Secretary of State Antony Blinken has suspended plans for a crucial Middle East visit intended to strengthen ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia, among other regional partners. While Blinken’s visit to Israel remains uncertain, trips to Saudi Arabia and Morocco are expected to be scrapped due to the ongoing hostilities.
The decision comes against the backdrop of Hamas’ unprecedented attack on Israel, which threatens to disrupt the delicate negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Such a diplomatic breakthrough would have marked a significant achievement for all involved parties, notably diminishing Iran’s influence, as the country has long supported Hamas’ activities in Gaza.
The preliminary agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia, reported by The Wall Street Journal in August, was contingent on concessions to the Palestinians, U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s civilian nuclear program, and U.S. security guarantees. However, given Saudi Arabia’s historical criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and its stance on the Gaza Strip, the ongoing conflict jeopardizes the negotiations.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that the battle against Hamas is anticipated to be protracted and demanding. The Israeli military has conducted over 1,000 airstrikes in Gaza since the conflict began, and Netanyahu has asserted that more actions are imminent.
Israel has adopted a strategy of warning civilians in targeted areas of impending strikes, allowing them to evacuate and mitigate civilian casualties. In response, Hamas has threatened to execute captured Israelis in retaliation for any attacks on civilians without prior warning. It is estimated that Hamas is currently holding over 150 soldiers and civilians hostage in Gaza.
The conflict shows no signs of abating, with the possibility of Israel launching a ground invasion to eradicate Hamas from Gaza. Israel’s military has recently reported regaining control over areas near the Gaza Strip border that were breached during Saturday’s surprise attack.
As the situation remains highly volatile, Secretary Blinken’s trip postponement underscores the fragile nature of diplomatic efforts amid the escalating Israel-Hamas conflict.