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Source: NY Times

Nov 6, 2023

Blinken Warns Iran Against Widening the Conflict Between Israel and Hamas

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken warned Iran during a weekend of diplomacy in the Middle East. The U.S. military posted a photo of one of its submarines in the region.

By Matthew Rosenberg and Adam Entous

If Iran had any doubts about American resolve in the Middle East, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, with an assist from the Pentagon, spent the weekend reinforcing the notion that the United States was not going anywhere.

During a quick trip to the region, Mr. Blinken repeatedly warned Iran against using its proxies to widen the conflict between Israel and Hamas, while in an unusual move the U.S. Central Command, which oversees American forces in the region, on Sunday announced that a nuclear-powered attack submarine was traveling through the region.

The submarine added to the already considerable American firepower steaming through the waters around the Middle East, and Central Command, as if flaunting the vessel’s deployment, went so far as to post on X a photo of it in the region.

The most important progress, however, occurred out of public view. American allies in the Middle East have played a crucial role in preventing Iran and its proxies from expanding the war. Mr. Blinken sought to maintain those efforts during his trip, which included stops in Israel, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey.

“Countries are very much engaged in trying to make sure that that doesn’t happen,” Mr. Blinken said on Monday after meeting with Turkey’s foreign minister, Hakan Fidan, in Ankara.

Mr. Blinken added: “Sometimes the absence of something bad happening may not be the most obvious evidence of progress, but it is.”

Heading off any escalation by Iran or its proxies in the region is a priority for U.S. officials. The roughly 3,500 U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria have already been subjected to more than 40 drone and rocket attacks by Iran-aligned militias since Hamas invaded southern Israel on Oct. 7, and a wider regional conflict would likely draw American forces deeper into the fight.

The United States, citing retaliation for the rocket and drone attacks against U.S. forces, carried out two airstrikes last week on sites in eastern Syria that it said were used by Iran and its proxies.

But beyond emphasizing the stakes of any escalation clear to Iran, Mr. Blinken’s trip appeared to have far more mixed results. While American officials said the Israelis appeared to be willing to allow a sharp expansion in humanitarian aid into Gaza, they have had less success convincing Israel to show more military restraint in an attempt to reduce the number of civilian casualties.

At the same time, the United States’ most important Arab allies, including Jordan and Egypt, have started to put real pressure on the Biden administration to rein in the Israelis, fearful that the conflict could destabilize their countries.

The constant stream of images of dead Palestinians has been stoking widespread anger, and Arab leaders affirmed privately to Mr. Blinken that their public talk of a cease-fire wasn’t hollow. They need one immediately, they told Mr. Blinken.

Matthew Rosenberg was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for reporting on Donald Trump, and more recently exposed how Cambridge Analytica harvested private information from Facebook. He previously spent 15 years as a foreign correspondent in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and was expelled from Afghanistan in 2014 because of his reporting. More about Matthew Rosenberg

Adam Entous is a Washington-based investigative correspondent and a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. Before joining the Washington bureau of The Times, he covered intelligence, national security and foreign policy for The New Yorker magazine, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. More about Adam Entous

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