If the United States military comes under fire in the Middle East, it will respond in a decisive manner, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a press briefing on Sunday.
Blinken acknowledged that Israel’s continued and intensified bombardment of the Gaza Strip since the Palestinian militant group Hamas launched an attack in southern Israel on 7 October raises the possibility that Iranian proxies could escalate hostilities against US forces and personnel in the Middle East.
While expressing a strong preference for de-escalation and avoidance of further conflict, he underlined the US administration’s efforts to prepare for defence.
“We don’t want to see a second or third front. We don’t want to see our forces or our personnel come under fire. But if that happens, we’re ready,” Blinken said.
Blinken’s comments come amid clashes along the Lebanon-Israel border and a surge in attacks on US military facilities and troops in Iraq and Syria, raising fears of a wider war.
Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip have killed 5,087 Palestinians since the surprise Hamas attack in southern Israel on 7 October that left 1,400 dead.
With the death toll in Gaza rising daily as Israel continues to bombard, the Israeli army has been preparing for a ground invasion of Gaza City.
The US pledged support for Israel in its ongoing aggression, with a New York Times report quoting US officials saying the US government has advised Israel to delay its ground invasion of Gaza.
Meanwhile, in support of Hamas, the military alliance known as the “Axis of Resistance”, which includes Iran, the Syrian government, Lebanese Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite militias, has openly warned Israel of a strong response if it launches a ground offensive in Gaza.
US military bases in both Iraq and Syria have also been targeted in a series of drone attacks by Iranian-backed Shiite armed groups recently, leading the Pentagon to announce an increase of its forces in the region.
Iraqi security forces said the latest drone attack took place on Saturday, targeting a US airbase in Iraq.
Clashes along the Lebanon-Israel border intensified on Sunday, with the Israeli prime minister warning Lebanon against being dragged into a new war.
The Iranian-backed armed group Hezbollah, which is also a regional force in its own right with a political party of the same name that dominates southern Lebanon, has vowed to escalate if Israel begins its planned ground invasion of the Gaza Strip.
As the situation evolves, the deployment of Chinese warships to the Middle East has been a recent development. Chinese leader Xi Jinping had previously called for a two-state solution to Israel-Palestine conflict.