President Joe Biden will visit Israel on Wednesday, the White House has announced, as the commander of US forces in the Middle East arrived in Israel on Tuesday
The visit comes amid growing concerns that the conflict between Hamas and Israel would spread out and set the region ablaze.
Israeli forces have been preparing for a ground invasion of Gaza since last week, in retaliation for Hamas’ unprecedented attack that killed more than 1400 Israelis.
President Biden will also visit Jordan, where he will meet with King Abdullah, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The leaders are expected to discuss the humanitarian situation in Gaza, where over 2,700 have been killed in Israeli airstrikes.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said this morning that “the United States and Israel have agreed to develop a plan that will enable humanitarian aid from donor nations and multilateral organizations to reach civilians in Gaza.”
Blinken is on a marathon tour of the region. Monday, he had a 7-hour meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his war cabinet.
President Biden’s visit was announced only after Blinken received assurances that the Israeli government would agree to a comprehensive humanitarian aid package, including the establishment of safe zones for Palestinian civilians.
The US government seems to be pursuing a dual objective of aid and de-escalation, while supporting Israel in any decision it takes in its war against Hamas.
“We’re not dictating terms or operational directions to the Israelis,” said the Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby on Monday. “We don’t want to see escalation. We want to make sure humanitarian assistance begins to flow.”
Hamas has taken numerous hostages into Gaza, including an undisclosed number of American citizens. Biden’s visit underscores the urgency of resolving this crisis.
US officials have expressed deep concern about the risk of this conflict escalating into a broader regional war. Biden has also issued warnings to other actors, particularly Iran, urging restraint and caution.
On Monday, Iranian Foreign Minister Kanaani issued a veiled threat to Israel. “They expose themselves to all sides that consider themselves committed to supporting the Palestinian people,” he said, implying that its proxies on Israel’s Lebanese and Syrian borders will once again be mobilized.
The Biden administration is keeping a watchful eye on the sentiments in Arab countries, where there is significant sympathy for the Palestinian cause. Escalation in the region could intensify pressure on these governments to take action against Israel, further complicating the situation.
Hezbollah began its most active day of attacks against Israel since the war began as tensions simmered and 28 towns and villages in Israel were subsequently evacuated.
On the other side, Israel’s attack on Gaza has displaced more than half a million Palestinians. The Israeli military says it won’t stop until Hamas is eliminated. It has called for over a million Palestinians to evacuate northern Gaza. UN officials have deemed this order unworkable and against international law.
The UN and the Biden administration have tried to draw a clear distinction between Hamas and Palestinian civilians, as Hamas has been urging residents not to leave northern Gaza. Many accuse the militant group of using civilians as human shields.
Egypt, a historical mediator in cease-fires between Israel and Palestine, plays a pivotal role in the ongoing efforts to secure humanitarian assistance. The Rafah crossing on the Egyptian border with Gaza is seen as the only lifeline for many Palestinians.
Secretary Blinken has tried to negotiate the opening of the Rafah crossing for the departure of foreigners and dual nationals. Following his meeting with President Sisi, Blinken announced that Rafah “will be opened”.
The status of this agreement remains somewhat unclear.