Report: Biden asked Netanyahu to try to keep north calm during temporary Gaza truce

PM said to make no promises in conversation, but topic likely to come up in war cabinet meeting; US energy envoy briefs Israelis on talks in Lebanon amid efforts to contain war

US President Joe Biden (left) with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023. (Haim Zach/GPO)
US President Joe Biden (left) with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023. (Haim Zach/GPO)

US President Joe Biden asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week to seek to calm ongoing fighting on the northern border with Lebanon during the upcoming temporary ceasefire with the Hamas terror group, according to a report Thursday, amid efforts by the Biden administration to prevent all-out war with Hezbollah.

Hezbollah has signaled it will stop its attacks on Israel, which it has launched on a daily basis throughout the Jewish state’s war with Hamas in Gaza, during the days of the ceasefire. But Jerusalem has not committed to reciprocating.

Channel 13 news said Netanyahu and Biden spoke shortly before the prime minister held a press conference on the upcoming hostage release deal with Hamas, which will be implemented over four days starting Friday (and could potentially be extended) concurrently with a ceasefire.

Biden reportedly said it was his understanding that the ceasefire could be extended to the northern frontier, and that he believed this would be a desirable course of action. Netanyahu did not promise to do so, but the matter may have been under discussion during Thursday night’s meeting of the war cabinet.

The hostage deal, which was mediated by Qatar and the US, would see Hamas release 50 Israeli women and children it took hostage during the October 7 massacre, over the course of four days, in exchange for a lull in the fighting during those four days and the release of 150 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel for terror offenses, all of them women or minors.

Dozens more could be released in the following days in exchange for an extension of the lull in fighting.

File: A shell explodes over Kfar Kila, a Lebanese border village with Israel, as seen from Marjayoun town in south Lebanon, Nov. 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Israeli authorities have released a list of 300 eligible detainees, without specifying the order of release.

The deal will also enable an influx of fuel and humanitarian supplies to Gaza during the pause, which would be the first cessation of fighting since Hamas sparked the war nearly seven weeks ago, when its terrorists rampaged through southern Israel on October 7, massacring some 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and taking some 240 hostages.

US energy envoy Amos Hochstein came to Tel Aviv earlier this week to brief Israeli officials about his talks in Lebanon over the weekend, which were aimed at preventing the opening of a second front in the war, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said.

Hochstein has been working to pressure the Lebanese government to rein in Hezbollah as much as possible, so that the terror group ceases its attacks on Israel.

“We don’t want to see this war escalate. We don’t want to see it widen. We certainly don’t believe it’s in anybody’s interest,” Kirby said Monday.

But Thursday saw Hezbollah escalate hostilities, launching major barrages of rockets and anti-tank missiles at communities and military targets near the border.

File: Amos Hochstein, a senior adviser to US President Joe Biden, speaks to journalists at Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport after his meeting with Lebanese officials, in Beirut, Lebanon, August 31, 2023. (AP/Bilal Hussein)

The Biden administration has privately been urging Israel not to launch a military campaign against Hezbollah, as Washington works to keep the current war from spreading beyond Gaza, two officials familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel last month.

The repeated attacks by the Lebanese terror group and the fact that Israel failed to anticipate the brutal assault by Hamas from Gaza have led to the intensification of discussions about whether Israel must be the one to initiate a battle against Hezbollah to maintain the upper hand.

Such talk has been cause for concern for the US, which has been privately and publicly warning Hezbollah and Iran not to open a war on Israel’s northern front, the officials said.

The US has cautioned Israel to be careful in its military responses to Hezbollah fire, explaining that an IDF mistake in Lebanon could spark a much larger war, the officials added.

Since the war began on October 7, Israel’s northern front on the border with Lebanon has gradually heated up. Daily exchanges of fire and attacks, with Hezbollah, Hamas and other terror groups, are raising fears of a broader conflagration.

Thousands have evacuated Israeli communities near the northern border, leaving many as ghost towns.

Since the cross-border exchanges began, 107 people have been killed on the Lebanese side, according to an AFP tally. The toll also includes at least 14 civilians, three of them journalists.

Hezbollah announced on Wednesday the death of its 79th fighter killed since the war’s outbreak. Seven Hezbollah members have also been killed in Syria.

On the Israeli side, six soldiers and three civilians have been killed.

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