EU top diplomat warns Mideast is ‘a boiler that can explode’

Brussels: The EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell on Saturday warned against further escalation in the Middle East after U.S. strikes on Iran-linked groups in Syria and Iraq and reports that Israel intends to take its battle against Hamas to the town of Rafah.

“Everybody should try to avoid that the situation becomes explosive,” Borrell said before chairing informal talks among EU foreign ministers in Brussels, adding that the Mideast “is a boiler that can explode.”

The U.S. military on Friday launched air strikes against 85 targets linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and pro-Iranian groups in Iraq and Syria, with President Joe Biden warning that Washington would “continue” retaliation for last weekend’s drone attack that killed three U.S. soldiers in Jordan.

As the U.S. strikes reportedly killed more than 40 people, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said in a statement that it represented “another adventurous and strategic mistake by the United States that will result only in increased tension in instability in the region.”

Russia called for a meeting of the United Nations Security Council. Asked about the situation, Borrell said: “We call on everybody to try to avoid an escalation.”

The EU top diplomat also expressed deep concern as he pointed to the Israel-Hamas war, saying that around 1 million Palestinians “have been displaced progressively against the Egyptian border.”

“They claimed they were safe zones, but in fact what we see is that the bombing affecting the civilian population continues and it is creating a very dire situation,” he said, stressing that the conflict had created “a domino effect.”

“As long as the war in Gaza continues, it is very difficult to believe that the situation in the Red Sea will improve, because one thing is related with the other,” he added.

After Iran-backed Houthi forces started attacking shipping in the Red Sea in what they describe as acts of solidarity with the Palestinians against Israel, air strikes have been conducted against Houthi targets located in Yemen by the ongoing American-British Operation Prosperity Guardian.

The EU is aiming to launch a naval mission in the region later this month to help protect international vessels from attacks but is seeking to differentiate from the American British operation, with Borrell reiterating the mission would only be “defensive.”

The EU’s mission is yet to be given final approval, pending a meeting of foreign ministers on February 19 and Borrell said he hoped it could be operational by the end of the month.