US working to avert ‘greater war’ between Israel and Hezbollah: Biden envoy

US says halt of cross-border hostilities is ‘urgent’ as Gaza war threatens to escalate into major regional conflict.

Senior Advisor to U.S. President Biden, Amos Hochstein, gives a statement to the media after his meeting with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri in Beirut, Lebanon, Monday, March 4, 2024. Hochstein, a senior adviser to U.S. President Joe Biden, discussed with Lebanese officials Monday a diplomatic solution for the Lebanon-Israel border saying that if a truce is reached in the Gaza Strip it will not automatically mean that there will be calm along Lebanon's southern border. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
US envoy Amos Hochstein discussed with Lebanese officials a diplomatic solution for the Lebanon-Israel border [Bilal Hussein/AP Photo]

The United States is working to prevent “a greater war” between Israel and Hezbollah, a White House envoy has said amid growing fears of an major conflict between the two sides..

Speaking on Tuesday during a trip to Lebanon, from where the Iran-aligned armed group is engaged in near daily clashes with Israel, Amos Hochstein said that the US is urgently seeking to calm a conflict that has been threatening to escalate since it started in October with the war in Gaza.

Hezbollah and Israel have regularly traded fire across the Israel-Lebanon border over the last eight months. Last week, the Lebanese group fired hundreds of rockets and drones at Israeli military sites after one of its commanders was killed.

Speaking after meeting with Lebanon’s Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a close ally of Hezbollah, Hochstein called for “urgent” de-escalation.

“We have seen an escalation over the last few weeks. And what President Biden wants to do is avoid a further escalation to a greater war,” Hochstein told reporters.

The US envoy had travelled to Beirut following meetings in Israel on Monday. Israel’s Haaretz reported that he had warned Israeli officials that continuing the Israeli-Hezbollah confrontation could lead to a “wide-scale Iranian attack”.

In Beirut, Hochstein said it is in “everyone’s interest” to resolve the conflict quickly and diplomatically. “That is both achievable and it is urgent.”

‘Diplomatic framework’

Hochstein’s visit came Hezbollah unilaterally suspended its attacks for two days during the Eid al-Adha Muslim holiday, which began on Sunday. But that pause ended on Tuesday with Hezbollah saying that it targeted an Israeli tank with a suicide drone.

The Lebanese group also released a nine-minute video of what it said was footage its surveillance drones brought back from Israel. The video showed and identified military facilities in the north of the country as well as key infrastructure in Haifa – Israel’s third largest city – including a power plant and commercial port.

Hezbollah has said it will not halt its attacks into northern Israel unless there is a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said Hezbollah was boasting about the footage it captured from the Haifa port and threatening to attack international companies in it.

“We are very close to the moment of decision to change the rules against Hezbollah and Lebanon. In an all-out war, Hezbollah will be destroyed and Lebanon will be severely hit,” Katz wrote in a social media post on Tuesday.

“The State of Israel will pay a price on the front and home fronts, but with a strong and united nation, and the full power of the [Israeli military], we will restore security to the residents of the north.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also said earlier this month that “one way or another, we will restore security to the north”, and his hardline nationalist coalition partners have called for an aggressive military response.

The Israeli military said on Monday that it killed a “central operative” in Hezbollah’s rocket division in a drone strike.

The US State Department said late on Monday that it is advancing a proposal to avert a large-scale conflict.

“There is a diplomatic framework that we believe is reachable that would resolve this conflict without a full-on war,” a spokesperson said.

In Beirut, Hochstein called for the adoption of the Gaza ceasefire proposal being pushed by Biden’s administration in the hope that it would quickly bring peace across the “Blue Line”, referring to the disputed Israel-Lebanon border.

“A ceasefire in Gaza and, or, an alternative diplomatic solution could also bring the conflict across the Blue Line to an end” and allow the return of displaced civilians to southern Lebanon and northern Israel, he said.

Hezbollah recently said that it has carried out more than 2,100 military operations against Israel since October 8. The Lebanese group started its attacks with the outbreak of the war in Gaza in what it says is an effort to support Palestinians.

The Israel-Lebanon border violence has killed at least 473 people on the Lebanese side, most of them fighters but also including 92 civilians, according to an AFP tally.

Israeli authorities say at least 15 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed in the country’s north.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies