US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reassured Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Washington’s support during his visit to the Middle East, with the aim of preventing the conflict with Palestinian Hamas militants from spreading.
Blinken embarked on a multi-country Middle East tour as Israel unleashed its most powerful bombing campaign in the 75-year history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in retribution for Hamas attacks over the weekend. Israel vowed to annihilate Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.
During his trip, Blinken also sought to help secure the release of hostages kidnapped by Hamas, including some who are believed to be Americans, and aimed to advance talks with Israelis and Egyptians regarding providing a safe passage for Gaza civilians out of the enclave, potentially before an Israeli ground invasion.
The trip also conveyed a deterrence message to Iran, which backs Hamas, not to get involved in the conflict. Upon landing in Tel Aviv, Blinken assured Netanyahu, saying, “We’re here, we’re not going anywhere,” according to footage from Netanyahu’s office.
After Israel, Blinken planned to visit Jordan to meet with King Abdullah and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The trip was expected to continue to other Arab countries, though specific destinations were not disclosed by US officials.
The recent events were sparked by the deadliest attack on Jewish civilians since the Holocaust, as hundreds of Hamas gunmen poured across the barrier fence and rampaged through Israeli towns on Saturday.
Israel announced that there would be no humanitarian break in its siege of the Gaza Strip until all hostages taken by Hamas were freed.
A senior State Department official stated that Washington was working to facilitate talks on providing safe passage for civilians, including Palestinian Americans in Gaza. The official mentioned that approximately 500 to 600 Palestinian Americans reside in Gaza, some of whom wish to leave.
Ensuring that the conflict doesn’t expand has been a top priority for Washington. Blinken engaged with regional allies who have connections to Iran and Iran-backed groups, asking them to advise Tehran to stay out of the conflict.
US President Joe Biden also signalled to Iran, stating that the deployment of US warships and aircraft closer to Israel should be seen as a warning. Iran had previously criticised US interference in the region. Biden said, “We made it clear to the Iranians: Be careful.”