White House reaffirms Israel backing but says ‘we don’t seek war with Iran’

US officials on Sunday sought to strike a delicate balance with Israel after the key US ally was attacked by Iran on Saturday, staunchly affirming their alliance with the Israelis while also making it clear the US will not support further military action.

Iran launched the air assault with drones and missiles after Israel attacked an Iran diplomatic facility in Syria, killing senior military figures. Israel’s air defense almost entirely dealt with the barrage – with almost no damage or casualties on the ground.

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Appearing on the Sunday political talkshows, John Kirby, the spokesman for Joe Biden’s National Security Council, said the United States would continue to defend Israel but did want to escalate conflict in the region.

“I think the president was, again, very clear with Prime Minister Netanyahu about the success they enjoyed last night and the impact that that success ought to have,” Kirby said on Meet the Press on NBC News. “As the president said, we don’t seek a war with Iran.”

The dynamic further underscores the complex and relationship that has emerged between Biden and Netanyahu since the October 7 attacks on Israel. Biden has escalated criticism of Netanyahu amid the growing humanitarian in crisis, calling the prime minister’s handling of the matter “a mistake”.

Joe Biden released a statement Saturday evening describing “America’s iron-clad commitment to the security of Israel.” Biden said Israel had made it clear it could defend and defeat “unprecedented attacks” and had sent a blunt message to enemies that it could defend itself.

Leaders of the G7 countries are meeting on Sunday to come up with a “diplomatic response to Iran’s brazen attack”.

But privately, Biden and other national security officials have told Israel they would not join further military action against Iran, CNN, Axios, and the New York Times reported.

Biden reportedly told Netanyahu that Israel should ultimately see the successful defense against nearly 300 drones and missiles as a victory.

“You got a win. Take the win,” Biden reportedly told Netanyahu, according to Axios.

Netanyahu convened the country’s war cabinet on Sunday to consider next steps. Iran has warned it will respond with an even stronger attack if Israel or the United States retaliates.

The Florida senator Marco Rubio, the top Republican on the senate intelligence committee, accused Biden of caving to political pressure to “appease these so-called peace activists. The cease fire now people who were out yesterday cheering the launch of hundreds of rockets and drones against Israel.”

“They know that Israel is going to respond. They know this for a fact,” he said during an interview on CNN’s State of the Union. “There’s only one reason they would leak that. And that is so when Israel does respond, the White House can say ‘we told them not to do it.’”

Pressed by NBC’s Kristen Welker on whether Biden trusted Netanyahu’s judgment on how to respond to Israel’s attack, Kirby declined to say.

“He’s the prime minister of Israel. He’s the elected leader of their government. We’re going to continue to work with him, advise him, provide counsel and perspective, as well as make clear he knows – and I think he does certainly from last night – that the United States will continue to help them defend themselves,” he said.

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