Photo Credit: Amos Ben-Gershom / GPO
President Isaac Herzog and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meet in Jerusalem on March 27, 2022

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters Sunday that NATO allies plan to “further reinforce” the eastern flank of its territory against any possible invasion by Russia.

Speaking in Jerusalem at a joint news conference with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Blinken said the US and its “allies and partners” are committed to continue providing Ukraine with “the military assistance it needs to defend against the onslaught of planes and tanks, including anti-aircraft systems, anti-armor weapons, drones, and many more.

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“In meetings with the G7 and the European Union, we committed to increasing sanctions on those who bear the greatest responsibility for the unjustified aggression against Ukraine, and to strengthen their enforcement.”

The Secretary added the US is launching a new initiative with the European Union “to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian energy, while accelerating the region’s transition to renewables.”

More than half of all Ukrainian children have been displaced by the war, according to the United Nations.

“It’s an experience that I know left an indelible impression on your father, my stepfather, something that both of our families feel very strongly,” Blinken said to Lapid.

Praises Israeli Support for Ukraine
The Secretary expressed America’s appreciation for Lapid’s “unequivocal condemnation of the Kremlin’s aggression and the commitment that Israel will not be used in any way to bypass sanctions targeting Russia.”

He noted that Israel was one of 140 nations at the UN who voted to support a resolution condemning Russia’s aggression, and that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has “dedicated substantial energy to trying to find a diplomatic way out of the conflict, while the Israeli government “has provided vital humanitarian assistance to the Ukrainian people.”

Blinken also praised the “thousands [who] came out to Tel Aviv’s Habima Square to protest against the Kremlin’s war,” and the thousand-plus people who “raised their hands” when United Hatzalah asked for volunteers to go to Moldova to aid the arriving Ukrainian refugees.”

Of equal importance was the Secretary’s acknowledgment that the war is causing food prices to rise – especially wheat – particularly in the Middle East, “where most countries import at least half of their wheat, a significant proportion of which comes from Ukraine.”

Blinken said the latter issue is one he will be discussing further during his four-day trip, to include stops in the Palestinian Authority, Morocco and Algeria.

Condemns Terror, Insists JCPOA Will Hold Back Iranian Nukes
The Secretary pointed out that “just a few days ago” President Joe Biden signed the omnibus funding bill that includes $1 billion for the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system “which has saved countless lives, including during last year’s conflict with Hamas.”

He added, “We forcefully condemn the recent terrorist attack in Be’er Sheva and extend our deepest condolences to the loved ones of the victims.”

But the key topic of his talks with Israeli officials, he said, was Iran, insisting “When it comes to the most important element, we see eye to eye. We are both committed, both determined that Iran will never acquire a nuclear weapon.”

Nevertheless, there are significant differences in the way the two sides believe that goal can be achieved, as was made clear by both Blinken and Lapid in their separate statements.

“The United States believes that a return to full implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is the best way to put Iran’s nuclear program back in the box that it was in, but has escaped, from since the United States withdrew from that agreement,” Blinken said.

“But whether there’s a JCPOA or not, our commitment to the core principle of Iran never acquiring a nuclear weapon is unwavering. And one way or another, we will continue to coordinate closely with our Israeli partners on the way forward,” he said.

“The United States will continue to stand up to Iran when it threatens us or when it threatens our allies and partners, and we’ll continue to work with Israel to counter its aggression – its aggressive behavior throughout the region.”

US ‘Increasing Assistance to Palestinians’
Later in the day and after talks with President Isaac Herzog, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Blinken traveled to Ramallah, prior to the start this evening of the Negev Summit, to meet with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas.

PM Bennett Thrilled on Eve of ‘Negev Summit’ – and There’s Lots to Celebrate

The Secretary told reporters he would also “meet with Palestinians in East Jerusalem, who are a critical part of the city’s vibrant and diverse civil society” to underscore US work with “Palestinian nongovernmental organizations.”

The Secretary emphasized the Biden Administration is “increasing assistance to Palestinians, supporting the growing Palestinian private sector, and investing significantly in new partnerships between Israelis and Palestinians.”

He said the agenda for talks in both Jerusalem and Ramallah included discussions on ways to “calm tensions and ensure a peaceful Ramadan, Easter, and Passover.”

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.