Home News US urges avoidance of wider war between Israel and Hezbollah

US urges avoidance of wider war between Israel and Hezbollah

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The United States is mounting an intensive diplomatic effort to prevent an all-out war between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia as the risk of a wider regional conflict grows.

In recent days, U.S. officials have pressured Israeli officials and sent messages to Hezbollah leaders in an effort to avoid a broader regional conflict that they fear could draw in Iran and the United States.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant Meeting with several Biden administration officials This week, Israel’s National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi and Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer visited Washington, mainly to discuss escalating tensions on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon. Last week, Israel’s National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi and Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer also visited Washington.

In addition, last week, Amos Hochstein, a senior White House official who serves as an informal diplomat and mediator between Israel and Lebanon, warned Iran-backed Hezbollah that the United States would be unable to stop Israel if it went to all-out war with the militia.

Israel and Hezbollah have been enemies for decades and have frequently exchanged fire on Israel’s northern border. After a Hamas-led attack on Oct. 7 sparked a heavy Israeli offensive into the Gaza Strip, Hezbollah began firing into Israel, mainly targeting military targets in northern Israel, in a show of solidarity with Hamas, which is also backed by Iran. In recent weeks, fighting has intensified as Israel has reduced combat operations in the Gaza Strip, significantly weakening Hamas and freeing up more troops for a possible offensive in the north.

The nightmare scenario for U.S. officials is that the situation will escalate again, with Iran and Israel Direct confrontationIf such a conflict were to occur again, the United States might not be able to control the escalating tit-for-tat situation as it did in April.

For now, U.S. officials believe both Israel and Hezbollah want a diplomatic solution.

During his visit to Washington, Galant told Biden administration officials that Israel does not want an all-out war with Hezbollah but is prepared to strike hard against the group if further provoked.

The officials who met with Mr. Galante included Mr. Hochstein, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and William J. Burns, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

“The U.S. priority is de-escalation,” said David Schenker, who served as assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs in the Trump administration. “Neither side wants war.”

Hezbollah, which was founded with Iranian help after Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 to fight Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon, is a more powerful militant force than Hamas and has amassed thousands of rockets capable of devastating Israeli cities.

U.S. intelligence agencies assess that Hezbollah intends to show support for Hamas through cross-border attacks, but has been trying to avoid giving Israel an excuse to launch a cross-border invasion.

U.S. officials believe the Israeli government is divided over the wisdom of opening a larger front in the north. Some Israeli officials, including Galant, believed after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that Israel should have tried to destroy both Hamas and Hezbollah.

Galante’s position has since changed, according to U.S. officials. He now says it would be unwise to open a new front.

But U.S. officials and analysts say the risk of the war spreading remains high.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under increasing political pressure to restore security in northern Israel, where about 60,000 residents have been evacuated. Many hope to return before the start of the new school year in September, but most say they will not feel safe enough as long as Hezbollah continues its attacks.

Further exacerbating the risks is uncertainty among the United States, Israel, Hezbollah and Iran about each other’s true intentions.

“It is possible to pull this latest escalation and expansion of the conflict back from the brink,” warned Suzanne Maloney, director of the foreign policy program at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. “But now the four players are engaging in a dangerous game of chicken, and the potential for miscalculation is high.”

She added: “Many in Washington and elsewhere underestimate the risk tolerance of Iran’s current leadership.”

American officials have no direct contact with Hezbollah because the United States considers the group a terrorist organization. Mr. Hochstein delivers messages to the group’s leaders through Lebanese Shiite politicians who have informal ties to the group.

“He sent a very strong message, which is that if you think we can dictate what they do or don’t do, you’re wrong,” said Ed Gabriel, president of the American Lebanon Task Force, a nonprofit that supports Lebanese democracy and U.S.-Lebanese relations. “You have to understand that the United States has no power to stop Israel.”

Gabriel, a former U.S. ambassador to Morocco, said he had direct knowledge of the communication, and a U.S. official confirmed that Mr. Hochstein had delivered the message.

In addition to urging both sides to exercise restraint, Hochstein is trying to convince Hezbollah to withdraw its forces further from Israel’s border, as required by a U.N. Security Council resolution adopted after the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war.

In a televised interview on Sunday, Netanyahu said Israel required “physical distance from Hezbollah” and away from the border to eliminate the threat posed by the armed group.

“I hope we will not be forced to take military action, but if we are forced, we will undertake that mission,” he said.

A larger conflict between Israel and Lebanon could be devastating for both sides. In 2006, Israel inflicted massive damage on Lebanon. The group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said he would not have carried out the operation that sparked the war if he had known it would cause such heavy losses. But Israel would also be left with rivers of blood. Hezbollah claims it can fire 3,000 rockets and missiles a day, an intensity that could overwhelm Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.

Even if Iran does not intervene directly, its other proxy forces, including Shiite militias in Iraq and the Houthis in Yemen, could step up attacks on Israeli and U.S. interests.

Analysts and officials say stopping the fighting in Gaza would be the surest way to ease friction between Israel and Hezbollah. Biden-backed plan to stop fighting The Security Council was also in doubt as Hamas made more demands and Netanyahu made ambiguous remarks.

Israeli National Security Advisor Hanegbi said that after Israel ends its offensive on Rafah, it will shift the war to low-intensity fighting in the Gaza Strip. Hochstein is optimistic about this and believes that this will open a diplomatic window for Israel and Hezbollah to reach a ceasefire agreement.

“He thinks it will provide Hezbollah with a ladder to let go of their day-to-day support for the war in Gaza,” Mr. Hanegbi said at a discussion at Reichman University in Herzliya on Tuesday. “It means that it will be possible to discuss reconciliation in the north.”

U.S. officials are increasingly concerned about the welfare of American diplomats and citizens in the Lebanese capital, Beirut.

The U.S. State Department reiterated its warning on Thursday, warning Americans not to travel to Lebanon and stressing that the Lebanese government “cannot guarantee the protection of American citizens from the sudden outbreak of violence and armed conflict.”

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