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Blinken in Israel amid push to wind down war against Hamas

The American diplomat will discuss with Jerusalem the move to a less intensive phase of the war in Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a private meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, Jan. 9, 2024. Photo by Kobi Gideon/GPO.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a private meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, Jan. 9, 2024. Photo by Kobi Gideon/GPO.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a private meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv on Tuesday.

The American diplomat was then scheduled to participate in an expanded War Cabinet meeting to discuss the latest developments in the war against Hamas in Gaza and on other fronts.

President Isaac Herzog welcomed Blinken to Israel earlier Tuesday morning. Blinken, who arrived late on Monday, is visiting several countries in the region.

Blinken and Herzog’s meeting, also held in Tel Aviv, was their fifth since the atrocities carried out by Hamas against Israel on Oct. 7.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) meets with Israeli President Isaac Herzog in Tel Aviv, Jan. 9, 2024. Photo by Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO.

“We are very grateful to you for your support and for your steadfast commitment to Israel’s safety and to making sure that Israel wins this war, because it’s a war that affects international values and the values of the free world,” the president said.

Herzog criticized the hearings that will start on Thursday against Israel at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, in which South Africa has sued Israel for supposed genocide. “There’s nothing more atrocious and preposterous than this claim,” he said.

“Actually, our enemies, Hamas, in their charter call for the destruction and annihilation of the State of Israel, the only nation-state of the Jewish people,” the president said.

“The Convention Against Genocide was enacted by the international community following the worst atrocities of humankind, the Shoah, the Holocaust, which was aimed specifically against the Jews,” Herzog noted.

Blinken, who arrived after visiting Turkey, Greece, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, said he would share what he heard from those countries with Israel’s leadership.

He also said he would meet with families of hostages held in the Gaza Strip, to “discuss our relentless efforts to bring everyone home.”

Following the meeting with Herzog, Blinken met with Foreign Minister Israel Katz, who stressed that Israel’s sense of security will only be restored with the defeat of Hamas and the retreat of Hezbollah from the Lebanon-Israel border.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz meets with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Jan. 9, 2024. Photo by Shlomi Amsalem/MFA.

The two men discussed the challenges on the agenda and a vision for the future that will integrate the countries of the Middle East. Blinken thanked Katz for his commitment to a better future for the region.

Blinken is in Israel for discussions with Jerusalem on moving the war against Hamas in Gaza to a less intensive third phase.

A senior U.S. official told CNN that the top American diplomat and his team will push for an “imminent” transition to the next phase. However, IDF Spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari confirmed on Monday that the Israeli offensive had already started the transition to a campaign that would involve fewer ground troops and airstrikes.

Blinken is also expected to talk about a possible return of Gazans to their homes in the northern Strip after hundreds of thousands fled south across the Wadi Gaza to a humanitarian safe zone.

Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir addressed Blinken on X in English on Tuesday, writing that “it’s not the time to speak softly with Hamas, it’s time to use that big stick.”

Blinken’s stop in Israel is part of a multi-country Middle East diplomatic swing in an effort by the Biden administration to prevent a wider regional war some three months after an estimated 3,000 Hamas terrorists invaded the northwestern Negev on Oct. 7 and murdered some 1,200 civilians and soldiers, wounded thousands more and took around 240 hostages back to Gaza. Israel has been engaged in a ground offensive in Gaza since Oct. 27.

Blinken visited Saudi Arabia before Israel, where Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received him at his winter retreat in the northwestern Saudi city of Al-Ula. MBS stressed the importance of stopping the war in Gaza, increasing humanitarian efforts and creating the conditions for security and stability.

“I’ve been quietly working with the Israeli government to get them to reduce and significantly get out of Gaza,” U.S. President Joe Biden said during a campaign speech on Monday in South Carolina after being interrupted by anti-Israel protesters. “I’m using all that I can to do that. But I understand the passion.”

During a Monday press briefing, Hagari said that the fighting in Gaza “will continue into 2024.” This comes after IDF Chief of Staff. Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi said on Sunday that “we will be at war in Gaza, I don’t know if all year—we will be fighting in Gaza all year, that’s for sure.” 

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