US, Qatar and Jordan try to prevent escalation of bigger war

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Qatar's Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani attend a press conference, during Blinken's week-long trip aimed at calming tensions across the Middle East, in Doha, Qatar, January 7, 2024. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/Pool

Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, has started his fourth visit to the Middle East in three months. During his visit, he cautioned that Israel’s conflict with Hamas could potentially escalate and affect the wider region.

Blinken’s visit occurs amidst escalating situations in Lebanon, northern Israel, the Red Sea, and Iraq, placing significant pressure on the previously moderately successful US efforts to prevent a regional conflict since the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7. International criticism of Israel’s military actions is mounting. Blinken acknowledged the complexity of the discussions, emphasizing the need for diplomacy to benefit Gaza and the broader future of Israelis, Palestinians, and the region.

His priorities include protecting civilians, delivering more humanitarian aid to Gaza, preventing future Hamas attacks, and establishing a framework for Palestinian-led governance and a secure Palestinian state. Hezbollah’s rocket attacks on northern Israel and heightened Red Sea shipping disruptions by Houthi rebels add to the challenges, prompting increased international efforts to address threats in the region.

Embarking on this urgent diplomatic mission to the Middle East, Blinken held discussions with Arab partners on Sunday, urging their assistance in mitigating escalating concerns that Israel’s three-month conflict with Hamas in Gaza could have broader implications.

During talks with Qatar’s Emir and Jordan’s King, Blinken underscored the necessity for Israel to adjust its military operations to minimize civilian casualties, increase the flow of humanitarian aid to Gaza significantly, and stressed the importance of formulating detailed plans for the post-conflict future of the Palestinian territory, which has faced severe destruction from Israeli bombardments.

This mission, the fourth to the region since the start of the war, includes also visits to the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the West Bank, and Egypt before returning to Washington. After engaging with Turkish and Greek leaders in Istanbul and Crete, Blinken met with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi in Amman. Subsequently, he travelled to Doha for discussions with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, seeking support for US efforts to address concerns of regional escalation, boost aid to Gaza, and prepare for an eventual cessation of hostilities.

Speaking at a joint news conference with Qatari’s Foreign Minister, the Secretary of State expressed concern over the potential for the ongoing conflict to escalate, stressing the need to prevent its spread and alleviate further insecurity and suffering. Blinken underscored that preventing the expansion of the conflict has been a primary focus of his recent discussions with various leaders.

Blinken addressed the threat the conflict could spread: “This is a moment of profound tension in the region. This is a conflict that could easily metastasize, causing even more insecurity and even more suffering,” Blinken told a news conference in Doha alongside Qatar’s Prime Minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani.

There is no peace in the region without a legitimate, peaceful solution to the Palestinian conflict, the Qatari Prime Minister said to the press. The question is, will there be peace with such a resolution?

Blinked noted a shared commitment among these leaders to ensure that the conflict remains contained, and discussions have also revolved around post-conflict measures each country can take to provide assurances and incentives for building a more secure, stable, and peaceful future in the region.

Acknowledging that these conversations involve difficult decisions, Blinken praised the willingness of partners, including those in Qatar, to engage in such discussions and work toward a common way forward. The demand for an immediate cease-fire has been persistent, with Sheikh Mohammed urging a halt to the fighting due to the increasing toll on civilian lives.

In Qatar, Blinken said the US has a plan to address the growing instability, and it hinges on winding down the Israeli military campaign in Gaza and working with Arab nations and the Israelis to establish a “durable” peace for the Palestinians.

After discussions with Blinken, Sheikh Mohammed called for an immediate cease-fire. King Abdullah of Jordan also warned of catastrophic repercussions from the Gaza war and urged the US to advocate for an immediate cease-fire.

Israel has rejected the idea of a cease-fire, prompting the US to advocate for specific temporary “humanitarian pauses” to facilitate the delivery of aid and ensure the safety of people. While in Amman, Blinken visited the World Food Program’s regional coordination warehouse, where aid is being prepared for transportation to Gaza through the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings.

In November, during his Middle East trip, Blinken expressed to reporters in Ankara, Turkey, that countries in the region are actively seeking to avoid war and are working towards preventing the conflict from spreading. He underlined that the absence of negative developments might not be immediately apparent but is indicative of progress. However, since then, there has been abundant evidence suggesting that, despite the intentions and efforts, the likelihood of a broader war has increased.

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