During a press event in Tel Aviv Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said averting escalation of the Israel-Hamas war remained the “major focus” of his discussions with leaders in the region.
Blinken spoke while on his second trip to the Middle East since Hamas’ massive October 7 surprise attack on Israel had sparked war in Palestinian-populated Gaza.
“I’ve returned to the region to engage in intense diplomacy with our partners,” Blinken told reporters on Friday, “to try to help insure that an attack like October 7th never happens again, and in doing so, that we forge a different future—a very different future—for Israelis and Palestinians alike, that out of this tragedy emerges a better tomorrow for both peoples and for the region.”
To that end, Blinken, who had already been in talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before his press conference Friday, said that a “major focus of my conversations throughout this trip” is to stress to U.S. partners “throughout the Middle East and beyond [that they] have a critical role in averting escalation” of the conflict into “other areas and other theaters.”
For example, Blinken said, the U.S. “will continue to respond to attacks by Iran’s proxies to defend our personnel in the region, personnel who are here in Iraq and in Syria to help prevent the resurgence of ISIS,” adding the the U.S. “will do what is necessary to…respond to any attacks.”
America’s top diplomat also noted that doing more to aid the Palestinian civilians caught in the crossfire is not only “the right and lawful thing to do, [but it] matters because failure to do so plays into the hands of Hamas and other terror groups.”
“There will be no partners for peace if they’re consumed by humanitarian catastrophes and alienated by any perceived indifference to their plight,” Blinken cautioned.
He further stated, “We’ve gone from zero to now over 100 trucks going into Gaza through the Rafah crossing every day, but this is still not enough.”
Blinken also reiterated the need for a humanitarian pause in the fighting, which President Biden called for earlier in the week, saying, “We see this as a way of further facilitating the ability to get assistance in, to make sure that the resources are in place as well to absorb the assistance coming in, to make sure it gets to the people who need it. We see it as a way also, and very importantly, of creating a better environment in which hostages can be released.”
On the same day that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened to escalate the war, Blinken repeatedly returned to his warning: “With regard to Lebanon, with regard to Hezbollah, with regard to Iran, we have been very clear from the outset that we are determined that there not be a second or third front in this conflict. President Biden said on day one to anyone thinking of opening a second front, taking advantage of the situation, ‘don’t.'”
He added that the U.S. has already backed up its warning with “practical deeds” such as deploying two two aircraft carrier battle groups to the region, and shooting down missiles from Yemen that were fired in the direction of Israel.
Following his meetings in Israel, Blinken was set to head to Jordan, and the State Department said further stops in the Middle East were also possible during the Secretary’s trip.