U.S. seeks Israel-Hezbollah deal to avert Lebanon warfare | EUROtoday

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U.S. officers say they’re working to quiet combating between Israel and Hezbollah that has pushed Lebanon to the brink of all-out warfare — an effort difficult by the administration’s wrestle to dealer a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas within the Gaza Strip, analysts and diplomats stated.

Fear that months of lethal tit-for-tat violence close to the Lebanese border may devolve into an much more devastating battle peaked this month, after Israel assassinated a senior Hezbollah commander and the militant group retaliated with huge rocket barrages. This week, a number of nations, together with Germany and Canada, warned their residents to depart Lebanon, citing the specter of worsening hostilities.

The United States has not but ordered its residents to evacuate, however this week it despatched an amphibious ship, the USS Wasp, carrying Marines educated for evacuations, to the Mediterranean Sea. The Pentagon has declined to touch upon any evacuations plans for Lebanon.

Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group, political get together and ally of Hamas, has repeatedly stated {that a} halt to Israel’s offensive in Gaza is critical earlier than its fighters stand down. U.S. officers have acknowledged Hezbollah’s phrases whereas suggesting, with out offering particulars, that there could also be choices for ending the battle on the Israel-Lebanon border and not using a Gaza cease-fire.

With talks underway, nervousness has grown in each Lebanon and Israel over the results of a warfare that will nearly definitely end in excessive civilian casualties, after months of combating that has already displaced practically 200,000 Lebanese and Israelis on both aspect of the border.

Such a battle would in all probability contain the United States, Israel’s major navy backer, whereas putting a blow to the Biden administration’s acknowledged objective of stopping hostilities in Gaza from spreading throughout the Middle East.

U.S. and Israeli officers have pressured their need for a broad settlement that will take away Hezbollah’s menace to northern Israel and permit tens of hundreds of individuals displaced from the world to return. But analysts stated Hezbollah, absent a everlasting cease-fire in Gaza, was unlikely to signal on to a deal that constrained its navy choices.


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Draft agreements have known as for the group to maneuver heavy weapons away from the Israeli border, whereas providing reconstruction funds for Lebanon, amongst different phrases, in accordance with Lebanese and European officers and printed studies.

“It is impossible that we will stop if the [war] does not stop in Gaza,” a member of Hezbollah’s media workplace instructed The Washington Post this week, reiterating the group’s long-held place. “If it stops in Gaza, it stops in the south,” the media consultant stated, talking on the situation of anonymity consistent with Hezbollah’s guidelines.

In the occasion of a brief truce in Gaza — wanting a everlasting cease-fire — Hezbollah would reciprocate in Lebanon, “as happened the first time,” the consultant stated, referring to the group’s choice to halt fireplace throughout a one-week pause in Gaza in November. But that doesn’t imply Hezbollah would settle for a broader settlement, which “could not be discussed with us before the war in Gaza is stopped,” the consultant stated. Hasan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s chief, has repeatedly stated the group doesn’t desire a warfare.

The U.S. diplomatic efforts have been led by Amos Hochstein, a prime White House vitality adviser who in 2022 efficiently mediated a maritime deal between Israel and Lebanon. It was a historic settlement that allowed for the demarcation of maritime borders between the 2 nations. Hochstein visited Lebanon this month.

Qatar, which has brokered negotiations between Israel and Hamas, has additionally been requested by the United States to assist mediate in Lebanon, in accordance with an individual acquainted with the trouble who, like others interviewed concerning the ongoing negotiations, spoke on the situation of anonymity to debate delicate diplomacy. Qatar’s function was first reported this week by Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar newspaper.

The Biden administration continues to view a cease-fire in Gaza as a key stepping stone to resolving the disaster in Lebanon. But U.S. officers have additionally begun exploring backup choices to de-escalate tensions, in accordance with officers acquainted with the matter.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller on Tuesday declined to spell out the prospects for a U.S. diplomatic effort succeeding, however stated that “we think a diplomatic resolution is possible” and “in the interests of all parties.” A senior U.S. official who briefed reporters Wednesday stated there have been “openings to advance” diplomacy, whereas additionally declining to debate Washington’s backup planning.

