Gaza escalation: US will respond ‘swiftly’ if Iran attacks Americans in the region

The head of U.S. diplomacy proposed a ‘humanitarian pause’ to allow aid to enter the enclave, just a week after Washington vetoed a resolution that called for the same measure

María Antonia Sánchez-Vallejo
Guerra Israel Gaza EEUU
Antony Blinken, U.S secretary of state, speaks before the U.N. Security Council in New York on Tuesday.EDUARDO MUNOZ (EFE)

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned on Tuesday of the risk that the war in Gaza could lead to a regional conflict if Americans became a target. “The United States does not seek conflict with Iran. We do not want this war to widen,” he said before the U.N. Security Council.

Blinken reminded the international organization’s highest executive body — which is in charge of ensuring global peace and security — that Iran supports Hamas, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthi rebels of Yemen and other militias in the region, and that some of these groups recently attacked U.S. targets in Iraq and Syria. “If Iran or its proxies attack U.S. personnel anywhere, make no mistake: we will defend our people, we will defend our security — swiftly and decisively,” warned Blinken.

The message from Blinken — whose appearance at the U.N. Security Council was announced with just a few hours of notice — is not new. It is part of the waiting game that Washington is trying to play, as Israel prepares a ground offensive in Gaza. The United States is concerned that the Gaza conflict will spread throughout the region, but it is also worried about the fate of the dozen Americans — some with dual Israeli nationality — who were taken hostage by Hamas.

On Tuesday, Blinken reminded the U.N. Security Council that 35 U.N. staff members had been killed in the conflict, and said that greater effort must be taken to prevent further loss of civilian life. “Let’s not forget that among the more than 1,400 people Hamas killed on October 7 were citizens from more than 30 U.N. member states, including many of the members around this very table,” he said. “The victims included at least 33 American citizens. Every one of us has a stake, every one of us has a responsibility, in defeating terrorism.”

“All acts of terrorism are unlawful and unjustifiable,” he continued. “We cannot give up on peace [...] We stand at a crossroads. Two paths lie before us. The difference between them could not be more stark. One is the path offered by Hamas. We know where it leads: death, destruction, suffering, darkness. The other is the path toward greater peace, greater stability, greater opportunity, greater normalization and integration [...] a path toward Palestinians realizing their legitimate right to self-determination and a state of their own.” He added, however, that time for the two-state solution was running out.

His statements come as the U.S. finalizes a resolution on the Gaza crisis to present to the U.N. General Assembly, which is below the Security Council in rank, as its decisions are non-binding. This resolution is set to be presented on Thursday.

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden also believes that aid to Gaza is not arriving quickly enough. In view of this, Blinken asked the Security Council on Tuesday to consider “humanitarian pauses” to allow “food, water, medicine, and other essential humanitarian assistance” to flow into Gaza. But he said these pauses should be carried out “without benefiting Hamas or any other terrorist group” such as Islamic Jihad, which also operates in Gaza. “We know Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people,” he said. “Hamas must avoid using them as human shields.”

John Kirby, spokesperson for the National Security Council, also spoke in similar terms on Tuesday, saying he was in favor of humanitarian pauses, but not a ceasefire. “A ceasefire right now will only benefit Hamas,” he said.

Blinken’s request comes just a week after the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Linda Thomas-Greenfield, vetoed a draft resolution presented by Brazil that — in addition to condemning the Hamas terrorist attack of October 7 — called for “humanitarian pauses” to help Gazans suffering due to the Israeli army’s siege. “There is no hierarchy when it comes to protecting civilian lives,” Blinken said on Tuesday. “A civilian is a civilian is a civilian.”

Israel calls for UN secretary general to resign

The U.N. is in a difficult situation, as any resolution in the Security Council can be vetoed by one of its five permanent members: China, France, Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States. That’s what happened last week when the U.S. vetoed Brazil’s resolution on humanitarian pauses, and it is what Russia does with any proposal on the war in Ukraine.

The difficulty of the U.N.’s situation was again brought to light on Tuesday, when U.N. Secretary General António Guterres was lambasted by Israel for speaking in support of Palestine. While he condemned the “horrifying and unprecedented” Hamas attack in Israel, Gueterres said: “It is important to also recognize the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum. The Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation. They have seen their land steadily devoured by settlements and plagued by violence; their economy stifled; their people displaced and their homes demolished. Their hopes for a political solution to their plight have been vanishing.”

Israel’s ambassador to the U.N. Gilad Erdan called for Guterres’s resignation following the speech. “I call on him to resign immediately. There is no justification or point in talking to those who show compassion for the most terrible atrocities committed against the citizens of Israel and the Jewish people. There are simply no words,” he said in a post on X (formerly Twitter). “It’s truly sad that the head of an organization that arose after the Holocaust holds such horrible views.”

Following the speech, the Israeli Foreign Ministry canceled the bilateral meeting scheduled with Guterres. The U.N. secretary general was also scheduled to meet with family members of the Israeli hostages, who attended the Security Council meeting.

According to Israel’s permanent mission to the U.N., the relatives were also scheduled to meet with the mayor of New York, Eric Adams — who last week traveled to Israel and has participated in several pro-Israel demonstrations — as well as with Jewish leaders of the city.

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