In a diplomatic mission aimed at addressing escalating tensions in the Middle East, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has commenced a tour of Arab capitals. His primary objective is to garner support from Arab nations to exert pressure on Hamas, while Israel stands ready for a significant military operation in the Gaza Strip in response to recent attacks by the militant group.
Blinken’s itinerary includes meetings with key regional leaders. His first stops are in Amman, where he will meet Jordan’s King Abdullah II, a long-standing US partner, and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas. From there, he will proceed to Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates.
On Thursday, Blinken was in Tel Aviv, where he expressed unwavering support for Israel, a key US ally, following the surprise offensive by Hamas on October 7. This attack resulted in the loss of over 1,200 lives and the taking of approximately 150 hostages.
The United States has publicly endorsed Israel’s retaliatory actions. On Friday, Israel called for the immediate relocation of 1.1 million people residing in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, which has been under an Israeli blockade. Tragically, the conflict has led to the deaths of over 1,400 individuals in Gaza and the severance of crucial supplies such as food, water, and electricity.
Qatar, Blinken’s next destination, has historic ties with Hamas and has previously acted as an intermediary in hostage release negotiations.
Blinken stressed his commitment to diplomatic efforts, stating, “We’ll continue pressing countries to help prevent the conflict from spreading and to use their leverage with Hamas to immediately and unconditionally release the hostages.” He also emphasized the importance of achieving a more peaceful, prosperous, secure, and integrated region.
The dynamics of the Middle East have been further complicated by Saudi Arabia’s recent positive comments about US-led efforts to normalize relations with Israel. However, given the recent violence, both Saudi Arabia and Qatar have pointed to Israeli policies towards the Palestinians as a root cause of the current escalation.
US officials are collaborating with Egypt, which shares a border with Gaza and was the first Arab nation to make peace with Israel, to establish a safety corridor for Gaza residents seeking refuge.
Blinken also mentioned discussions with Israel about creating safe passages for civilians who wish to leave or seek shelter in Gaza.
Involving Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Palestinian Authority governs parts of the West Bank, presents another dimension of this complex situation. The US has largely supported the Palestinian Authority as a viable partner for long-term peace with Israel. In contrast, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been vocal about sidelining Abbas, accusing him of insufficient commitment to ending violence and rejecting the prospect of a two-state solution.
Abbas, in his first public statement on the conflict, called for an immediate end to the aggression against the Palestinian people and condemned the mistreatment of civilians on both sides. Blinken had previously urged Abbas to denounce the violence and maintain stability in the West Bank during a telephone conversation.