Biden tells Netanyahu US will not participate in counter-strike against Iran

Alex Brandon/AP

President Joe Biden speaks to the National Action Network Convention remotely from the South Court Auditorium of the White House on April 12, 2024.


President Joe Biden and senior members of his national security team, seeking to contain the risk of a wider regional war following a barrage of Iranian missiles and drones directed toward Israel, have told their counterparts the US will not participate in any offensive action against Iran, according to US officials familiar with the matter.

In a conversation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu late Saturday, Biden sought to frame Israel’s successful interception of the Iranian onslaught as a major victory — with the suggestion that further Israeli response was unnecessary.

Biden told the Israeli prime minister in his phone call that he should consider Saturday a win because Iran’s attacks had been largely unsuccessful and demonstrated Israel’s superior military capability, a senior administration official said.

John Kirby, the White House national security spokesman, said Sunday the ability to prevent widespread damage was a demonstration of Israel’s “military superiority” and proof that Iran was not the “military power that they claim to be.”

“This was an incredible success, really proving Israel’s military superiority and just as critically, their diplomatic superiority, that they have friends in the region, that they have around the world that are willing to help them,” Kirby told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin asked his Israeli counterpart, Minister Yoav Gallant, to notify the US ahead of any potential response to the Iranian attack, according to another US official.

Even as American officials stressed to their counterparts that the final decision on how to respond to Iran is up to Israel, Biden has sought to prevent a wider escalation of the conflict.

On Sunday, he planned to convene a meeting of fellow Group of Seven leaders to discuss a “united diplomatic response” — with the emphasis on non-military actions that would limit the prospects of a wider war.

“I told him that Israel demonstrated a remarkable capacity to defend against and defeat even unprecedented attacks — sending a clear message to its foes that they cannot effectively threaten the security of Israel,” Biden said in a statement following his conversation with Netanyahu.

Israeli Prime Minister’s Office

In this handout photo, released early Sunday local time, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talks on the phone with US President Joe Biden. Portions of this photo have been blurred by the source.

Whether Netanyahu takes Biden’s advice remains an open question. The Iranian reprisals came at a moment of deep tension between the men over the war in Gaza. Throughout that conflict, the limits of American influence on Israeli decision-making have been laid bare.

Iran’s decision to fire weapons from its own territory toward Israel significantly ratchets up the long-simmering enmity between the two countries. There will likely be political pressure from inside Israel for some type of response.

Kirby said the attack — the first launched from Iranian soil against Israel — did not necessarily have to constitute the start of a broader regional war.

“We don’t believe it is nor do we believe it has to be,” he told Tapper, noting that the US and Israel both had a good sense of what Iran was planning to do ahead of time.

Gallant warned Sunday that the confrontation with Iran is “not over yet.” The country’s response options are expected to be discussed in detail during a meeting of Israel’s war cabinet meeting.

The Commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Hossein Salami, warned that Tehran would respond directly if Israel retaliates, saying a “new equation” had been created.

This story and headline have been updated with additional reporting.

CNN’s Catherine Nicholls and Tamar Michaelis contributed to this report.

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