Blinken’s Gaza diplomacy tour begins to avoid Middle East war

Blinken with Türkiye’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with the leaders of Türkiye and Greece on Saturday during the opening stops of his latest Middle East diplomatic mission, as fears grow that the Israel-Hamas war may expand into a broader conflict.

Blinken held talks with Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in Crete, Greece and exchanged views on international and regional issues with a focus on developments in the Middle East.

The two underscored the strength of the bilateral relationship and shared commitment as NATO allies to democracy, peace, and prosperity. They also discussed the ongoing situation in the Middle East.

The Secretary thanked the prime minister for Greece’s regional leadership, including its continued support for Ukraine, delivery of life-saving humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza, and for freedom of navigation in the Red Sea through its participation in Operation Prosperity Guardian.

“We appreciate Greece’s leadership on regional issues, including assistance to Ukraine and efforts to enhance freedom of navigation in the Red Sea,” Blinken said during the meeting.

Greece is sending a warship to support a United States-led naval coalition in the Red Sea, as part of the ‘Operation Prosperity Guardian’, becoming the latest country to join the alliance to counter threats from Yemen’s Houthis.

Defence Minister Nikos Dendias announced the move in a televised address recently, saying Greece, has a primordial interest to maintain freedom of navigation and protect seafarers’ lives.

Blinken also held talks with Türkiye’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and foreign minister, Hakan Fidan, in Istanbul about what Türkiye and others can do to ease tensions.

Blinken “emphasized the need to prevent the conflict from spreading … and work toward broader, lasting peace that ensures Israel’s security and advances the establishment of a Palestinian state,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement summarizing Blinken’s meeting with Erdogan.

Stepped-up attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea by Yemen’s Houthis have disrupted international trade and led to increased efforts by the U.S. and its allies to patrol the vital commercial waterway and respond to threats.

The coalition of countries issued what amounted to a final warning to the Houthis last week to cease their attacks on vessels or face potential targeted military action.

The United States joined with several of its allies to warn Yemen Houthis against further attacks on vessels in the Red Sea, labelling recent Houthi attacks “illegal, unacceptable, and profoundly destabilizing.”

The United States, Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the United Kingdom all joined in issuing the stark warning.

The statement comes few days after Iran moved a warship to the Red Sea, which came after the U.S. sank three Houthi ships in the area.

“The Houthis will bear the responsibility of the consequences should they continue to threaten lives, the global economy, and free flow of commerce in the region’s critical waterways,” the statement read.