Fact Check

Did Biden Say if Israel Didn't Exist, the US 'Would Have To Invent an Israel'?

The then-senator called Israel “the best $3 billion investment” the U.S. made.

Published Feb 8, 2024

 (Reagan White House Photographs/Wikimedia Commons)
Image Via Reagan White House Photographs/Wikimedia Commons
Claim:
In 1986, then-U.S. Sen. Joe Biden said, “[Supporting Israel] is the best $3 billion investment we make. Were there not an Israel, the United States of America would have to invent an Israel to protect her interests in the region.”

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In late 2023 and into 2024, as the Israel-Hamas conflict continued, a number of social media posts highlighted U.S. President Joe Biden’s longtime support of Israel. Many such posts sought to criticize him for that support as the number of Palestinians killed in Gaza by Israeli bombardment approached more than 27,000.

The posts included an old video clip of then-U.S. Sen. Biden from 1986 in which he allegedly said, “[Supporting Israel] is the best $3 billion investment we make. Were there not an Israel, the United States of America would have to invent an Israel to protect her interests in the region.”


(Screenshot via X)

Biden indeed said the above words, in the context of opposing an arms sale to Saudi Arabia. He argued that sending weapons to that country would compromise Israel's security.

Biden was arguing during a Senate debate for overriding a presidential veto pertaining to arms sales in Saudi Arabia. In May 1986, then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan had vetoed a congressional resolution that sought to block his request to sell advanced missiles to Saudi Arabia.

Biden supported the prohibition of arms sales to Saudi Arabia and called on the Senate to override Reagan’s veto because it would put Saudi Arabia in the position of having to support their “Arab brethren” against Israel. The quote in question emerged at the end of Biden’s statement, transcribed below.

Around three hours' worth of the Senate debate, including Biden’s full statement, is available for viewing on C-SPAN. We transcribed sections of Biden’s speech below (emphasis, ours):

Quite frankly, the Saudis are an 80-member family oligarchy that finds themselves adrift in the midst of an Islamic revolution, the consequences of which they do not comprehend any more than we [...] the government of Saudi Arabia, is the anachronism of the 20th century in the Middle East, and the fact of the matter is [...] the Saudis have no choice but to fund the PLO. The Saudis have no choice but to be supportive of their Arab brethren. The Saudis have no choice but to do that for in fact, about 55,000 Palestinians control the infrastructure of Saudi Arabia. They literally have their hands on the spigots [...] that control the oil. And so I would suggest to my colleagues we should not be viewing this so much in terms of whether or not the Saudis are good guys or bad guys. We should view it in terms of what is realistic. Madam President, it is this senator's opinion that it is totally unrealistic to expect the Saudis—with or without our help in terms of arms sales—to do anything other than maintain a policy which they have had, which is one that is not particularly helpful to our interest. And furthermore, I would suggest to my colleagues in the Senate that we're doing a disservice to Saudi Arabia. [...] For I believe the Saudis do not want to have a war with Israel. But I believe once we send their arsenal soaring in terms of sophisticated weapons, they will be put in the untenable position the next time there is a conflict in the region, of having to get directly involved, of having to move with their Arab brethren. For if they don't, they will be moved.

Biden went on to argue that the U.S. should support Saudi Arabia through other means, including helping its internal security, and concluded by saying Israel could not afford to have an unstable Saudi Arabia either (emphasis, ours):

We do not have a Middle East foreign policy at this moment and to suggest that we are going to substitute an arms sales package for a policy in the name of trying to suggest that this is a litmus test once again. I've been here 14 years. I'm tired of being subjected to a litmus test by the Saudis. Litmus test by anyone else. We should operate and move in what is the naked self interest of the United States of America. And if we wish to help the Saudis, what we should be doing for Saudi Arabia is helping them with their infrastructure as it relates to their domestic security requirements. [...] We should be dealing with their ability to protect their own internal security from within. [...] if we look at the Middle East, I think it's about time we stopped those of us who support—as most of us do—Israel in this body, for apologizing for our support for Israel. There's no apology to be made. None. It is the best $3 billion investment we make. Were there not an Israel, the United States of America would have to invent an Israel to protect her interests in the region.

In June 1986, the Senate voted to uphold Reagan’s veto with a narrow margin of a single vote. However, opponents of the arms sale also claimed a victory because the overall package of sales was reduced significantly.

This was not the only time Biden used such language to describe his support for Israel. In 2020, Israeli newspaper Haaretz revealed a 1986 document detailing Biden's meeting with Israel's ambassador in Washington, D.C. In the meeting, Biden was thanked for supporting aid to Israel, to which Biden reportedly said, “That’s our best investment, where we get the biggest bang for our buck."

Sources

Levinson, Chaim. “Rare 1986 Document Reveals Biden’s Views on Israel and Saudi Arabia.” Haaretz, 28 Dec. 2020. Haaretz, https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/2020-12-28/ty-article/rare-1986-document-reveals-bidens-views-on-israel-and-saudi-arabia/0000017f-f2ca-d8a1-a5ff-f2ca769b0000. Accessed 8 Feb. 2024.

Osgood, Brian and Linah Alsaafin, Tamila Varshalomidze. “UN: 300k in North Gaza at Risk of Famine as Israel Continues to Block Aid.” Al Jazeera, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/liveblog/2024/2/8/israels-war-on-gaza-live-us-says-space-for-truce-deal-israel-vows-war. Accessed 8 Feb. 2024.

Roberts, Steven V. “PRESIDENT VETOES EFFORT TO BLOCK ARMS FOR SAUDIS.” The New York Times, 22 May 1986. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/1986/05/22/world/president-vetoes-effort-to-block-arms-for-saudis.html. Accessed 8 Feb. 2024.

"Senate Session." June 5, 1986 | C-SPAN.Org. https://www.c-span.org/video/?45851-1/senate-session. Accessed 8 Feb. 2024.
 

Nur Nasreen Ibrahim is a reporter with experience working in television, international news coverage, fact checking, and creative writing.