Secretary of State Antony Blinken travels to Israel and Jordan on Friday, November 3, to get an update on Israel’s campaign against Hamas and perhaps even ask for the “humanitarian pause” President Biden mentioned during a speech in Minnesota. He certainly has his work cut out for him. As the ground war in Gaza unfolds, the conflict grows with attacks against Israel Defense Force (IDF) and civilians by Hezbollah in the north as well as attacks on civilians and police in the West Bank by Palestinian militants. President Biden’s ad-lib, shoot-from-the-hip foreign policy turnabout from the previous stance – now suggesting a humanitarian pause, which is just another way of saying ceasefire, rather than leaving Israel to conduct its war as it sees fit – probably won’t help the conversations with Israeli officials, either.
Blinken’s Meetings in Israel Will Be Difficult
As Blinken enters conversations with government officials in Israel, it will be against an expanding regional conflict. Nonetheless, the chief US foreign policy advocate has numerous hurdles to overcome with more developing each news cycle. In a November 1 press briefing, Matthew Miller, State Department spokesman, explained what the secretary hoped to accomplish:
“He wants to get an update from Israel on their military objectives and their plans for meeting those objectives. He wants to talk about ways that we can increase the flow of humanitarian assistance and get to the point where it’s a sustained, continuous flow getting in every day that meets the needs of innocent civilians in Gaza…about our expectation that in launching – in conducting this military campaign, that they do it – do so in full compliance with international humanitarian law and the laws of war, and we will be very direct about that.”
This message is probably not what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to discuss. Amid intense fighting in northern Gaza as the IDF attempts to clear areas of Hamas terrorists, counsel from the US on International Humanitarian Law will come off as hubris and insulting. If Blinken wants to carry that message, he should make an appointment to see the Hamas leadership.
During the briefing, Miller got a question that goes to the very heart of the US desire not to expand the Israel-Hamas war into a regional conflict. “The foreign minister of Iran, having next to him the foreign minister of your ally Türkiye, said that today, if an immediate ceasefire doesn’t take place in Gaza and the rabid attacks by US – he says by US – Zionist regime continue, then the consequences will be harsh,” a correspondent said, asking Miller for a comment. The State Department’s answer said everything one needs to know about the US willingness to stand up for its Interests. “So, we have made very clear that we do not seek conflict with Iran. We do not want to see this conflict widened in any ways – in any way. But as the Secretary has made clear, we will defend US interests and US personnel in the region,” Miller hedged.
So how does America show Iran – and the rest of the world – it defends its interests? After more than 90 attacks on US military bases since the Biden administration took office, the US has responded five times. The most recent was an F-16 bombing on what some claim was an empty warehouse. It is no wonder the Iranian foreign minister and his Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps are emboldened to make threats against the US – or that his proxy terrorists believe they can attack American military outposts with impunity.
One subject Biden’s chief diplomat should be prepared to answer is what the president was thinking with his off-the-cuff comment about Israel implementing a humanitarian pause in the fighting. It seems the extemporaneous backtracking came because a Jewish rabbi protester yelled at Biden to insist on a ceasefire “right now” while the president was giving a fund-raising speech in Minneapolis, MN. The majority of the crowd shouted down the protester, but Biden caved all the same.
Clearly Israel Will Not Be Impressed With Biden’s Backtracking
“The call was a subtle departure for Biden and top White House aides, who throughout the Mideast crisis have been steadfast in stating they will not dictate how the Israelis carry out their military operations in response to the October 7 attack by Hamas,” Associated Press reported. By any measure the contradiction between the president calling for a humanitarian pause and being “steadfast” in not telling Israel how to prosecute the war is not subtle. Indeed, the Israeli government will not see the comment as subtle. As for Biden’s staff, they never seem to miss a chance to muddy the water. “The White House has refused to call for a ceasefire but has signaled that the Israelis should consider humanitarian pauses to allow civilians to receive aid and for foreign nationals trapped on the strip to leave Gaza,” AP said. Whether ceasefire or humanitarian pause, it is a distinction without a difference. Does anyone believe for a New York second Hamas would honor an intermission in the fighting? Again, Biden leaves the impression he will cave to the slightest pressure – even a silly heckler in an otherwise friendly crowd.
Blinken’s conversation with Jordanian government officials will be no more collegial. The secretary will be arriving days after Jordan withdrew its ambassador to Israel. “Jordan recalled its ambassador from Israel in protest of the war in Gaza. Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi also ordered that Israel’s ambassador to Jordan, who is out of the country, not be allowed to return, the Ministry said on X, formerly Twitter. Israel’s Foreign Ministry said Israel regretted the decision,” The Wall Street Journal reported. The Blinken visit to Amman was supposed to be an outreach for assistance in getting humanitarian aid to Gaza’s fleeing refugees. However, with Jordan not having diplomatic communications with Israel, that will be more of a challenge. Previously, Bolivia, Chile, and Colombia had recalled their respective ambassadors in protest over the Hamas-precipitated war with Israel.
After his last trip to Israel, Secretary Blinken will not be able to diplo-speak his way through many of the meetings he is scheduled to have. It’s going to be ugly. Hopefully, the secretary will reaffirm America’s strong and unequivocal backing for the IDF self-preservation operations in Gaza. Ceasefire or humanitarian pause talking points would be best left unsaid.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.