The Biden administration is calling on Israel to moderate its response to Hezbollah’s aggression in order to avoid a broader conflict

Mourners carry the coffin during the funeral of Wissam Tawil, commander of Radwan Hezbollah’s elite forces, who Lebanese security sources say was killed during an Israeli attack on southern Lebanon, in Khirbet Selm, Lebanon, January 9, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Aziza Tahera

The Biden administration is pressing Israel’s government to de-escalate hostilities with Hezbollah to prevent a full-scale war from breaking out along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, where the powerful Iran-backed terrorist group wields significant political and military influence.

In Israel’s north, Hezbollah terrorists have fired rockets into Israel daily from southern Lebanon since the October 7 Hamas massacre, prompting Israeli forces to counterattack. Tensions between the two sides are escalating, fueling fears that the conflict in Gaza – a Palestinian enclave ruled by Hamas, another Iran-backed Islamist terrorist group, in Israel’s south – could escalate into a regional conflict.

In October, more than 80,000 Israelis evacuated northern Israel and have not been able to return to their homes since. Most of them have spent the last eight months in hotels in safer parts of the country. The mass displacements have increased pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to find a quick solution to the situation.

The ongoing conflict between the two sides escalated on Tuesday when senior Hezbollah commander Taleb Sami Abdullah was killed in an Israeli attack in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah responded by firing over 200 rockets into northern Israel.

During Abdullah’s funeral senior Hezbollah official Hachem Saffieddine promised that the terrorist group would intensify its attacks on Israel.

“Our response after the martyrdom of Abu Taleb will be to intensify our actions in terms of severity, strength, quantity and quality,” Saffieddine said. “Let the enemy wait for us on the battlefield.”

Meanwhile, in Israel, officials said they preferred a diplomatic solution to the current crisis but were willing to escalate military action to push Hezbollah off the border to allow internally displaced Israelis to return home. Polls have shown that a majority of the Israeli public wants the military to engage in expanded operations against the Lebanese terrorist group, which is committed to Israel’s destruction.

The Biden administration has advised Netanyahu not to pursue the idea of ​​a “limited war” against Hezbollah, arguing that it could spark a regional war across the Middle East. According to multiple reports, U.S. officials have warned Israel that Iran may send fighters from Syria, Iraq and Yemen to Lebanon to bolster Hezbollah’s efforts.

The White House also expressed concern that Israeli officials did not have a clear strategy on how to limit the war to Lebanon alone. The fear of a wider regional war has heightened the urgency for the Biden administration to finalize a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas, which sparked the ongoing war in Gaza with the murder of more than 1,200 people across southern Israel and the kidnapping of more than 250 others on October 7.

“We are concerned about the increase in activity in the north. We do not want the situation to escalate into a broad regional conflict and we call for de-escalation,” a Pentagon spokesman told reporters this week.

The Pentagon also issued a statement saying that Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and his U.S. counterpart Lloyd Austin discussed efforts to “de-escalate tensions along the Israel-Lebanon border in the wake of increased aggression by Lebanese Hezbollah.”

According to multiple reports, Amos Hochstein, US President Joe Biden’s senior adviser on energy and investment, will travel to Israel on Monday to ease tensions between the Jewish state and Hezbollah. Hochstein will meet with Netanyahu and Gallant to persuade them not to green light a “limited land invasion” in Lebanon. Hochstein will also reportedly travel to Beirut to hold talks with Lebanese officials.

“There was a lot of work, diplomatic work done behind the scenes by several people in the U.S. administration, working with regional powers and our allies, to try to suppress this,” Hochstein said, referring to the prospect of a regional war breaking out in the U.S. Middle East.

Hochstein argued that preventing a large-scale war between Israel and Lebanon requires “active engagement” with both sides and that the publics of both countries “understand the risks” of further escalation. He added that “despite bravado talk” from government officials, the Lebanese do not want to go to war with Israel.

“The bottom line is that a lot of civilians will die,” Hochstein said.

Despite the chest-thumping of Hezbollah leaders, experts believe Abdullah’s elimination could prompt Hezbollah to exercise caution in further cooperation with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

The massive elimination worries Hezbollah members. Now they understand that the IDF knows much more about them than we do,” said Professor Amatzia Baram Jerusalem PosT. “Additionally, the operation indicates that Hezbollah’s field protection is not tight and that the organization’s intelligence system has been penetrated to such an extent that we managed to eliminate such an important sector commander. The IDF managed to infiltrate their networks and systems and identify suitable people for elimination.