REHOBOTH BEACH, Del. (AP) — Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday the United States expects the Israel-Hamas war to escalate through involvement by proxies of Iran and asserted that the Biden administration is prepared to respond if American personnel or armed forces become the target of any such hostilities.
“This is not what we want, not what we’re looking for. We don’t want escalation,” Blinken said. “We don’t want to see our forces or our personnel come under fire. But if that happens, we’re ready for it.”
Blinken’s 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.
Israeli warplanes struck targets across Gaza overnight and into 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 traded fire with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group on a near-daily basis since the war began, and tensions are soaring in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Israeli forces have battled militants in refugee camps and carried out two airstrikes in recent days.
The U.S. announced Sunday that non-essential staff at its embassy in Iraq should leave the country.
Blinken, who recently visited the region, spoke of a “likelihood of escalation” while saying no one wants to see a second or third front in the war.
He said he expects “escalation by Iranian proxies directed against our forces, directed against our personnel, and added: “We are taking steps to make sure that we can effectively defend our people and respond decisively if we need to.”
President Joe Biden repeatedly has used one word to warn Israel’s enemies against trying to take advantage of the situation: “Don’t.”
Blinken, appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” noted that additional military assets had been deployed to the region, including two aircraft carrier battle groups, “not to provoke, but to deter, to make clear that if anyone tries to do anything, we’re there.”