke by phone to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday to offer U.S. support, with scenes of violence playing out on American news networks. The two leaders have had strained relations but met in New York last month in a showing of solidarity.
“I made clear to Prime Minister Netanyahu that we stand ready to offer all appropriate means of support to the Government and people of Israel,” Biden said in a statement issued after their call.
Biden also issued a blunt warning.
“Israel has a right to defend itself and its people. The United States warns against any other party hostile to Israel seeking advantage in this situation,” he said.
The violence came as Washington was in disarray: Republicans are looking for a successor to ousted Speaker Kevin McCarthy of the House of Representatives, and a budget showdown looms with Biden and his Democrats that could lead to a government shutdown in about 40 days.
Biden was briefed early on Saturday about the events in Israel and White House officials worked through the night monitoring them, an official said.
Republicans seeking to oust Biden in the 2024 presidential election were quick to criticize his handling of the situation.
“Iran has helped fund this war against Israel, and Joe Biden’s policies that have gone easy on Iran has helped to fill their coffers. Israel is now paying the price for those policies,” said Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican running for his party’s presidential nomination.
DeSantis appeared to be referring to a prisoner swap deal the Biden administration arranged with Iran last month. Under the deal, the United States waived sanctions to allow the transfer of $6 billion in Iranian funds from South Korea to Qatar, a step needed to carry out the U.S.-Iran prisoner swap.
A Biden administration official said not a dollar of the $6 billion has been spent yet. The money is intended solely for humanitarian purposes.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; editing by Diane Craft)