REHOBOTH BEACH, Del. – Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Sunday that the United States expects the Israel-Hamas war to escalate with the involvement of Iran’s proxies, and they assured that the Joe Biden administration be prepared to respond if American personnel or forces become the target of such hostilities.
“This is not what we want, not what we are looking for. We don’t want any escalation,” Blinken said. “We do not want our forces or personnel to come under fire. But if that happens, we are prepared for it.”
Austin echoed Blinken, saying: “What we are seeing is the prospect of a significant escalation in attacks on our troops and our people across the region.” He said the U.S. has the right to self-defense and “we will not hesitate to do so.” to take appropriate measures.”
The senior U.S. officials’ warning came as Israel’s military response to a deadly Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on civilians in communities in southern Israel entered its third week.
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Israeli warplanes struck targets across the Gaza Strip overnight and Sunday, as well as two airports in Syria and a mosque in the occupied West Bank, allegedly used by militants, as the war threatened to engulf more of the Middle East.
Israel has been exchanging fire almost daily with the militant Hezbollah group in Lebanon since the start of the war, and tensions have been rising in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Israeli forces have been battling militants in refugee camps and carrying out two airstrikes in recent days.
The United States announced on Sunday that non-essential personnel at its embassy in Iraq should leave the country.
Blinken, who recently spent several days in the region, spoke of a “likelihood of escalation” and said no one wanted a second or third front of hostilities between Israel and Hamas, which rules Gaza.
The minister said he expected “an escalation by Iranian proxies directed against our forces and personnel,” adding: “We are taking steps to ensure we can effectively defend our people and respond decisively when necessary.” Iran is an enemy of Israel.
Blink, appearance on NBC Meet the pressnoted that additional military assets had been deployed to the region, including two aircraft carrier battle groups, “not to provoke, but to deter, to make it clear that if anyone tries to do something, we are there.”
Biden has repeatedly warned Israel’s enemies not to take advantage of the situation with one word: “Don’t do it.”
Meanwhile, trucks carrying food, water and other supplies urgently needed by Palestinians living in Gaza continued to enter the enclave on Sunday, after a key border crossing with Egypt was opened a day earlier to allow humanitarian aid to flow make possible.
But Cindy McCain, executive director of the U.N. World Food Program, said the situation in Gaza remained “catastrophic.” She said more help needs to be approved.
She said her organization was able to feed 200,000 people on Saturday, “but that’s not enough.” That’s a drop. We need safe and sustainable access there, in this region, so that we can feed people.”
Before the last war, 400 aid trucks entered Gaza every day, she said.
“This is a disaster and we just have to get these trucks in,” she said.
Biden, who was at his home on the Delaware coast, was briefed on the latest developments by his national security team, the White House said. Biden also discussed the situation in separate conversations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Pope Francis.
Biden and Netanyahu spoke about “the need to prevent escalation in the region and work toward lasting peace in the Middle East,” the White House said. Israel has promised a military ground invasion of Gaza to destroy Hamas.
Biden also convened a conference call with the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom to discuss the conflict. Among the topics discussed, the White House said leaders were committed to working closely together to prevent the war from escalating while seeking a political solution.
The State Department on Sunday ordered non-essential U.S. diplomats and their families at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq and the U.S. Consulate in Erbil to leave the country due to rising tensions. In an updated message to Americans in Iraq, the department said the security situation in Iraq makes it impossible to conduct normal operations.
Austin and McCain spoke on ABC This week.