US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's Middle East trip comes amid a new escalation of violence in the long-simmering Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken landed today in Ben Gurion airport for an official visit to Israel. The Secretary will meet with @IsraeliPM & other senior leaders to reinforce U.S. support for Israel’s security & shared democratic values. pic.twitter.com/ljHuTNToXg— U.S. Embassy Jerusalem (@usembassyjlm) January 30, 2023
In response to a recent Israeli army anti-terror raid in Jenin that killed ten people linked to Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian murdered seven people last Friday in an East Jerusalem synagogue. Subsequently, a youth as young as 13 shot two Israelis while Israeli security forces have continued to eliminate terrorists in areas of the West Bank. In addition to the attacks and raids, Hamas has also launched rockets at Israel in recent days, prompting the Israeli army to bomb a military base of the Palestinian group in the Gaza Strip.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in Israel at a "pivotal moment" as he condemns the attack outside a synagogue in Jerusalem on Friday which he describes as an "attack on the universal act of practising one's faith".https://t.co/PAiZ4D1jU3— Sky News (@SkyNews) January 30, 2023
📺 Sky 501 and YouTube pic.twitter.com/w1uKZdPQAY
It is against this backdrop of violence that Blinken has landed in Israel. Shortly after his arrival at Ben Gurion airport, the Secretary of State made reference to the critical situation, calling for "measures to calm tensions" to "stop the rising tide of violence that has claimed too many lives, too many Israelis, too many Palestinians".
Blinken condemned Friday's attack on the synagogue on his arrival in Israel, noting that "attacking people outside their place of worship is particularly shocking". However, he also told members of the Israeli government, including Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, that "calls for revenge are not the answer".
Blinken then travelled to Jerusalem, where he met with the head of Israeli diplomacy and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to Israeli media, Blinken and Netanyahu discussed the threats posed by Iran and the Abraham Accords. They also expressed the need for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Prime Minister Netanyahu, following his meeting with US Secretary of State Blinken:— Prime Minister of Israel (@IsraeliPM) January 30, 2023
"Your visit is another expression, a continual expression, of the unbreakable bond between Israel and the United States. It's one of the great alliances of modern history"https://t.co/RitUszGlCH pic.twitter.com/Fh2PilEwNj
Iran was scheduled to be one of the main topics of the meeting. The Israeli prime minister referred to the violence used by the authorities against demonstrators during the protests, as well as the supply of Iranian arms to Russia. "Most of the international community has seen the true face of Iran: the barbarism against its own people and how it exports violence beyond its borders and beyond the Middle East," Netanyahu said, in statements reported by i24 News. He also referred to the Iranian nuclear race, Israel's main concern. "The regime must not acquire nuclear weapons," Netanyahu stressed.
Blinken agreed with the Israeli leader, stressing that Iran "must never be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon". "We will deepen cooperation to confront and counter Iran's destabilising activities," he added.
'We agree that Iran must never be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon'— i24NEWS English (@i24NEWS_EN) January 30, 2023
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks about the 'two way street' Iran & Russia have developed during the war in Ukraine after his meeting with PM Netanyahu #i24NEWSSpecialEdition | @benitalevin pic.twitter.com/p2vkEEBGX0
Blinken's visit to the Middle East comes just days after a drone strike on an Iranian military facility in the city and Isfahan. Although Tehran has not officially accused any country yet, US officials have told The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal that Israel was likely behind the attack. The military complex that was attacked was a production centre for Iranian drones and missiles.
At the regional level, Blinken has referred to the Abraham Accords, although he has clarified that these alliances between Israel and Arab countries "is not a substitute for peace between Israel and Palestine", reports The Times of Israel. Netanyahu, for his part, highlighted the possibility of normalising relations with other Arab countries in the region, claiming that it would lead to "historic and enormously significant advances for security, prosperity and peace".
After the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, Israel and the United States expect Saudi Arabia to join the list of Arab countries normalising relations with the Hebrew state. Riyadh, for its part, has repeatedly stressed that it will not establish relations with Jerusalem until a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is reached.
In addition to regional issues, Blinken and Netanyahu reaffirmed the strong alliance between the United States and Israel. Both agreed that the two countries share "common interests and common values". "It is important for the government and people of Israel to know that the US commitment to their security remains unwavering," Blinken said, as quoted by i24 News.
The coming to power of Israel's new far-right government raised concerns about its relationship with the United States. During his stay in Israel, Blinken stressed key democratic values such as minority rights, the rule of law, a free press and an active civil society. In this sense, the Secretary of State referred to the massive demonstrations that have taken place against the government's plans to reform the judicial system. "The vitality of Israel's civil society has been on display lately," he said.
Huge protests in Israel against Netanyahu’s plan to weaken the independence of the judiciary and thus weaken democracy. pic.twitter.com/n7x3Ui3qgc— Frida Ghitis (@FridaGhitis) January 21, 2023
Following his meeting with Netanyahu, Blinken held talks with his counterpart, Eli Cohen. In addition to highlighting the need to reduce "the cycle of violence" and address threats from Iran, the Secretary of State thanked Cohen for Israel's humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. The Israeli minister, for his part, announced that he would visit Kiev "in the near future", reports The Times of Israel.
Before Israel, Blinken visited Egypt, where he also discussed the latest escalation of Israeli-Palestinian violence with President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. The secretary of state praised Cairo's important role as a mediator in the conflict, while Al-Sisi stressed the need for a solution that "guarantees the rights of the Palestinians". Moreover, during his meeting with Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, the two discussed, in addition to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, other relevant issues such as the situation in Libya and Sudan.
Blinken will end his Middle East trip in the West Bank, where he will meet with the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, whom he will also urge to develop measures to put an end to the spiral of violence that has been unleashed in recent days.
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