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Blinken Seeks to Avert Wider Mideast War Amid Ongoing Israel-Gaza Fighting

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Jan 5, 2024

Secretary of State Embarks on Regional Tour Aiming to Deescalate Tensions

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken departed Thursday on a high-stakes trip to the Middle East, seeking to ease tensions and prevent the ongoing fighting between Israel and Gaza militants from spiraling into a wider regional war.

Blinken’s trip comes amid some of the worst violence between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants in Gaza since the 2014 war. Over 90 Palestinians have been killed in the latest flare-up, which erupted in late December after Israel launched a wave of airstrikes targeting the militant Islamic Jihad group. Hamas eventually joined in rocket attacks against Israel.

At least 12 people have died in Israel from rocket fire. Israeli airstrikes have pummeled Gaza, damaging critical infrastructure and displacing over 40,000 residents.

As he set off, Blinken said he spoke with leaders on both sides and urged deescalation. “There is a very real risk right now of seeing the conflicts spread, see more deaths,” he told reporters.

First Stop Ankara for Talks with Turkey

Blinken’s first stop on his six-nation tour was Ankara for talks with Turkish officials on Thursday, before heading to Greece on Friday.

Turkey has significant influence with Hamas and other groups in Gaza. Blinken likely pressed Turkish officials to use that leverage to rein in rocket fire from militants. He also discussed plans for Turkish assistance in Gaza recovery efforts once hostilities wind down.

Bringing Turkey on board is key to resolving the Gaza crisis and preventing other regional actors like Iran-backed Hezbollah from jumping into the fray.

Blinken’s talks in Ankara were overshadowed by recent Turkish strikes against Kurdish militants in Syria and Iraq that potentially set the stage for a new regional crisis. He expressed “strong opposition” to those attacks, while Ankara defended its right to self-defense against terrorism.

Raising alarms in Congress over widening conflict

Blinken’s trip alarmed some in Congress who worry about the U.S. being dragged further into the Israeli-Palestinian morass.

“This seems like we’re on the brink of another war,” said Senator Chris Murphy. “It is incumbent on the administration to start being more honest with the American people about why this cycle happens every two years.”

The White House stressed Blinken aims to contain the violence, address urgent humanitarian needs in Gaza, and rejuvenate the long-dormant peace process. “This is not about picking sides,” Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Thursday, noting the complex dynamics at play.

Party Position
White House Seeks to contain violence, address humanitarian crisis, restart peace talks
Congressional Democrats Concerned about deeper U.S. entanglement absent progress on peace
Republicans Blame Biden policies for emboldening militants, support unconditional Israeli military actions

Greece and Jordan Next Up

From Ankara, Blinken will travel to Athens for additional talks aimed at easing Turkish-Greek tensions over natural gas drilling rights in the Eastern Mediterranean. Preventing crises on the maritime front is vital given current dangers of contagion from the Gaza violence.

Amman is slated next on Blinken’s itinerary, where he will confer with King Abdullah II on containing the Gaza conflict and addressing the precarious status of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

Jordan has been pivotal in administering holy sites in Jerusalem while backing a two-state solution. But its role is complicated by internal unrest and protests tied to economic hardship exacerbated by refugee flows.

High-Stakes Visit to Israel and West Bank

Blinken then heads to Israel and the West Bank at the height of hostilities between Israeli forces and Gaza militants. He will meet Israeli officials in Jerusalem and Palestinian leaders in Ramallah.

His message will be firm: violence must stop on both sides. Blinken will also push leaders to allow aid into devastated areas of Gaza still under Israeli blockade since 2007. Israel is likely to condition aid and reconstruction on Gaza militants halting rocket attacks.

On the critical issue of reopening border crossings for humanitarian supplies, Blinken is expected to link that firmly to a ceasefire and cessation of militant rocket barrages.

Restoring calm is the immediate priority. But Blinken will also explore possibly restarting moribund peace talks should violence abate. With former Netanyahu ally Benny Gantz now prime minister, there is modest optimism the political terrain may have shifted somewhat.

Arab Allies and Hezbollah Threats

The remaining stops on Blinken’s tour are Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt. The administration considers those nations key to achieving deescalation in Gaza and sidelining potential spoilers.

Blinken’s message will be two-fold. He will ask Arab allies to condemn rocket attacks from Gaza and use their contacts with Hamas to secure an enduring ceasefire. However, he will also push those states to press Israel to improve humanitarian access and conditions in Gaza as violence wanes.

Looming in the background is Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah movement, which has threatened retaliation against Israel over apparent drone strikes on its Beirut stronghold last summer. For now, Hezbollah voices suggest the group wishes to avoid another bruising conflict with Israel. But Blinken will undoubtedly seek assurances while in Beirut that such restraint remains in place.

With stakes enormously high, the administration is urging all sides to step back from the brink. The region sits atop a tinderbox that could ignite a war well beyond Gaza should the wrong spark hit at the wrong time. U.S. officials hope Blinken’s shuttle diplomacy bears fruit, but they acknowledge that words alone may simply not be enough this time.

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By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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