Gaza War: Will Blinken’s mission succeed in preventing the expansion of the war?

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Anthony Blinken’s meeting with Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi

At the top of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s priorities on his fourth visit to the Middle East within three months, there is one message he wants to deliver above any other.

His main mission on this trip is to ensure that the war between Israel and Gaza does not spread into a regional conflict.

As he travels to various destinations in Southwest Asia on a busy schedule that includes stops in Turkey, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel, there is ample evidence that the cauldron of tensions in the region is about to boil over.

The Houthis in Yemen have launched repeated missile and drone attacks on civilian ships in the Red Sea, halting traffic through this key international waterway.

The United States warned that it would defend its interests if the Houthi attacks continued and the turmoil in global trade continued. A US military response may be inevitable, a development that would upset some of America’s key Arab allies.

“We do not see any military action as a solution,” the Qatari Prime Minister said in a joint press conference with Blinken in Doha on Sunday. Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman Al Thani added that his biggest concern is that such a measure “will keep us in a cycle that will never end and will create real tension in the entire region.”

On Saturday, Hezbollah in southern Lebanon fired a barrage of missiles at northern Israel in response to what appeared to be a bomb attack planned by Israel that killed an important Hamas leader in Beirut. Israel responded with air strikes targeting Hezbollah forces in Lebanon.

Blinken said later that day that the escalation there was a “real concern.” He called on regional powers with influence over Hezbollah, in other words Iran and, to a lesser extent, Turkey, to use their influence “to try to keep things under control.”

This may be difficult, as the Washington Post reported that US officials are concerned that Israel may consider launching a more widespread attack against Hezbollah.

Demonstration against Israel and the United States in Yemen

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Demonstration against Israel and the United States in Yemen

“We prefer the path of an agreed-upon diplomatic settlement, but we are approaching the point where things are getting out of control,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant said on Friday.

Meanwhile, American military facilities were subjected to missile and drone attacks by militants in Iraq and Syria, where more than 3,000 American soldiers are stationed. In late October, a march penetrated American defenses and struck a barracks, but did not explode, according to a Reuters report, which prevented major American losses.

The United States responded with military action, including an airstrike in Baghdad last week that killed Mushtaq Talib al-Saidi, a commander in the Popular Mobilization Forces.

Each of these episodes individually constitutes a threat to regional stability. When viewed together, they indicate that the Middle East is teetering on the brink of a broader war.

Blinken said in Qatar on Sunday that the United States has a plan to address growing instability, contingent on ending the Israeli military campaign in Gaza and working with Arab countries and Israelis to establish a “lasting” peace for the Palestinians.

He added: “The United States has a vision of how to get there, and a regional approach that provides permanent security for Israel and a state for the Palestinian people.” “What I have found through the discussions so far is that our partners are willing to have these difficult conversations and make difficult decisions,” he said.

After his meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Monday, Blinken said he saw a willingness to help stabilize and revive Gaza after the war among all the leaders he has spoken with so far. But the United States must include Israel in the group.

Iraqi fans carry a coffin

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Iraqi fans carry a coffin after the Iraqi raid on Baghdad

The timing of Blinken’s recent trip to the Middle East may give hints about the American strategy in this shuttle diplomacy tour. The minister’s early visit to Turkey and the Arab countries two days before he spent in Israel allowed him to feel the pulse of the regional players before sitting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli war government.

And now the ball, as the Americans like to say, is in Israel’s court.

“I will have the opportunity to present to Israeli leaders everything I have heard so far on this trip,” Blinken said on Monday. “I am convinced that there is a future path that can bring lasting peace and security to Israel.”

Behind all this is an American gamble that assumes that stopping the Gaza war, or at least easing it, will calm tensions throughout the region. It is a bet that the various small crises in the Red Sea, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria have not gained momentum of their own.

The Qatari Prime Minister said on Sunday that there is no peace in the region without a legitimate and peaceful solution to the Palestinian conflict. The question is, will there be peace with such persistence?

During his visit to the Middle East in November, Blinken told reporters gathered on the tarmac in Ankara, Turkey, that countries across the region did not want war and were working to prevent the conflict from spreading.

The American minister added, “Sometimes, the fact that nothing bad happened may be considered more clear evidence of progress.”

Since then, there has been ample evidence that while a broader war may not be required, the odds of one erupting have increased, despite the stated intentions and efforts of Blinken and the Americans.

The post first appeared on www.bbc.com

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