US sent message to Hezbollah that it won’t be able to rein in Israel — report

Iran-backed terror group said to respond by touting its ability to land heavy blows on Israel, while insisting it, too, doesn’t want all-out war

View of a house that was hit from a rocket fired from Lebanon into the northern Israeli city of Kiryat Shmona, seen on June 24, 2024. (David Cohen/Flash90)
View of a house that was hit from a rocket fired from Lebanon into the northern Israeli city of Kiryat Shmona, seen on June 24, 2024. (David Cohen/Flash90)

US President Joe Biden’s Mideast envoy Amos Hochstein warned Lebanese officials last week that Washington would not be able to stop Israel from invading should Hezbollah continue its attacks, according to several reports.

“Israel’s gotta do what they gotta do,” a US Defense Department official told Politico, which reported that Washington had telegraphed to Hezbollah that it can’t rein in Israel if the situation escalates.

The Biden administration is seeking to prevent a full-fledged war between Israel and Hezbollah, which began launching near-daily attacks on the north following Hamas’s October 7 onslaught on southern Israel.

Among US concerns is that a major Israeli offensive would pull in Hezbollah’s backer Iran, complicating efforts to defend the Jewish state.

Hochstein was in Lebanon last week to call for the “urgent” de-escalation of cross-border exchanges of fire between Hezbollah and Israel. He also visited Israel and held talks in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, as well as opposition leaders.

During his meeting with Lebanese parliament speaker Nabih Berri, a Hezbollah ally, Hochstein reportedly asked for a message to be sent to the terror group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, that the US does not control Israel.

He advised Hezbollah to indirectly negotiate with Israel, rather than scale up border tensions, Axios said in a report that cited a US official, an Israeli official and a Western diplomat close to the matter.

US special envoy Amos Hochstein (L) meets with Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati in Beirut on January 11, 2024 (JOSEPH EID / AFP)

According to a Western diplomat cited in the report, Hezbollah sent messages back to the US after the envoy’s visit, touting the terror group’s capabilities to deliver serious blows to Israel, while also stating that it doesn’t want war.

The Axios report said that US officials are concerned that with the fighting carrying on in Gaza, a war between Israel and the Lebanese terror group is becoming more likely. A war would likely flare regional tensions and draw the US deeper into the conflict.

“It will take everyone’s interest in ending this conflict now. And we believe that there is a pathway diplomatically to do it. If the sides agree to it,” Hochstein said during his visit last week.

The White House declined to comment on the Axios report.

Politico, in its Monday report on the developments, cited two US defense officials as saying Washington also wants Hezbollah to understand that it will help Israel defend itself against retaliation from Lebanon. That would include helping to keep the Iron Dome air defense system stocked up and providing intelligence, the two officials said. If Israel struggles to defend itself, such as against barrages fired at major cities, the US may take direct action against Hezbollah, they said.

The officials noted that Israel does not appear to have made a decision on the matter, though none of its leaders want an all-out war, and neither does Iran.

Israeli reserve soldiers of the IDF Devorah Unit seen during a training session at the northern Israeli border with Lebanon. January 16, 2024. (David Cohen/Flash90)

According to Politico, Israel has told Washington that its public support of a military operation, even just as a threat, could push Hezbollah to back down or agree to a ceasefire.

Netanyahu reiterated in a Sunday interview his hope that there would be a diplomatic solution to the northern border skirmishes, while asserting that Israel was bracing to address the threat militarily if need be.

Talks with Israel focus on “injecting reality” into Netanyahu’s calculations, a US official told Politico.

Another senior US official told the outlet that US intelligence believes Nasrallah also doesn’t want a war but as the conflict has escalated, there is a heightened risk of a miscalculation by either side.

Israeli leaders have stressed to Washington that they want to resolve the issue soon and before the start of the coming school year. Israel’s leaders are concerned that displaced families among the tens of thousands forced to relocate from northern communities because of the Hezbollah attacks will register their children in schools where they are currently residing, making them reluctant to move back to the north later on, the report said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, meets with US Special Envoy Amos Hochstein in Jerusalem, June 17, 2024. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Also working to prevent further escalation, two of Netanyahu’s top aides were in Washington this week to discuss a diplomatic solution.

Axios cited a US official as saying that National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer were told by Biden’s advisers that Washington would fully support Israel should war erupt with Hezbollah.

However, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on Monday appeared to warn Israel against launching a major offensive against the terror group when he met with Gallant, the defense minister, who is also visiting Washington.

Blinken “underscored the importance of avoiding further escalation of the conflict and reaching a diplomatic resolution that allows both Israeli and Lebanese families to return to their homes,” the State Department said in its readout of the secretary’s meeting with Gallant.

Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. warned Sunday that any Israeli military offensive into Lebanon would risk an Iranian response in defense of Hezbollah and that US forces would be challenged to bolster Israel’s air defense umbrella.

Axios said that the US and Israel are hoping that if the intensity of fighting in Gaza drops, that will help de-escalate the situation on the Lebanese border. Netanyahu on Sunday said the “intense phase” of fighting in Gaza was winding down.

Fires and smoke rise at houses in the northern border town of Metula after they were hit by Hezbollah shelling, as seen from the Lebanese town of Marjayoun, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Since October 8, Hezbollah-led forces have attacked Israeli communities and military posts along the border on a near-daily basis, with the group saying it is doing so to support Gaza amid the war there. The attack began the day after the Palestinian terror group led a devastating assault on Israel that killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, starting the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip.

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

Hezbollah has named 349 members who have been killed by Israel during the ongoing fighting, mostly in Lebanon but some also in Syria. In Lebanon, another 64 operatives from other terror groups, a Lebanese soldier, and dozens of civilians have been killed.

A war between the two heavily armed foes could be devastating to both countries and incur mass civilian casualties. Hezbollah’s rocket arsenal is believed to be far more extensive and accurate than Hamas’s.

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