Blinken is in Israel on his Mideast tour aimed at trying to contain the war in Gaza
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has arrived in Israel. It's the latest stop in a weeklong tour of the Mideast aimed at trying to contain the war in Gaza. This is his fourth trip to Israel since early October, when Hamas attacked Israel, killing some 1,200 people. Secretary Blinken arrived in Tel Aviv shortly after an Israeli airstrike killed a senior Hezbollah commander in southern Lebanon. NPR international affairs correspondent Jackie Northam is with us from Israel. Hi there.
JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: So Secretary Blinken has been on this multi-stop tour, meeting with Turkish and Arab leaders. Can you give us a better sense of his agenda?
NORTHAM: He has a full agenda. As you mentioned, one of the things he's trying to do is prevent the war in Gaza from spreading throughout the region, particularly between Israel and Iran-backed Hezbollah militia. You know, we're seeing increasingly deadly skirmishes and attacks between the two sides along Israel's northern border with Lebanon. But Blinken is also trying to ensure more humanitarian aid gets into Gaza. You know, there are severe shortages of food and water there. He's also urging regional players to get involved with shaping Gaza's future once the war is over. And finally, Ari, Blinken is expected to push Israeli leaders to scale back their offensive, this aerial bombardment of Gaza that's now entered into its fourth month.
SHAPIRO: Let's talk more about the situation with Israel and Lebanon because, as we mentioned, a Hezbollah commander was killed in an Israeli airstrike earlier today in Lebanon, less than a week after the assassination of a senior Hamas leader there. Many believe Israel was also behind that. So is there any indication that Israel will listen to what Blinken has to say?
NORTHAM: Well, Israeli leaders have said they'll deliver a decisive military blow to Hezbollah if it doesn't agree to a deal to pull back its forces from the border. And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - you know, he was visiting soldiers along the Lebanon border today. And he said, you know, the military would do everything to restore security in the area. And he added that it would be preferable if that could be done without what he called a wide-ranging campaign, but that it wouldn't stop Israel. Also, the U.S. and Israel appear to have different ideas about Gaza post-war. The White House would like to see some regional buy-in to support Gaza, you know, once the fighting is over. And there are questions about who would be responsible for security and who would govern Gaza, and, you know, who would pay for reconstruction once the war is over.
SHAPIRO: The U.S. has been urging Israel to ease off its intensive bombing campaign of Gaza. Around 23,000 people have died there since the war began in October, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Does it look like Israel has started to change its strategy?
NORTHAM: Well, last week the Israelis announced they were pulling back some troops from the north and would concentrate their efforts in the south of Gaza. And there's been talk for the past week or so that there is a shift in Israeli strategy - you know, doing more targeted attacks. And this could be in response to repeated American calls, but it's still unclear what this new phase will really look like. The Israelis may be anticipating more difficult conversations with Secretary Blinken and - you know, as the U.S. and its allies put pressure on Israel to scale down the fighting and allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza.
SHAPIRO: So who will Blinken meet with in Israel?
NORTHAM: He'll have a round of meetings starting Tuesday with political leaders, and that includes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He'll sit down with the war cabinet, and then he's going to have a one-on-one with Israel's defense minister, Yoav Gallant. On Wednesday, he's going to go out to the occupied West Bank to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. And then there's just one last stop after that on this tour, and that's to Cairo to meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. And Egypt is a critical player and negotiator, you know, throughout this Gaza conflict.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Jackie Northam in Israel. Thank you.
NORTHAM: Thanks very much, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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