Despite mounting pressure from the United States to rein in the war in Gaza, Israel’s defense minister now suggests his forces may soon open a second northern front to expel Iran-backed Hezbollah from the Lebanese border.
Speaking to mayors and mayors from the north, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on Wednesday that the government would not encourage some 80,000 residents evacuated from northern communities near the Lebanese border to return to their homes before expelling Hezbollah beyond the Litani River in southern Lebanon.
The continuing fear among northern communities is that they are at serious risk from missile attacks and incursions by Hezbollah.
In statements Quoted by The Times of Israel and HaaretzGalant told a meeting in Nahariya, Israel’s northernmost port city, that the government hopes to push Hezbollah to retreat through diplomatic means, but if that fails, it will “act with all means at its disposal” using military action.
The southern part of the Litani River extends parallel to the Israeli-Lebanese border and 18 miles to the north of it. Under the terms of UN Resolution 1701 that ended the 2006 Lebanon War, Israel agreed to withdraw all its forces from southern Lebanon, and Hezbollah was required to maintain any presence south of the river.
However, Hezbollah has not kept its part of the deal and, over the years, has holed up in southern Lebanon in positions directly overlooking Israeli border towns, launching rockets in recent weeks. And the days.
Israel responded forcefully in a tit-for-tat response, raising growing fears of escalation. American officials were quick to try to contain any expansion of the conflict, and warned Hezbollah against opening a second front against Israel.
Initially, most skirmishes between Hezbollah and Israel were limited to strikes on military targets, and remained within what Lebanese politicians describe as the “rules of the game,” which were informally drawn up to limit miscalculations by Israel and Hezbollah over the years since they fought. 34 One Day War in 2006. But the exchanges now go beyond established rules and strike civilian targets.
Gallant’s comments on Wednesday go beyond those made by Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. in November. Herzi Halevi, who also held meetings with local leaders from the north and sought to reassure them. At that meeting, local leaders warned that evacuees in the north would not return as Hezbollah remained confined to the border.
“What prevents them from shooting Kalashnikovs from the fence at civilians in the border towns? After October 7, does anyone have any doubts about the intentions, threats, and capabilities of our enemies outside the borders? Avichai Stern, a local mayor, said at the November meeting.
About 80,000 residents of communities up to 10 kilometers south of the Lebanese border have been evacuated since early October. Most of them stay at government expense in hotels in Tel Aviv.
Last month, American officials warned their Israeli counterparts against considering launching an attack north of the Lebanese border. According to American press reports. US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin expressed his concern to Gallant About Israel’s role in escalating tensions with Hezbollah.
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