On Monday Iran’s foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian claimed that the United States is desperately seeking an end to the fighting to Gaza, despite Israel being nowhere near dismantling and destroying Hamas at the moment, which is Tel Aviv’s stated aim.
The foreign minister said that “the Americans sent us a message in the past three days saying they are are seeking a ceasefire,” according to state TV.
This could indeed be the behind the scenes messaging now being advanced as Secretary of State Blinken shuttles between capitals in the region, having most recently met with with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday. So far he’s on record as seeking a ‘humanitarian pause’ in the fighting.
More interesting is that the White House has simultaneously dispatched CIA Director William Burns, who arrived in Israel Sunday for top level meetings. Burns will also go to Qatar, and then Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.
As with the Ukraine war, Burns is often sent to crisis spots to relay messaging that the US administration doesn’t wish to discuss publicly. This could involve further mediation to get the hostages freed, or working toward some kind of serious ceasefire agreement centered on the hostages’ freedom.
This could be what’s behind Iran’s Monday statement claiming that the US is frantically working toward ceasefire, given also world public opinion is fast turning against Israel, as the death toll mounts – as of Monday surpassing 10,000 deaths in Gaza. Al Jazeera reports:
Palestinian Health Ministry says 10,022 people have been killed by Israeli attacks in Gaza since October 7, including 4,104 children and 2,641 women.
The ministry added that 25,408 people have also been wounded.
A US official described to Axios that Burns’ trip is to “discuss issues of mutual concern including the situation in Gaza, support for hostage negotiations, and the US commitment to continuing to deter state and non-state actors from widening the conflict between Israel and Hamas.” As for world opinion, South Africa is the latest to join a handful of Global South countries which has recalled diplomats from Israel.
Meanwhile, in light of this Iran has ratcheted its threats and messaging aimed at Washington, after its proxy arm Hezbollah has already blamed the US for overseeing the massacres in Gaza. Tehran is now warning that the US will be “hit hard” if it can’t press Israel to a ceasefire.
“Our advice to the Americans is to immediately stop the war in Gaza and implement a ceasefire, otherwise they will be hit hard,” Iranian Defense Minister Mohammad-Reza Ashtiani was quoted as saying by the semi-official Tasnim news agency on Sunday.
But importantly it remains the the Biden administration’s official positions it so say no to ceasefire, reflected in fresh statements by Blinken in Amman:
The Arab foreign ministers that Blinken met with on Saturday in Amman – from Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates – issued the same demand.
But Blinken said the U.S. would not push for one.
“It is our view now that a cease-fire would simply leave Hamas in place, able to regroup and repeat what it did on Oct. 7,” he said. Instead he said that temporary humanitarian pauses in fighting would be critical to protecting civilians, getting aid in and getting foreign nationals out “while still enabling Israel to achieve its objective, the defeat of Hamas.”
A US military build-up in the region has continued, after US bases in Syria and Iraq have been targeted by ‘Iran-backed’ militias over two dozen times, resulting in troop injuries. This new Iranian threat to hit Americans “hard” no doubt is a threat to step up these attacks further, as Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah also warned just days ago in a speech.
The White House could also begin to face more pressure domestically from with within the Democratic base, considering also again the death toll on the Palestinian side has just surpassed the grim 10,000 mark, with by far most of the casualties being civilians. While Biden has emphasized over and over again his “love” and commitment for Israel, the progressive wing of his base will increasingly wield influence on the issue at popular level.