Biden adviser to visit Israel in bid to prevent all-out war

Gallant rejects Macron’s proposed trilateral task force to defuse Hezbollah tensions

Defense chief slams France’s ‘hostile policies’ toward Israel amid war, prompting spat with Foreign Ministry; homes damaged as Lebanese terror group keeps attacking northern towns

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant meets troops on the northern border, May 17, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant meets troops on the northern border, May 17, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Friday ruled out joining an initiative promoted by French President Emmanuel Macron in which France, the United States and Israel would form a contact group to work on defusing escalating tensions with Hezbollah on the northern border.

“As we fight a just war, defending our people, France has adopted hostile policies against Israel,” Gallant said in a statement. “In doing so, France ignores the atrocities committed by Hamas against Israeli children, women and men.”

“Israel will not be a party to the trilateral framework proposed by France,” he wrote.

Gallant’s remarks were made after Macron announced the three countries had agreed to work together to step up efforts to push forward a roadmap presented by Paris earlier this year to de-escalate the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, which has been growing in intensity since the Lebanese terror group began attacking the north following Hamas’s October 7 massacre in southern Israel.

The defense minister did not specify what prompted this stance, but his statement came after French authorities last month banned Israeli defense firms from exhibiting at one of the world’s largest defense fairs, amid growing calls to limit arms sales to the IDF and divest from Israeli defense companies on the backdrop of the ongoing war in Gaza.

That decision came days after an Israeli strike targeting two top Hamas terrorists in Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah sparked a fire in a complex housing displaced Palestinians, killing dozens of civilians and triggering international outrage and protests in France.

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks to the press during the G7 summit in Fasano, southern Italy, June 13, 2024. (Ludovic Marin/AFP)

The comments by Gallant were denounced by senior Foreign Ministry officials, opening up a rare public spat between leading Israeli ministries.

“We disapprove of Defense Minister Gallant’s attacks on France,” said the diplomats in an unsigned statement.

“Beyond the existing disagreements between Israel and France, the statements against France are incorrect and inappropriate,” they said.

The Foreign Ministry pointed out that France took “an active role” in defending Israel against Iran’s drone and missile attack in April.

“From the start of the war,” the diplomats said, “France has taken a clear line of denunciation and sanctions against Hamas, and takes an aggressive line in everything having to do with sanctions in the EU against Iran and its missile and drone project, and was a partner in the IAEA Board of Governors decision to advance a sanctions process against Iran’s nuclear program.”

They also insisted French authorities were vigorously fighting antisemitism and protecting Jews in France, which like other Western nations has seen surging antisemitism since October 7.

“The Foreign Ministry will continue to fight to protect Israel’s interests on the northern border with all the relevant players,” the diplomats’ statement concluded pointedly.

Red hands graffiti seen on the ‘Wall of the Righteous’ (Mur des Justes), in Paris, France, on May 14, 2024. (Antonin UTZ / AFP)

Gallant clapped back at the diplomats, with his office castigating them for “hiding” behind anonymity.

“Israel will not grant France status in deliberations about its security needs in Lebanon. This position is shared by the US and Israel,” said the statement from Gallant’s office.

Meanwhile, the Axios news site cited two unidentified Israeli officials who said that Amos Hochstein, a senior adviser to US President Joe Biden, will arrive in Israel on Monday to try to prevent the recent escalation between Israel and Hezbollah from turning into an all-out war.

Hezbollah continues attacks on border communities

Amid the international efforts to prevent the fighting from further escalating, Hezbollah continued to bombard northern Israeli communities on Friday with rockets, anti-tank missiles and explosive-laden drones, resulting in damage but no casualties.

In a morning barrage targeting Kiryat Shmona and the nearby community of Kfar Szold, the IDF said Hezbollah fired 35 rockets, several of which were intercepted. Other projectiles impacted the area, causing damage in Kiryat Shmona and sparking a fire near Kfar Szold.

In response, fighter jets hit several sites belonging to the terror group in Odaisseh and Kafr Kila, the military said. The IDF said it also shelled the launch sites with artillery.

Hezbollah claimed responsibility for Katyusha and Falaq at Kiryat Shmona and Kfar Szold, saying the attack was in response to a deadly IDF strike in southern Lebanon’s Jannata the night before, in which at least two civilians were reportedly killed.

In another attack Friday morning, Hezbollah fired anti-tank missiles at the border town of Metula, causing two houses and an old bus being used as a residential unit to catch fire.

There were no reported casualties.

The IDF also said Friday that Hezbollah launched 16 explosive-laden drones from Lebanon at Israel over the past 72 hours.

According to the IDF, 11 of the drones were shot down by air defenses.

Friday’s strikes tail ended a week of intensive fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, which has been attacking Israeli communities and military posts along the border on a near-daily basis since October 8. Hezbollah says it is attacking Israel in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, amid the war started by Hezbollah ally Hamas’s terror onslaught.

Days after Hezbollah launched anti-aircraft missiles at Israeli fighter jets on Sunday for the first time since skirmishes began, an alleged Israeli airstrike on Tuesday killed Taleb Sami Abdullah, the most senior Hezbollah commander killed so far in the fighting. In response, Hezbollah launched some 215 rockets at Israel, its largest barrage yet, and vowed to intensify its attacks along the border to avenge Abdullah’s death.

So far, the skirmishes on the border have resulted in 10 civilian deaths on the Israeli side, as well as the deaths of 15 IDF soldiers and reservists. There have also been several attacks from Syria, without any injuries.

Hezbollah has named 342 members who have been killed by Israel during the ongoing skirmishes, mostly in Lebanon but some also in Syria. In Lebanon, another 62 operatives from other terror groups, a Lebanese soldier, and dozens of civilians have been killed.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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