[Sec. of State Antony Blinken’s goal is to] deliver a message directly to countries in the region that the United States does not want to see the conflict escalated and will not escalate the conflict. A senior U.S. official said concerning U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to the Middle East this week – Blinken’s fifth visit to the region since the Hamas terror attack on Israel on October 7, 2023.
What To Know: On Monday, Sec. Blinken – the nation’s top diplomat – met with Saudi Arabia’s Prime Minister and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud. U.S. State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller said of his visit, “The Secretary underscored the importance of addressing humanitarian needs in Gaza and preventing further spread of the conflict,” adding that the leaders also spoke about “the urgent need to reduce regional tensions, including a cessation of Houthi attacks undermining both freedom of navigation in the Red Sea and progress on the Yemen peace process.” (The Iranian-backed Houthis – a soon-to-be Specially Designated Foreign Terrorist group by the U.S. – have been waging a civil war in Yemen since 2014; more background HERE).
Background: On Monday, the U.S. launched a strike targeting “two explosive uncrewed surface vehicles” located in areas of Yemen controlled by Houthis. The U.S. Central Command said the weapons posed “an imminent threat to U.S. Navy ships and merchant vessels in the region.” On Tuesday, two ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden were suspected to have been attacked by Houthis, with no injuries reported. This comes following Saturday’s attack by the U.S. and Britain which hit 36 Houthi targets in Yemen, intending to disable the Houthis capability to continue attacking U.S. and international shipping in the Red Sea (which they are conducting in support of Hamas amid the Israel-Hamas war).
Attacks by Iran-backed militia groups have escalated elsewhere in the Middle East, with three U.S. service members killed in an attack in Jordan on January 28th. The U.S. has since begun its military response to this attack, reporting 85+ strikes against Iran-backed militias and Iranian military positions in Syria and Iraq on Friday. U.S. President Joe Biden’s top national security advisor referred to the strikes as the beginning, not the end, of the U.S.’ response. Why This Matters: Increasing escalations in the Middle East raise fears of a more direct conflict with Iran (a U.S.-designated State Sponsor of Terrorism).
Secretary Blinken’s Meeting with Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud in Riyadh (U.S. Department of State)
by Sarah Pinkerton,