“I’m not going to talk in terms of Plan A, Plan B, Plan C,” stated the official.

Comments by Nasrallah after Hochstein’s go to this month urged that the White House remained centered on the Gaza cease-fire as an answer.

He implied that Hochstein had requested Hezbollah to intervene with Hamas to just accept a White House cease-fire plan, a suggestion he dismissed. “To accept what? To accept this solution that offers them a six-week week cease-fire and deprives them of their most important trump cards they have, and then expose them to relentless war,” he stated, referring to Hamas’s demand for a everlasting finish to the battle.

During a go to to Washington this week, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant stated Israel didn’t desire a warfare with Hezbollah however was “preparing for every scenario.”

“I have met with Amos Hochstein twice this week. We are communicating intensively. Israel wants to find a solution that will change the security situation in the north,” he stated.

“We will not accept Hezbollah troops and military formations on the border with Israel. We will not accept threats to our northern communities,” Gallant said. “We are willing to do everything in our power to protect our people. We don’t want to get into a war because it’s not good for Israel. We have the ability to take Lebanon back to the Stone Age, but we don’t want to do it.”

During his private meetings with officials, Gallant sought to strike fear in the minds of his U.S. counterparts, suggesting that Israel was under threat from Iran and Hezbollah in ways not substantiated by U.S. intelligence assessments, said one official in the room during one of his meetings.

Gallant suggested that Iran may just “randomly start a massive war to destroy Israel, which is a bit over the top and not what the intelligence shows,” said the official.

Heiko Wimmen, project director for Iraq, Syria and Lebanon at the International Crisis Group, said that when it came to the threat of war, “everybody realizes, including the Israelis, that there are limited military options and certainly not good options. I am not sure if anyone believes that a ground invasion is something that at this point is advisable or even feasible.”

Hezbollah is an “opponent of a very different caliber” from Hamas, benefiting from nearly 20 years since the last Israeli incursion into Lebanon to prepare for a similar scenario on its home turf, he said, adding that there are “credible” reports that Hezbollah possesses a tunnel network far more advanced and difficult to strike than the one Hamas built in Gaza. (A Hezbollah spokesman, during an interview with The Post in April, said the group had taught Hamas how to build its tunnels.)

The “general sense is that this is something that has a potential to turn out quite badly. It’s not going to rebuild the deterrence of the IDF very much,” Wimmen said, referring to the Israel Defense Forces. That leaves the possibility that Israel would pursue options short of invasion, including a campaign of airstrikes — a strategy predicated on the notion that enough “pain” could be inflicted on Hezbollah to force the group to stand down.

“That is a risky proposition,” Wimmen stated. “You never know where the redline is until you step over it.”

Hezbollah has continued to interact in negotiations with Washington, through Lebanese mediators, regardless of the continued battles in Gaza, a European official in Lebanon stated.

But if there’s a brief truce in Gaza and Hezbollah holds its fireplace, “the question we are now asking ourselves is: Will Israel decide to stop?” the official stated.

The worry is that Israel will continue the targeted killing of Hezbollah members in Lebanon — 338 have been killed in the fighting since October — risking retaliation or a miscalculation that could trigger a war.

It would inevitably embroil the United States, said Maj. Harrison Mann, who resigned from the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency’s Middle East division last month to protest U.S. support for Israel’s offensive in Gaza.

The United States has provided weapons Israel has already used in Lebanon, and has promised continued support even as its ally weighs an expanded war. At the same time, Biden administration officials say they have privately urged Israel not to be the party that escalates the conflict.

Israel “will not launch the offensive until they are fully confident of America’s support,” he said. “So I think the final trigger for a war of annihilation, in the form of a ground offensive, will be when Netanyahu perceives he has the green light from the U.S.,” he said of Israel’s prime minister.

Fahim reported from Istanbul, Hudson from Washington and Dadouch from Beirut. Mohamad El-Chamaa in Beirut and Karen DeYoung and Dan Lamothe in Washington contributed to this report.