Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken hurried right into a bunker as air raid sirens wailed in Tel Aviv on Monday, in probably the most dramatic second of a whirlwind — and unusually chaotic — Center East tour for America’s high diplomat.
After his second go to to Israel in 4 days, Mr. Blinken was scheduled to land in Amman, Jordan, on Monday night time, along with his subsequent vacation spot unsure. A visit initially scheduled for 2 days has now prolonged into its sixth, with 9 stops and counting.
For an official whose journey schedule is meticulously deliberate and barely revised, Mr. Blinken’s frenetic journey has underscored the size and complexity of the diplomatic disaster he faces.
Mr. Blinken is without delay attempting to indicate U.S. help for Israel after it was attacked by Hamas on Oct. 7; restrict Arab criticism of Israel’s army response; win the liberty of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza; and stop an escalation of the battle, maybe to incorporate Hezbollah and Iran, that may attract the US.
It has been a grim voyage for Mr. Blinken, who at occasions appeared haunted as he described the slaughter of Israeli residents and a rising humanitarian disaster in Gaza.
Talking to reporters in Cairo on Sunday, two days after his first cease in Israel, Mr. Blinken conceded that issues had turn out to be a blur even for him. “I feel I’ve misplaced monitor” of what number of international locations he had visited, Mr. Blinken mentioned, earlier than appropriately placing the rely at seven since his departure from Washington on Wednesday afternoon: Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, plus two stops every in Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
For State Division veterans, Mr. Blinken’s journey was harking back to a latest predecessor. John Kerry, who was secretary of state through the Obama administration, continuously prolonged and improvised his journeys — even altering locations midflight, in what was branded “seat-of-the-pants diplomacy.” Not so Mr. Blinken, who usually travels from Monday to Friday, returning in time to spend the weekend at dwelling along with his two younger youngsters.
The advert hoc nature of the journey started simply days after the massacres by Hamas. Mr. Blinken instantly moved up a go to to the area that he had deliberate for the next week. The State Division introduced that he would depart on Oct. 11 for Israel and Jordan, and return on Friday, Oct. 13.
That plan was quickly torn up as State Division officers, in session with the White Home, expanded Mr. Blinken’s itinerary to incorporate a number of different main capitals.
“Henry Kissinger’s 33-day journey to succeed in an Israeli-Syrian disengagement accord following the 1973 October Struggle holds the Center East shuttle report,” mentioned Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow on the Carnegie Endowment for Worldwide Peace and a former longtime State Division Center East negotiator. “Blinken’s latest wild trip via the area doesn’t fairly examine. Nevertheless it does replicate the uncertainty and chaos of a disaster the administration didn’t see coming and the complexity of the challenges it faces going ahead.”
“From right here on in,” he added, “the secretary would possibly wish to pack a number of additional shirts. If the administration desires to make a distinction on this area, there are doubtless going to be greater than few wild rides in his future.”
Making a distinction is not going to be simple. Mr. Blinken has not but succeeded in certainly one of his objectives: securing the free passage of Americans in Gaza via a border crossing into Egypt. A whole bunch remained caught on the sealed border on Monday.
It isn’t for need of attempting. After their arrival within the area, on Thursday, Mr. Blinken and his aides nailed down their schedule for the following day: 4 international locations in at some point, from Jordan to Qatar to Bahrain to Saudi Arabia.
They generally improvised on the transportation: To get from Tel Aviv, their first cease, to Amman they took a C-17 U.S. army airplane that looped over Cyprus after having despatched the standard Boeing 757 Air Drive airplane forward so the crew may relaxation whereas the American diplomats met with Israeli officers.
In Jordan, Mr. Blinken met with King Abdullah II in his palace after which with Mahmoud Abbas, the top of the Palestinian Authority, in a villa. In Qatar, Mr. Blinken held a joint information convention in a lavish authorities constructing with the prime minister. In Bahrain, he spoke to the prime minister, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, in a V.I.P. airport lounge as royal guards in costume uniforms flanked a pink carpet on the tarmac open air.
To squeeze in conferences, Mr. Blinken took a fast day journey from Riyadh to the United Arab Emirates on Saturday after which again to the Saudi capital once more. On Saturday night time he ready to fulfill with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the nation’s de facto chief who has regained a measure of diplomatic legitimacy lower than three years after the Biden administration launched intelligence discovering him liable for the 2018 killing and dismemberment of the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi.
That assembly launched a brand new ingredient of uncertainty. Reporters touring with Mr. Blinken have been instructed to be prepared at any minute to depart their resort within the secretary’s motorcade for an viewers with the crown prince, the area’s strongest Sunni Muslim ruler.
The hours dragged on, from midnight to 2 a.m. after which 4 a.m. Lastly, the prince agreed to fulfill Mr. Blinken after 7:30 a.m. on Sunday at his non-public farm residence. (The journalists, who had stayed up nearly all night time, have been in the end denied entry.)
Officers mentioned it was typical for the prince to maintain even vital guests ready. Even so, it was a uncommon and almost certainly irritating expertise for a sleep-deprived Mr. Blinken, who’s used to overseas officers accommodating his schedule.
At midday on Sunday, it was off to Egypt — supposedly Mr. Blinken’s final cease earlier than returning dwelling. “I do know that that is the final of your massive tour within the area,” Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, instructed Mr. Blinken initially of their assembly in Cairo.
Not so quick. A return journey to Israel was added to the schedule, and Mr. Blinken spent the night time in Jordan earlier than flying again to Tel Aviv on Monday morning and driving on to Jerusalem to see Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once more.
By this time, State Division officers had begun whispering about President Biden probably visiting Israel this week. Plans for a Monday return to Washington have been scratched. The brand new plan was to fly again to Jordan, and everybody would wait there for additional directions.
In Jerusalem on Monday, between conferences with Israeli leaders, Mr. Blinken made an unscheduled cease on the residence of the American ambassador, popping in to borrow a safe line for a name to Washington. Shortly beforehand, the White Home had introduced that Mr. Biden was canceling a visit to Colorado that day for a nationwide safety assembly — maybe the identical one which Mr. Blinken was calling into.
Mr. Blinken’s journey has additionally been charged with an uncommon present of hazard. Safety officers who usually put on fits sported physique armor and helmets whereas guarding his airplane throughout his stops in Israel.
On Monday, proper after Mr. Blinken’s convoy left Jerusalem, air sirens sounded there, indicating incoming rockets or missiles. Everybody within the metropolis ran for shelter. Sirens sounded too in Tel Aviv. Officers and journalists within the convoy between the 2 cities have been instructed to race from the vehicles if sirens sounded and lie down on the bottom at roadside.
After Mr. Blinken met with Mr. Netanyahu and his battle cupboard round 7 p.m. on the Kirya army base in Tel Aviv, sirens sounded once more. The touring journalists and Israeli troopers standing outdoors dashed right into a stairwell indoors.
Mr. Blinken and Mr. Netanyahu have been assembly within the prime minister’s workplace within the Shimon Peres Home on the bottom when the sirens sounded. Mr. Blinken and the Israeli officers ducked right into a bunker for 5 minutes. They then walked to a command middle to proceed their assembly, which was nonetheless going into early Tuesday morning ad infinitum — far longer than initially deliberate.