Gallant tells US envoy Hochstein there’s a ‘short window’ for a deal with Hezbollah

Defense minister calls for ‘a new reality in the northern arena’ so that displaced Israelis can return to their homes: ‘We will not tolerate the threats posed by the Iranian proxy’

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (right) meets US special envoy to the region Amos Hochstein at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, January 4, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (right) meets US special envoy to the region Amos Hochstein at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, January 4, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told US special envoy to the region Amos Hochstein that there is “a short window of time for diplomatic understandings” to be reached with Hezbollah, as the Lebanese terror group continued to carry out daily attacks on northern Israel.

“There is only one possible result — a new reality in the northern arena, which will allow for the secure return of our citizens,” Gallant said to Hochstein, according to remarks provided by his office.

The defense minister was referring to more than 80,000 residents of northern Israel who have been displaced by the attacks, which began after Hamas’s brutal October 7 massacres in southern Israel.

“We find ourselves at a junction. There is a short window of time for diplomatic understandings, which we prefer. We will not tolerate the threats posed by the Iranian proxy, Hezbollah, and we will ensure the security of our citizens,” Gallant added.

Cross-border attacks from Lebanon have persisted since the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip on October 7, when thousands of terrorists burst into Israel from Gaza, killing some 1,200 people and kidnapping over 240, mostly civilians.

As Israel launched a military campaign, including a ground incursion, to destroy Hamas, remove it from power in Gaza, and release the hostages, it also rushed forces to the north as a precaution against Hezbollah mimicking the Hamas attack.

Israel has increasingly warned that if the international community does not push Hezbollah — which, like Hamas, is sworn to Israel’s destruction — away from the border through diplomatic means, it will take action.

This picture taken on December 31, 2023 from southern Lebanon shows smoke billowing across the border in northern Israel after the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group launched a barrage of rockets amid ongoing cross-border tensions. (Hasan Fneich/AFP)

The Defense Ministry said on Thursday that Hochstein was briefed on “the security situation on Israel’s northern border and the conditions required by the defense establishment to facilitate the secure return of Israel’s northern communities to their homes in the region.”

“Gallant reflected the determination of Israel’s defense establishment to change the security reality in northern Israel and along the border with Lebanon, and emphasized the top priority of enabling over 80,000 displaced Israelis to return to their homes,” his office said.

Gallant’s office added that the defense minister expressed his appreciation to Hochstein for “his work in the region and for reflecting the United States’ and US President [Joe] Biden’s commitment to the security of the State of Israel.”

Gallant’s meeting with Hochstein at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv was also attended by IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, Israel’s ambassador to the US Michael Herzog, and other senior defense officials.

US President Joe Biden dispatched Hochstein to the region as Washington intensified its diplomatic engagement in a bid to lower roiling tensions between Israel and Hezbollah.

Hochstein, who was heavily involved in shepherding talks that culminated in Israel and Lebanon demarcating a maritime border in 2022, arrived in Israel Thursday.

A senior Biden administration official briefing reporters Wednesday said Hochstein met with Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib and that the US has a “diplomatic effort underway to help resolve some of the tension” between Israel and Hezbollah, without elaborating further.

Also Thursday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna agreed to seek steps to avoid a wider Middle East war following strikes in Lebanon and Iran, according to the US State Department.

In a telephone call the day before, the two top diplomats “discussed the importance of measures to prevent the conflict in Gaza from expanding, including affirmative steps to de-escalate tensions in the West Bank and to avoid escalation in Lebanon and Iran,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (2nd R) greets the French Minister of Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna (2nd L) as they arrive for the start of the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting in Brussels, on November 28, 2023. (Saul Loeb/Pool/AFP)

The phone call came ahead of another Middle East trip by Blinken, his fourth since October 7.

French President Emmanuel Macron earlier called on Israel to avoid escalation “particularly in Lebanon,” where Israel was suspected of carrying out a strike on Tuesday that killed a senior Hamas leader.

The United States said it did not have advance knowledge of the strike in Lebanon but described slain Hamas number two Saleh al-Aruri as a “brutal terrorist.”

In Iran, whose clerical state backs Hamas, twin blasts on Wednesday killed at least 84 people as they mourned Revolutionary Guard General Qasem Soleimani, who was killed four years earlier in a targeted US strike.

A US official said that the attack bore the hallmarks of the Islamic State terrorist group, which is strongly opposed by Shiite-majority Iran, and denied any role by the United States or Israel.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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