Biden faces twin crisis: Possible US hostages and risk of wider conflict after Hamas attack

There will be questions for President Biden about how his intelligence services missed signals of the attack, ITV News' US correspondent Dan Rivers reports

This crisis poses an acute challenge for President Joe Biden.

US citizens are among the victims and it seems they are probably also among the hostages too.

He only was told about the unfolding carnage in the Middle East when he woke on Saturday morning at 7.30am, several hours after the attacks were launched, giving ammunition to his enemies who will accuse him of literally being asleep at the wheel.

Why his national security team chose not to wake him earlier is not clear.

What is increasingly apparent though is that the fate of the US citizens caught up in this crisis will pose a significant challenge to the way his administration reacts this week.

Israel and the US are still very close allies. Credit: AP

Already the most powerful ship in the US Navy, the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R.Ford is heading to the eastern Mediterranean, along with five other Navy ships, in a bold show of strength.

It will provide a potent symbol of deterrence, in case Hezbollah decides it wants to expand this war from Israel’s northern border with Lebanon.

President Biden’s unflinching support for Israel was immediate.

But there will be searching questions for him over the next few days about how his intelligence services missed the signals this carnage was about to be unleashed.

There is growing evidence that Iran had signed off on this plot a few days ago; that both Israel and the United States missed this key bit of chatter is breathtaking.

The USS Gerald R.Ford, alongside a strike group, has been ordered to sail to assist Israel after a surprise Hamas attack. Credit: AP

But it will also force President Biden to formulate a plan for punishing Iran.

Russia is now a key ally of Iran’s, supporting each other and President Assad, in Syria.

It makes weighing the delicate decision of how to react even more difficult.

The axis of potential enemies ranged against both the United States and Israel is formidable. The potential for this to widen and escalate is considerable.

One key interlocutor will be Qatar which has strong relations with both Hamas and the US.

It’s too early to talk about negotiations when blood is still being spilt in Israeli streets, but Qatar has the leverage to potentially broker a ceasefire between the two sides. It won’t be before Israel has exacted a humiliating price from Hamas first.

Palestinians scour the debris from the rubble of a building after it was struck by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City. Credit: AP

The United States has already promised Israel munitions and equipment.

At present there is no suggestion it will also offer personnel, but there is plenty of potential for the US to be dragged into this war by miscalculation or provocation.

Even without that dramatic step, America and Iran will find themselves in a proxy war fought between Hamas and Israel.

What victory looks like for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also not clear. If Israel completely reoccupies Gaza, what then?

The risk that Hezbollah will launch attacks on Israel from the north is significant. It could draw in Syria, and potentially Iran more directly.

At what point will the US be forced to commit combat power in the form of aircraft or missiles.

That will put on an even greater target on US citizens elsewhere in the region.

There are already reports of attacks on foreign tourists in Alexandria in Egypt.

It feels like this may be a momentous and bleak week in the Middle East.

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