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 on Wednesday.
The US recognizes that Israel must respond to the increased targeting of its northern border by Hezbollah since the shock Hamas onslaught on October 7 in which over 1,400 Israelis were killed, the officials clarified.
But 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.
Biden officials have indicated to Israel in recent days that if Hezbollah initiates a war against Israel, the US military will join the IDF in fighting the terror group, the officials said.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday following his brief solidarity visit to Israel, US President Joe Biden claimed that it “was never said” that the US would join in the event of a front with Hezbollah.
White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby added to reporters that there was “no intention to put US boots on the ground in combat” but that the US has its “national security interests” and “we’ll protect them if we need to.”
Kirby said that a pair of aircraft carrier strike groups dispatched last week by the Pentagon to the eastern Mediterranean was to “deter” Israeli and American adversaries in the region “from taking action.”
“It’s a sufficient, credible military force,” said Kirby, adding if Biden “decides that that force needs to be used to defend our interests, we’ll do that.”
Hezbollah has fired dozens of anti-tank guided missiles, rockets, and mortars at Israeli military positions and Israeli towns since the October 7 Hamas onslaught, while also sending gunmen to infiltrate into Israel. Several drones have also been intercepted over northern Israel.
At least five Israeli soldiers, 13 Hezbollah terrorists and five Palestinians from other terror groups have been killed in these exchanges. One Israeli civilian was killed in a Hezbollah attack Sunday, and two Lebanese civilians and a journalist were also reported killed by Israeli shelling.
On October 10, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered the Ford carrier strike group to sail to the Eastern Mediterranean to be ready to assist Israel. The USS Gerald R. Ford, the Navy’s newest and most advanced aircraft carrier, and its approximately 5,000 sailors and deck of warplanes will be accompanied by cruisers and destroyers in a show of force that is meant to be ready to respond to anything, from possibly interdicting additional weapons from reaching Hamas and conducting surveillance.
A senior Defense Department official said at the time that worries about Hezbollah opening a second front of violence against Israel was the main reason for moving the ships to the Eastern Mediterranean. The official said the US was deeply concerned Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed groups will make the wrong decision to try to “pile on” and widen the war.
The Norfolk, Virginia-based carrier strike group already was in the Mediterranean. Earlier this month, it conducted naval exercises with Italy in the Ionian Sea. The carrier is in its first full deployment.
The US has also sent munitions and military equipment to Israel in the wake of the October 7 massacre, in which some 2,500 Hamas terrorists burst through Israel’s security barrier via land, sea, and air killing over 1,400 people and seizing 200-250 hostages of all ages under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities.
The vast majority of those killed as gunmen seized border communities were civilians — men, women, children and the elderly. Entire families were executed in their homes, and over 260 were slaughtered at an outdoor festival, many amid horrific acts of brutality by the terrorists, in what Biden has highlighted as “the worst massacre of the Jewish people since the Holocaust.”