Joe Biden's Middle East diplomatic drive faltered before it got off the ground Tuesday after his trip to Jordan was canceled following a strike on a Gaza hospital that killed hundreds of people.
The 80-year-old US president will now only head to ally Israel to show support after the October 7 Hamas attack, upending what was meant to be regional balancing act.
The trip was always set to be the riskiest of Biden's presidency, as he tried to thread the needle between backing Israel with trying to avert a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, and preventing a regional conflagration.
News of the hospital explosion -- for which Hamas blamed Israeli strikes, while Israel said it was caused by a rocket misfired by militants in Gaza -- then sparked frenzied speculation about whether he would actually travel.
And about the time Biden climbed the steps of Air Force One, Jordan announced that the planned four-way summit with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, Jordanian King Abdullah II and Egypt's president was off.
It would be held "when the decision to stop the war and put an end to these massacres has been taken," said Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi.
Shortly afterwards the White House confirmed Biden "will postpone his travel to Jordan," saying he took the decision "after consulting with King Abdullah II of Jordan and in light of the days of mourning announced by President Abbas."
Biden also sent his "deepest condolences" to the victims of the "hospital explosion," it said.
By that time the strike on the Ahli Arab hospital, in which Gaza officials said at least 200 people were killed, had already become a lightning rod for anger across the region.
Furious protesters tried to storm the Israeli embassy in Amman where Biden was due to meet the other leaders.
And Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah called for a "day of rage" over the strike to coincide with Biden's arrival, fueling fears of the very escalation by Tehran and its allies that Biden's visit is supposed to warn against.
- 'Critical moment' -
The timing could hardly have been worse for the 80-year-old Biden as he takes one of the biggest gambles of his long political career.
"He's coming here at a critical moment for Israel, for the region and for the world," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said early Tuesday as he announced Biden's visit during his own marathon diplomatic drive.
Even before the hospital attack, the New York Times called it a "trip fraught with risks".
Blinken said the president wanted to show "ironclad" support for Israel after Hamas burst through its heavily fortified Gaza border on October 7, shooting, stabbing and burning to death more than 1,400 people, most of them civilians.
Biden has said Israel has a "duty" to eliminate Hamas.
But the Democratic president deliberated carefully before accepting the invitation to visit from right-winger Netanyahu, who has ordered preparations for what is expected to be a bloody ground offensive against Hamas in Gaza.
The two leaders spoke after the hospital strike on Tuesday, the White House said, without revealing further details.
There was always a risk that by coming to Tel Aviv Biden would find himself too closely associated with the days-long Israeli bombardment of Gaza, which has leveled swaths of the enclave and killed more than 3,000 people.
Biden has in recent days increased pressure on Israel to protect civilian lives from the air strikes and a siege that has left Gaza at risk of a humanitarian disaster.
Anger over the hospital strike could meanwhile undermine the wider purpose of Biden's visit as he tries to prevent the Israel-Hamas war engulfing the wider Middle East.
Biden has warned Iran and Hezbollah not to get involved and has dispatched two aircraft carriers to the eastern Mediterranean to deter them.
Hezbollah, an ally of Hamas, called on fellow Muslims and Arabs to "move immediately to streets and squares to express intense anger" on Wednesday over the hospital strike.