The two-day visit by Washington’s top diplomat to the region comes amid some of the bloodiest violence between the two sides in years.
By Jonathan Hessen and Erin Viner
United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Israel in the wake of the deadliest attack in Jerusalem since 2008, when a Palestinian terrorist claimed seven lives in gun spree at a synagogue Friday night. A day earlier, Israel carried out an unusually deep raid in the West Bank city of Jenin, killing 10 residents, most of them terrorist gunmen.
Reacting to coverage of Palestinians celebrating the murders of the Jewish worshippers, he stressed, “”And we condemn all those who celebrate these and any other acts of terrorism that take innocent lives, no matter who the victim is or what they believe. Calls for vengeance against more innocent victims are not the answer.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed to Secretary Blinken that his government is working to expand the “circle of peace” forged through the Abraham Accords. He said many initiatives are under consideration that could “perhaps to achieve dramatic breakthroughs that I think could be both historic and enormously significant in our common efforts to bring prosperity, security and peace to this part of the world and beyond,” that could also possibly “close the file of the Arab-Israeli conflict” and “help us achieve a workable solution with our Palestinian neighbors.”
While acknowledging the importance of Israel’s rising normalization pacts with Arab nations, Secretary Blinken emphasized that “These efforts are not a substitute for progress between Israelis and Palestinians, but as we advance Israel’s integration, we can do so in ways that improve the daily lives of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.”
Reiterating commitment by US President Joe Biden to a Two-State Solution to the Palestinian conflict, Blinken maintained, “anything that moves us away from that vision is, in our judgment, detrimental to Israel’s long-term security and its long-term identity as a Jewish and democratic state. That’s why we’re urging all sides now to take urgent steps to restore calm, to de-escalate. We want to make sure that there’s an environment in which we can, I hope, at some point create the conditions where we can start to restore a sense of security for Israelis and Palestinians alike, which of course is sorely lacking.”
Recent data indicates that public support for a Two-State solution has reached a historic low. A survey published by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Research last week showed that just 33% of Palestinians and 34% of Israeli Jews support it. A stunning two-thirds of Palestinians and 53% of Israeli Jews expressed actual opposition to the proposal.
Washington’s top diplomat went on to highlight the importance of upholding the historic Status Quo at Jerusalem’s holy places, that restricts prayer to Muslim worshippers only while Jews, Christians and others are merely allowed to visit the ancient compound as tourists.
“We also remain committed to supporting religious coexistence and diversity, including in Jerusalem. We continue to support upholding the historic status quo at Jerusalem’s holy places, including the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif,” he said, adding, “We’re grateful to the Prime Minister for his repeated expressions of support for that position.”
Iran was also a major topic of discussion during Netanyahu’s talks with Blinken.
Israel and the United States are intensifying preparations for a plausible military option vis-à-vis Iran – as the Islamic Republic remains determined to develop its nuclear program far beyond civic applications.
While the Biden Administration remains vocally open to diplomatic channels related to Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, Jerusalem officials have carefully noted that an American pledge to ensure that the Islamic Republic would not produce nuclear weapons has turned from words to deeds.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, have underscored growing political leeway in reinforcing alternative solutions to the conflict with Iran – a shift that has increasingly fostered as a reaction to Iran’s deepening relations with Russia and the Ayatollah regime’s brutal repression of the Iranian people.
Speaking in Jerusalem, Blinken particularly expressed concern over Tehran’s deepening ties with Moscow.
“We agree that Iran must never be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon, and we discussed deepening cooperation to confront and counter Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region and beyond. Just as Iran has long supported terrorists that attack Israelis and others, the regime is now providing drones that Russia is using to kill innocent Ukrainian civilians,” he said, adding that, “In turn, Russia is providing sophisticated weaponries to Iran. It’s a two-way street. Russia’s ongoing atrocities only underscore the importance of providing support for all of Ukraine’s needs – humanitarian, economic, and security – as it bravely defends its people and its very right to exist, a topic that we also discussed today.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu responded by underscoring his nation’s unwavering commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons or the means to deliver them.
“Your visit comes at an important time. It’s a time where many in the international community, I would say most of the international community, have seen the true face of Iran. They’ve seen the barbarism of this regime against its own people. They’ve seen how it exports aggression beyond its border and beyond the Middle East. And I think there’s a common consensus that this regime must not acquire nuclear weapons,” said the Israeli leader, going on to say, “We’ve had very good discussions on forging a common policy, on trying to work together to thwart the danger. I can repeat again something that you’ve heard me say many times, our policy and my policy is to do everything within Israel’s power to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them and that will remain so. But obviously the fact that we and the United States are working together is something that is important for this common goal as well.”
Netanyahu’s vow to prevent a nuclear Iran comes amid unfounded claims by Tehran that Israel’s Mossad was behind a drone attack on a military plant in Isfahan. Israel’s defense establishment is preparing for possible retaliation for the attack, which could include the targeting Israeli nationals or diplomatic compounds overseas or Israeli-owned cargo vessels on international waters.
According to a senior defense establishment official, who spoke to TV7 on condition of anonymity, while Israel works tirelessly to protect its citizens and interests abroad, it also knows how to respond with force to any of its enemies testing Jerusalem’s unwavering resolve.
It is nevertheless worth noting Iran’s long history of blatant attacks against civilian targets abroad, including in Europe and the United States. This past Friday, Washington indicted three suspects believed to have been sent by Iran to assassinate American officials and civilians.
“These charges arise out of an ongoing investigation into the government of Iran’s efforts to assassinate on US soil a journalist, author and human rights activist who is a US citizen of Iranian origin,” stated US Attorney General Merrick Garland. FBI Director Christopher Wray said that the case “shows just how far Iranian actors are willing to go to silence critics of the Iranian regime even attempting an assassination right here in the United States. But looking at the threat from Iran more broadly, we’ve seen the Iranian regime become more aggressive and more brazen across vectors. In just the past couple of years, actors associated with Iran have launched a ransomware attack against a children’s hospital in New England, attempted to assassinate the former US National Security Advisor on US soil, and now plotted to silence a U.S. citizen, a journalist who publicized the Iranian government’s human rights abuses right smack in the middle of New York City.”
“If that doesn’t show how serious the threat from Iran is to Americans right here in America, I don’t know what is,” warned the FBI chief.