U.S. Privately Pushing Israel not to Initiate War with Hezbollah — Officials

U.S. Privately Pushing Israel not to Initiate War with Hezbollah — Officials

Officials involved say admin indicated U.S. military will join IDF if Hezbollah starts new front; Biden denies ever saying that but spokesman says "we’ll protect Israel if we need to."

USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier refuels from the underway replenishment oiler USNS Laramie in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, Oct. 11, 2023 // Photo Credit: US Navy photo via AP/Times of Israel
USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier refuels from the underway replenishment oiler USNS Laramie in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, Oct. 11, 2023 // Photo Credit: US Navy photo via AP/Times of Israel

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 U.S. recognizes that Israel must respond to the increased targeting of its northern border by Hezbollah since the shock Hamas onslaught on Oct. 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 U.S., which has been privately and publicly warning Hezbollah and Iran not to open a war on Israel’s northern front, the officials said.

The U.S. 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, U.S. President Joe Biden claimed that it “was never said” that the US would join in the event of a front with Hezbollah.

US President Joe Biden speaks to members of the media during his flight returning from Israel aboard Air Force One, on Oct. 18, 2023 // Photo Credit: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Times of Israel

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby added to reporters that there was “no intention to put U.S. boots on the ground in combat” but that the U.S. 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 Oct. 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.

Israeli soldiers near the border with Lebanon, Oct. 16, 2023 // Photo Credit: Ayal Margolin/Flash90/Times of Israel

On Oct. 10, U.S. 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 U.S. was deeply concerned Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed groups will make the wrong decision to try to “pile on” and widen the war.

Hezbollah supporters wave Lebanese, Palestinian and their group flags, as they hold pro-Gaza placards during a protest to show their solidarity with the Palestinians, in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Oct. 13, 2023 // Photo Credit: AP/Hussein Malla/Times of Israel

The Norfolk, Va.-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 U.S. has also sent munitions and military equipment to Israel in the wake of the Oct. 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.”

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