Blinken to visit Middle East to engage in new round of talks as regional tension flares

This will be the US Secretary of State’s fourth trip to region since October 7

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's trip 'will focus on a number of critical issues'. AP
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was scheduled to embark on Thursday on another trip to the Middle East, where he will hold talks with UAE officials and others as the Israel-Gaza war continues, the State Department announced.

Mr Blinken will also travel to Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the West Bank and Egypt “for meetings with foreign counterparts and others”, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters.

“The secretary will focus on a number of critical issues on this trip,” Mr Miller said.

Among the topics to be addressed during his meetings with regional officials will be the need to “substantially” increase humanitarian assistance into Gaza. He will also hold talks with Israeli officials on the continuing military campaign against Hamas.

Discussions with Israelis will include “plans to transition to the next phase of operations”, including steps Israel can take “to better protect civilians”, Mr Miller said.

This will be Mr Blinken’s fourth trip to the region since October 7, when Hamas militants stormed southern Israel in an attack that killed 1,200 people. The attack led to Israel's continuing invasion and bombardment of Gaza that has killed more than 22,000 people in the enclave.

The secretary’s first trip, which came days after the October 7 attack, showed the Biden administration's support for Israel.

Each subsequent trip has taken on its own tenor. As the war has dragged on and the devastation and death toll increased in Gaza, Mr Blinken has shifted his focus to calling for an increase in humanitarian access to Gaza and the protection of civilians, while still defending Israel’s war efforts.

“I think there's more and more focus in terms of what would the military operations look like after the high intensity phase,” said Ghaith Al Omari, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“And what do you do for Gaza during that time, what do you do for humanitarian efforts? I think this is going to be more and more part of the conversation this time.”

This trip comes amid increased regional tension. On Tuesday, Saleh Al Arouri, the deputy leader of Hamas, was killed during a strike on Beirut that has been attributed to Israel. He was the highest-ranking Hamas official killed since the war began.

The targeted strike that killed Mr Al Arouri occurred in Beirut's southern suburbs, far from the border with Israel and in the heart of Hezbollah-controlled territory.

The killing prompted Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah to warn Israel that it would “regret” a war with the militant group.

“Whoever thinks of war with us will regret it,” Mr Nasrallah said in a televised speech. “War with us will be very, very, very costly.”

On Wednesday, at least 84 people were killed in twin explosions at a ceremony marking the fourth anniversary of the death of Iranian military commander Qassem Suleimani. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack, putting the region on even higher alert.

As the threat of a broader regional conflict continues to percolate, the Biden administration has made clear that such a conflict should be avoided at all costs.

“It is in no one's interest – not in the interest of any country in the region, not in the interest of any country in the world – to see this conflict escalated any further than it already is,” said State Department spokesman Matthew Miller.

Washington said Mr Blinken will hold discussions on steps needed to prevent the conflict from spilling over into the region.

"He will discuss specific steps parties can take including how they can use their influence with others in the region to avoid escalation," Mr Miller said.

Mr Blinken's trip comes as White House adviser Amos Hochstein is in the region as well. Mr Hochstein, who was involved in helping broker the Israel-Lebanon maritime border deal in 2022, met Israel Defence Minister Yoav Gallant on Thursday.

Separately, Mr Blinken will visit Greece and Turkey to hold Ukraine and Nato-related talks.

Updated: January 05, 2024, 8:25 AM