US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken visited the leaders of seven countries in the Middle East over four days. His goal: to ensure that the war between Israel and Hamas does not get further out of hand. He started and ended his tour in Israel. The question is whether he will succeed in encouraging the parties to calm down.
It is impossible for the Arab countries to go to war with their armies, says Arabist Leo Quarton. “There’s not much love for Hamas in the Middle East, but neither is the way Palestinians are treated by Israel and other Western countries.”
Countries in the region are not interested in escalating the conflict, so diplomatic efforts are being made to put pressure on both Hamas and Israel. As is often the case in international diplomacy, the United States plays a leading role.
Blingen’s most important trips were to Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Quarton said. “Qatar is important for several reasons. Israel wants the hostages back, but negotiating with Hamas is not an option. Qatar has traditionally had good relations with Hamas, and Qatar no longer officially supports Hamas.”
And, Quarton says, Qatar is a good negotiator. “And it has good relations with Israel and Iran. It’s a major player for the Americans.”
Saudi Arabia and Israel have recently strengthened ties and were on the verge of a historic agreement last month. The US played a key role in restoring the relationship, but the war again put it under strain. “Blinken wants to save this because if the deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia doesn’t go through, it will reflect on Biden.”
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman knows what’s at stake for America, Quarton says. “Bin Salman wants to make a deal with Israel, but in return he wants three things from the US: advanced weapons, a nuclear power plant and security guarantees in the event of an attack from outside.”
At the same time, Saudi Arabia, like other Middle Eastern countries Blinken went on to say, wants the US to tell Israel more clearly to stop the bombings. “Salman then kept Blingen waiting for hours to clarify what he thought was America’s lack of clarity with Israel.”
It is important to the United States that the Palestinian Americans still trapped in Gaza are freed and that aid trucks that are ready in Egypt enter the Gaza Strip. The Rafah border crossing in the south of the Gaza Strip is the only one of the seven border crossings in Gaza that is not controlled by Israel, but by Egypt.
Yesterday, Blinken announced that he had reached an agreement with Egyptian President Sisi on the opening of the Rafah border crossing. This morning, Egyptian sources told international news agencies that Israel would temporarily halt bombing targets along the border, but this was immediately contradicted by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office. The border is currently closed.
“Egypt is eager to help evacuate dual-passport holders from Gaza, but Sisi does not want Hamas members and large numbers of refugees to cross the border. Egypt expects economic support and weapons from the US in exchange for further opening the border.”
Return to Israel
On Monday, Blinken returned to Israel with these entries. In a joint statement to the press with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Blinken reiterated unconditional US support for Israel. Gallant said it will be a long battle.
The leaders also reportedly discussed providing relief supplies to civilians, protecting Israeli civilians at risk from Hamas and freeing Israeli hostages.
“Israel will begin to rein in over time if the U.S. calls, but that may happen more slowly than the Americans would like,” says Quarten. “That also has to do with Biden’s position in his own country. You can’t go to the US election if you put too much pressure on Israel.”
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