Secretary of State Antony Blinken says “we’ll be prepared” if Iran escalates attacks

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a news conference Thursday, March 17, 2022, at the State Department in Washington. (Saul Loeb/Pool via AP)

As Israel prepares for an expected ground invasion of Gaza while violence escalates along the Lebanese border and in the occupied West Bank, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was concerned about Iranian proxies potentially targeting American personnel — and he said authorities will be ready to “respond decisively” to any attacks if necessary.

“We are concerned at the possibility of Iranian proxies, escalating their attacks against our own personnel, our own people,” Blinken said during an appearance on “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “We’re taking every measure to make sure that we can defend them and if necessary, respond decisively.”

Blinken added that conflict with Iran is “not at all what we’re looking for, not at all what we want, but we’ll be prepared, if that’s what they choose to do.”

Federal officials have been wary since the attack by Palestinian militant group Hamas on Israel on Oct. 7 ushered in a devastating and deadly new chapter of war between the militants and the Jewish state, with thousands dead and wounded on both sides, mainly civilians, and others still being held hostage by Hamas. 

Two dual U.S.-Israeli hostages, mother and daughter Judith and Natalie Raanan, were released by Hamas on Friday.   

Blinken said Sunday that he “can’t speak” to the details of the people who are being held hostage by Hamas.

“We want to make sure that humanitarian assistance gets in and both countries care deeply about the hostages,” Blinken said. “There are many, many Israelis who are hostage and of course, hostages from other nationalities. So we’re working to do everything we can, using whatever levers, partnerships, relationships, we have to get them out. Israel is doing the same. But in terms of what we’re talking to Israel  with regard to their military operations, it really is focused on both how they do it, and how best to achieve the results that they seek.”

The Israeli military has been hitting Gaza with airstrikes, while seeming for days to be on the verge of launching a ground invasion. Israel has traded fire with Lebanon’s Hezbollah — the militant group that is backed by Iran — on a near-daily basis since the war began, driving concerns that the conflict will spread throughout the region. More than 4,300 people have been killed in Gaza, according to the Hamas-backed Palestinian Health Ministry.

President Biden reiterated on Thursday night his past remarks about Iran’s potential involvement in the war in an Oval Office address, where he told the American people that ramping up U.S. support for Israel, as well as Ukraine amid the country’s ongoing war with Russia, is crucial to protect U.S. national security interests. As Iran has supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as well as Hamas’ stronghold in Gaza, Mr. Biden warned Iranian leaders in the address that the U.S. “will continue to hold them accountable.”

Asked what Mr. Biden meant by that, Blinken told “Face the Nation” moderator Margaret Brennan that the administration is standing by its approach to deterring any attempt by proxy forces to take advantage of an already escalating situation. 

“Well, what you’ve seen already … is a very clear message from the President, backed up by the deployment of two of our largest aircraft carrier battle groups, to make sure that it’s clear. No one should take advantage of this moment to escalate to further attacks on Israel or for that matter attacks on us, on our personnel,” Blinken said. 

“And this is not by way of, in terms of what we’re doing by provocation, it’s designed to deter, designed to make clear that no one should use this moment in any way to escalate,” he continued. “No one wants a second front, a third front, and at the same time, we want to make sure that our own people in the region, wherever they are, are safe and protected, and that we’re in a place as we are to respond decisively if we need to.”

The U.S. is increasing its military presence in the Middle East, with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin saying in a statement last week that the move came in response to “recent escalations by Iran and its proxy forces.” Austin said on Saturday that the U.S. would redeploy one of its strike groups to the Persian Gulf and send additional air defense systems to the region, while placing more U.S. forces on “prepare to deploy orders.” Earlier in the week he had ordered 2,000 troops to be prepared to deploy to the area. 

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