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Contain war to Gaza, avoid Hezbollah, US tells Israel

US warns Israel against escalating Lebanon fighting, says war should be contained to Gaza
3 min read
13 November, 2023
Washington's defence secretary warned his Israeli counterpart against expanding the Gaza war into Lebanon, as fierce cross-border clashes between the Israeli army and Hezbollah continue.
Israel has used white phosphorus in some of its attacks in south Lebanon [Getty]

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin has reportedly warned his Israeli counterpart over the weekend against escalating its fight with Hezbollah along the border with Lebanon, stressing the need to keep fighting contained to Gaza.

Austin informed Yoav Gallant in a phone call on Saturday of the White House’s concern that Israeli military operations in southern Lebanon may exacerbate the clashes along the Israel-Lebanon border, which could develop into a regional war, US news website Axios reported, citing Israeli and US sources.

Some officials in the US administration are concerned that Israel is trying to provoke Hezbollah and create a pretext for a broader war in Lebanon that could ultimately 'draw' the US in, the sources told Axios.

Austin asked Gallant for clarification on Israeli strikes on Lebanon, stressing the need to avoid winding up tensions that could possibly lead to an all-out war, the sources said.

Gallant ruled such a situation, saying that Israel’s current policy is not to open a second front with Lebanon, Axios reported.

But Gallant did tell Austin that "Hezbollah is playing with fire", citing a drone attack last week from Syria that targeted Israel’s southernmost city of Eilat.

Since the start of Israel’s war on Gaza, the powerful Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah has also been engaged in cross-border clashes with the Israeli military.

Although fighting has been mostly limited to the border region, there have been instances where Israel has broken the so-called 'rules of engagement' by bombing north of the Litani River, where UN peacekeepers do not operate.

More than 60 Hezbollah fighters and at least 14 civilians have been killed in south Lebanon since 7 October, when Israel began pounding Gaza. Several Israeli soldiers have also reportedly died or sustained injuries from the clashes.

Tens of thousands have fled their homes in both southern Lebanon and northern Israel.

Israel has used white phosphorus, whose use is restricted under international law, in some of its attacks.

Both Gallant and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have repeatedly issued stark warnings to both Hezbollah and the Lebanese government, saying that the entire country would pay a heavy price if Hezbollah chose to escalate.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah – who has twice spoken publicly since the start of the Gaza war on 7 October – has also warned that his group would use full force if Israel decided to go to war with Lebanon or "make a stupid mistake".

In Gaza, more than 11,000 people have been killed in Israel’s unprecedented bombardment, most of them civilians. Israeli ground troops continue to encircle the northern part of the enclave as more Palestinians are forced to move south.

The US has expressed its unwavering support for Israel but has on occasion urged Israel to tone down its attacks, including by 'using smaller bombs' in Gaza.