As Hamas rocket attacks extending to Jerusalem threatened to take the conflict with Israel to a ground assault, President Obama may have his professed commitment to Israel tested.
And an apparently wary Capitol Hill has been laboring this week — despite the overshadowing issues ranging from the fiscal cliff to the Petraeus scandal to Benghazi — to ensure that America doesn’t neglect its vow to be an unwavering ally of the Jewish state.
The House quickly, with unanimous consent, passed a resolution introduced today by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Ranking Member Howard Berman (D-Calif.), both ardent supporters of Israel, expressing vigorous support for Israel’s survival as a Jewish and democratic state and strongly supporting its right to act in self-defense.
“Israel’s enemies will surely push for the UN to condemn and pressure Israel for protecting its citizens,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “Therefore, the United States must stand with our ally Israel and defend it on the world stage. The administration must unequivocally support Israel’s right to self-defense and oppose all anti-Israel efforts at the UN. At this critical time, there must be no doubt that America has Israel’s back.”
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) spoke on the House floor, where Hoyer reminded lawmakers if Mexico or Canada fired missiles at the U.S., “We would not stand for it for one minute.”
“Since the beginning of 2012, Hamas has launched more than 900 rockets at the state of Israel,” Wasserman Schultz said. “Three hundred forty of these were in the past several days alone. In the face of this brutality, Israel, like any nation, has the right and the duty to protect her citizens from unwarranted violence and destruction.”
An identical resolution introduced in the upper chamber by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) passed last night.
“We strongly reiterate our support for Israel’s right to self-defense as a barrage of missiles from Gaza are attacking the people of Israel and endangering innocent lives,” said Gillibrand.
“The passage of this resolution sends a strong and clear message that the United States stands in solidarity with the State of Israel,” Kirk said.
AIPAC saluted “the resolute stance of the Senate and the House in standing by our democratic ally, Israel.”
“Israel has shown tremendous restraint in the face of the unceasing rocket and mortar fire launched from Gaza,” said the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman. “This operation is directly targeting the leadership responsible for these attacks, as well as the warehouses and facilities housing their weapons. No country in the world would stand by and tolerate such attacks on more than a million civilians.”
While Congress is clearly willing to hold the line, will the White House?
Obama’s day was centered around fiscal cliff negotiations, but he did speak with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan about “the escalating violence in Israel and the Gaza Strip.”
“The two leaders shared their concerns about the dangers to civilian populations on both sides and expressed their common desire to see an end to the violence,” the White House said in a readout.
Obama spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi by phone on Wednesday.
“The President urged Prime Minister Netanyahu to make every effort to avoid civilian casualties. The two agreed that Hamas needs to stop its attacks on Israel to allow the situation to de-escalate,” said a statement from the press secretary. “The President also spoke with President Morsi given Egypt’s central role in preserving regional security. In their conversation, President Obama condemned the rocket fire from Gaza into Israel and reiterated Israel’s right to self-defense.”
Obama called Netanyahu again today, the White House announced this evening, for an update.
“The Prime Minister expressed his deep appreciation to the President and the American people for the United States’ investment in the Iron Dome rocket and mortar defense system, which has effectively defeated hundreds of incoming rockets from Gaza and saved countless Israeli lives,” said the statement from the office of the press secretary. “The President reiterated U.S. support for Israel’s right to defend itself, and expressed regret over the loss of Israeli and Palestinian civilian lives. The two leaders discussed options for de-escalating the situation.”
The president also rang Morsi again.
“The President commended Egypt’s efforts to de-escalate the situation and expressed his hope that these efforts would be successful. The President expressed regret for the loss of Israeli and Palestinian civilian lives, and underscored the importance of resolving the situation as quickly as possible to restore stability and prevent further loss of life,” the White House said.