Israel warns can send Lebanon ‘back to Stone Age’ as UN seeks de-escalation

Gallant says Israel can inflict ‘massive damage’ as UN humanitarian chief says war would be ‘potentially apocalyptic’.

Israel has said it does not want war in Lebanon but could send its neighbour “back to the Stone Age”, as the United Nations humanitarian affairs chief warned such a conflict would be “potentially apocalyptic”.

“We do not want war, but we are preparing for every scenario,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told reporters on Wednesday in Washington, DC. “Hezbollah understands very well that we can inflict massive damage in Lebanon if a war is launched.”

Israel was capable of taking “Lebanon back to the Stone Age, but we don’t want to do it”, he said.

The border between the two countries has seen daily exchanges of fire between Israeli forces and the Iran-aligned Lebanese group Hezbollah since the current conflict in Gaza broke out on October 7. Fears of a full-blown war grew this month after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was preparing for “a very tense operation” on the border with Lebanon.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has also threatened a war with “no restraint and no rules and no ceilings” in case of a major Israeli offensive against Lebanon.

Gallant’s language echoes rhetoric used by Benny Gantz, a former general and leader of Israel’s National Unity party who recently resigned from the war cabinet citing the failure to agree on a plan for Gaza beyond the war.

In a series of campaign videos ahead of general elections in 2019, Gantz referred to sending the Palestinian enclave “back to the Stone Age” during the 2014 Gaza war, a campaign he oversaw as the army chief.

Meanwhile, UN humanitarian affairs chief Martin Griffiths called Lebanon “the flashpoint beyond all flashpoints”.

“It’s beyond planning. It’s potentially apocalyptic,” he told reporters in Geneva, warning that a war involving Lebanon would draw in Syria and other countries.

United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Gallant on Tuesday that another war with Hezbollah could have “terrible consequences for the Middle East”, and urged a diplomatic solution.

A US official said Washington was engaged in “fairly intensive conversations” with Israel, Lebanon and other actors, and believed that no side sought a “major escalation”.

Lebanon’s National News Agency reported about 10 Israeli attacks on areas near the frontier on Wednesday, including one that destroyed a building in Nabatiyeh, wounding five people, and Hezbollah claimed six attacks against Israeli military positions in the border region.

Gallant also said he discussed his “day after” proposals for governance of post-war Gaza with senior US officials. The process, which would include local Palestinians, regional partners and the US, would be “long and complex”, he said.

A member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, Gallant called out the prime minister for a lack of a post-war plan for Gaza – echoing US criticisms – in May.

While Gallant’s trip to the US was aimed at shoring up bipartisan support for Israel as tensions with Lebanon rise, some observers say it is also an attempt to undermine Netanyahu a month before he is to visit Washington, DC, and address a joint session of the US Congress.

INTERACTIVE - Israel-Lebanon cross-border attacks June-1719467423
(Al Jazeera)
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies