Tue 25 Jun 2024 3:14 pm - Jerusalem Time

Washington sends a veiled threat to Hezbollah

The American magazine Politico reported on Monday that American officials trying to prevent a larger war in the Middle East issued an unusual warning to Hezbollah, saying: Do not assume that Washington can prevent Israel from attacking you.

According to the magazine, a person familiar with the discussions said, “The American message aims to push the Shiite militia stationed in Lebanon to retreat and calm the worsening crisis along the Israeli-Lebanese border.”

This blunt message comes at a time when many American officials seem “resigned” to the possibility of Israel taking a major step against Hezbollah inside Lebanon in the coming weeks.

Two US officials told POLITICO that the militia also needs to understand that Washington will help Israel defend itself if Hezbollah retaliates, and stressed that the militant group should not rely on America to act as a brake on Israeli decision-making.

The person said that the message is being conveyed indirectly; The United States does not deal with Hezbollah face-to-face because it is classified as a terrorist organization and relies on public contacts or intermediaries.

US Special Envoy (of Israeli origin) Amos Hochstein and other US officials have visited the region in recent days to rein in both sides, even as there is a growing feeling in Washington and beyond that escalation is inevitable.

“Israel has to do what it has to do,” said a Defense Ministry official, who was granted the right of anonymity, like others, to speak frankly.

Israel and Hezbollah have been clashing at a low level for months, with exchanges of gunfire and targeted killings stemming from Hamas' attack on Israel on October 7, leading to ongoing Israeli retaliation in the Gaza Strip.

Clashes between Hezbollah and Israel have escalated to new levels in recent weeks with the decline in the intensity of the Israeli war against Hamas.

American officials fear that an all-out battle between Israel and Hezbollah, which is supported by Iran, like Hamas, but is stronger and better armed, will push the region into an all-out war. This is the scenario they have sought to prevent since the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas last October.

Matthew Miller, spokesman for the US State Department, told reporters on Monday: “We believe there must be a diplomatic solution to the conflict across the Israeli-Lebanese border that prevents tens of thousands of families on both sides of the border from returning to their homes.”

These indirect American threats come at a time when Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant is in Washington to hold talks with aides to President Joe Biden, and a large part of the discussion is likely to focus on the crisis along the Israeli-Lebanese border.

The two US officials said the Biden administration would help Israel defend itself in any scenario with Hezbollah, including everything from revamping Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system to providing intelligence. If Israel comes under intense pressure — with Hezbollah peppering its major cities with rockets and missiles, for example — the United States may move toward more direct military support, the officials said.

The two American officials said it does not appear that Israeli leaders have made a final decision on what to do, although none of them appear to want all-out war, and neither does Iran.

US intelligence believes Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah does not want war, but estimates that the risk of war will increase this month, as does the risk of miscalculation on either side, according to another senior US official.

Israel's military forces are weary after months of war in Gaza, where the fighting is far from over, but in conversations with American officials, Israeli leaders have made compelling arguments about why they need to strike Hezbollah sooner rather than later.

Movements by Hezbollah in the immediate aftermath of the Hamas attack on October 7 led to Israel evacuating several communities near its border with Lebanon. The loss of this population has undermined the integrity of Israel's control along that border, a sensitive issue for a country concerned about its territorial security.


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Washington sends a veiled threat to Hezbollah