Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 597, 11 January 2024

Middle East: Blinken's Fourth Visit
Shamini Velayutham

In the news
On 10 January, the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, and the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, held talks on post-war plans for Gaza, including the creation of a Palestinian state, during their meeting in Ramallah in the West Bank.

On the same day, Blinken met Bahrain’s King, His Majesty Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, and reiterated the importance of a strategic alliance between the US and Bahrain. They conversed about a shared commitment to the freedom of navigation in the Red Sea. Additionally, they spoke on the alarming humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Also on 10 January, Blinken held meetings with the Israeli President, Isaac Herzog, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and several other high-ranking government officials. They discussed military operations in Gaza and the future of Israel and the region.

On 9 January, Blinken met Netanyahu and reiterated the US backing for Israel's right to defend. He emphasised the significance of safeguarding civilian infrastructure and humanitarian aid distributed throughout Gaza.

On 8 January, Blinken held talks at Al ‘Ula with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, about the significance of humanitarian aid in Gaza and stopping the conflict from worsening.

On the same day, during their meeting in Abu Dhabi, Blinken spoke with the President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Mohamed Bin Zayed, about efforts to stop the war and address Gaza's humanitarian needs. He emphasised the US support for an independent Palestinian state. Salman of Saudi Arabia and Bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi were informed by Blinken that they were eager to pursue the normalisation of relations with Israel. He stated that the countries have shown a desire to support the stabilisation and revitalisation of Gaza, and added that the US would collaborate with them to determine what was required and what the countries were willing to do.

On 7 January, Jordan's King, Abdullah II, met with the Blinken. Abdullah II called on the US to push for a ceasefire while cautioning about the implications of the conflict in Gaza.

On 6 January, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis met with Blinken. They discussed the necessity of unbroken humanitarian supplies and Greece's support for the UN resolution for a two-state solution. Mitsotakis raised concerns about the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the potential for an escalation of the crisis.

On 6 January, he met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, on the humanitarian situation in Gaza. Fidan underscored the urgent need for a truce in Gaza and a two-state solution. 

At the Tel Aviv press conference, Blinken stated: “One thing that we’ve heard clearly every place we’ve gone, including in Israel, is that escalation is in no one’s interest. No one’s seeking it.”

Issues at large
First, Blinken’s repeated visits to the region. Since the war began on 7 October 2023, Blinken has made four visits. On 16 October 2023, Blinken made his first visit to Israel followed by 2 November, 1 December and 9 January, reaffirming US support to Israel. Despite the interactions, Israel still disagrees with a long-term truce. Besides, the fighting has intensified with the US supplying weapons. Nevertheless, these trips resulted in the release of hostages and humanitarian relief.

Second, the hits and misses. In November 2023, a ceasefire was advocated by the US, Qatar, and Egypt. The ceasefire led to the agreement of a humanitarian pause, in which Israel and the Hamas agreed to release hostages and supply humanitarian aid without hindrance at the borders. In December 2023, the US supplied 155-millimetre M107 projectiles and ancillaries to Israel. Despite the supply of weapons, Israel and the US were countered by the Hamas’s surprise attack on the Southern border against the civilians. The US intelligence agencies failed to anticipate the unforeseen attack by the Hamas. The turbidity of information sharing between the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and the US has resulted in the loss of lives of civilians. 
 
Third, the limitation of the US. On 12 December 2023, speaking to donors at a fundraising program in Washington, US President Joe Biden stated that the US had issued a warning against reducing the boundaries of the Palestinian region, and declared that it would oppose any plan that included Israeli rule over Gaza. However, Netanyahu did not heed the US’ warning and was determined to involve Israel in a full-fledged war with the Hamas thus preventing humanitarian supply from the major crossings such as the Rafah border and Kerem Shalom crossing. Biden also flagged that Israel was losing international support.

In perspective
First, the US's influence over Israel. In its unwavering, self-appointed role as Israel's protector, the US looks increasingly naive in Israel’s increasing bombardment of civilians and rising civilian casualties. The majority of the victims are women and children. The US is more concerned with containing the damage to its reputation than protecting Palestinian lives. Previously, the US has been influential in inducing a peace process between Israel and Palestine. For instance, on 13 September 1993, the Oslo Accords, which were signed in the White House were said to be the initial peace process that was carried out by the US upon the Israel and Palestinian Authority (PA). Given the current status of the war, the repeated visits by US diplomats are anticipated to be fruitful in terms of humanitarian aid; however, in terms of peace talks, the efforts are futile.

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