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Why Blinken’s Middle East Visit Didn’t Go Well



America's chief diplomat, Antony Blinken, embarked on a frantic bout of shuttle diplomacy across the Middle East with high hopes of achieving a breakthrough in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Unfortunately, his visit ended with little to show for his efforts, leaving the situation in the region as complex and volatile as ever. Blinken's ambitious agenda during his Middle East visit included three primary tasks, but none of them went according to plan.


Blinken's first mission was to convince Israel to permit a temporary ceasefire to allow more aid into Gaza and secure the release of hostages. However, Israel insisted that hostages should be freed before discussing a pause in the fighting. The deadlock in negotiations here underlines the deep-seated mistrust and complexities surrounding this long-standing conflict.


Blinken also aimed to engage Arab countries in discussions about long-term solutions to the Israel-Hamas conflict. However, his Arab hosts were skeptical, given the ongoing destruction in Gaza. They emphasized the need for Israel to commit to ending all settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank as a crucial prerequisite for long-term peace discussions. The massive humanitarian crisis in Gaza overshadowed any progress on this front.


Blinken's third mission was to prevent the conflict from escalating further. While the parties he met with expressed their desire for de-escalation, it's essential to note that the real danger lies with actors like Hezbollah and Iran, who were not on Blinken's itinerary. Israel's unprecedented destruction in Gaza is heightening geopolitical tensions, making a larger eruption of violence more likely.


In just one week, Israel dropped as many bombs on Gaza as the US-backed coalition dropped on Mosul over two months while targeting civilian buildings, schools, and ambulances. The impact of these actions reverberated across the region, galvanizing public opinion and provoking the anger of leaders. For instance, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made it clear that Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is history to him, further straining diplomatic relations.


The US's strong support for Israel in the Gaza conflict is having repercussions on its standing in the region and beyond. Developing nations view it as a double standard compared to its stance on other global conflicts, such as Ukraine, which could lead to reduced sympathy for Western positions.


Despite these setbacks, there are a couple of potential upsides to Blinken's continued shuttle diplomacy. The conflict has not escalated as some feared it might. Hamas's violent offensive on October 7 raised concerns of a new kind of Holy War, potentially involving Hezbollah and Iran. However, Hezbollah, with its substantial missile arsenal, has not yet engaged, and Iran seems hesitant to confront two American carrier groups and US bases in the Persian Gulf.


While the moment of broader conflict may have passed, the situation remains dire for the innocent people in Gaza, who continue to suffer and die by the thousands. Additionally, hundreds of hostages are held in the midst of this turmoil, emphasizing the urgency of finding a viable path to peace. For now, the search for a lasting peace in the Middle East remains a formidable and elusive challenge.

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