Secretary of State Blinken makes his 4th trip to Israel since war with Hamas began
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The top U.S. diplomat faces a test today of how much influence the United States really has over its ally, Israel.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Tel Aviv again today. He is meeting Israeli political and military leaders. His boss, President Biden, has strongly supported Israel since it came under attack by Hamas on October 7, but Biden has also warned Israel to modify its campaign in Gaza to reduce civilian casualties and think about the future.
INSKEEP: NPR international affairs correspondent Jackie Northam is in Israel. Hi there, Jackie.
JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: What's on Blinken's agenda?
NORTHAM: Well, Blinken said this morning he'll meet with families of some of the more than a hundred people who remain hostage in Gaza after being captured by Hamas at the start of this war. But for most of the day, he's going to be in closed-door meetings with key political leaders here, and that includes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He'll sit down with Israel's war cabinet, and then he's going to have a one-on-one meeting with the defense chief here, Yoav Gallant.
And, you know, Steve, we'll hear more about these discussions later on in the day from Blinken when he talks to the press, but he has said for some time that the U.S. wants more humanitarian aid to reach Gaza. And the U.S. is pushing Israel and regional leaders to focus on the future of the enclave once the war is over. The U.S. is also doing what it can to ensure the conflict doesn't spread throughout the region beyond Gaza. And Blinken is expected to push Israeli leaders to ease up on the aerial bombardment of Gaza, which has killed more than 22,000 people so far. And that's according to the health ministry in Gaza.
INSKEEP: Jackie, I can't help but notice your phrasing there - he has said for some time that Israel should modify its campaign in Gaza. Have the Israelis been responsive?
NORTHAM: Partially. The Israelis announced last week they were pulling back some troops from the north and would concentrate their efforts in the south of Gaza. And that, perhaps, is a result of U.S. pressure. The Israelis say they're entering a different phase of the war, but they don't really say exactly what that means. But, you know, Steve, as far as ensuring the war doesn't become a regional conflict, that's the real focus of Blinken's visit here. You know, there's been increased fighting along the Israel-Lebanon border between Iran-backed Hezbollah fighters and Israel. And Prime Minister Netanyahu has said the Israeli military would do everything to restore security in that area, and he said he'd prefer it wouldn't be done with a full-on war with Hezbollah. But he also said that, you know, it wouldn't deter Israel from doing what it feels necessary to secure Israel's northern border.
INSKEEP: OK, so multiple questions here. One is the way to conduct the war inside Gaza, the second is how to avoid a war in the north. What about the future when the war is over?
NORTHAM: Oh, yeah, there are real differences here. Blinken met with a number of leaders from the Persian Gulf states and Turkey before he arrived here in Israel and says they all agreed to consider participating and contributing to this so-called day-after scenario. So if that's right, this is a step forward because none of these nations on Blinken's previous trips to the region wanted to talk about Gaza's future until the war is over. Of course, any planning will have to have buy-in from Israel and the Palestinians. And Netanyahu is opposed to the concept of a two-state solution. That's something the U.S. still firmly believes in, so there's going to be some challenging discussions there.
INSKEEP: Where does he go next?
NORTHAM: Wednesday, he heads off to the occupied West Bank. He'll meet with president of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas. And then, Steve, he heads to Egypt to see President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi. And the Egyptians are key here. They control Gaza's southern border.
INSKEEP: NPR's Jackie Northam is in Israel. Jackie, thanks so much. Good talking with you.
NORTHAM: Thanks, Steve.
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