Biden Urged Netanyahu to Call Off Attack on Hezbollah
26 December 2023, The Australian / Wall Street Journal, by Vivian Salama – Dion Nissenbaum – Benoit Faucon
Joe Biden urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to halt a pre-emptive strike against Hezbollah forces in Lebanon days after Hamas militants’ October 7 assault on southern Israel, warning such an attack could spark a wider regional war.
Israel had intelligence, which the US deemed unreliable, that Hezbollah attackers were preparing to cross the border as part of a multi-pronged attack, pushing some of Israel’s more hawkish officials to the brink, officials said.
Israeli warplanes were in the air awaiting orders when the US President spoke to Mr Netanyahu on October 11 and told him to stand down and think through the consequences of such an action, according to sources.
The Israeli attack didn’t go ahead. And the conversation between Mr Biden and other US officials and Mr Netanyahu and his war cabinet set a pattern of White House efforts to guard against any expansion of the conflict that could draw in the US.
After the Hamas assault, the US sent two aircraft carrier strike groups to the eastern Mediterranean, followed by a nuclear submarine, to bolster deterrence. Last week it created a special naval taskforce in the Red Sea to deal with attacks from Iran-backed Houthi militants in Yemen.
But diplomacy has been at the heart of Washington’s efforts. Amos Hochstein, the White House official leading the efforts to de-escalate tensions at the Israeli-Lebanese border, has ferried between Washington, Beirut and Jerusalem in an attempt to secure a diplomatic end to the fighting. France has also been heavily involved, pushing Lebanon to abide by UN Security Council resolution 1701 that calls for Hezbollah forces to pull out of southern Lebanon and stay at least 28km from the Israel border.
The US received its first indication of Israel’s proposed plans to pre-emptively strike the morning of October 11 about 6.30am in Washington, when Israeli officials urgently notified the White House they believed Hezbollah was planning an attack. Israel knew it couldn’t do it alone, US officials said, and asked for American support.
Mr Biden’s top intelligence, military and national security advisers – including CIA director William Burns and director of national intelligence Avril Haines, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and CQ Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs – convened later that morning for a meeting chaired by National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, to discuss Israel’s proposed plans, and they determined that US intelligence didn’t correspond with Israel’s.
After Mr Biden was briefed, he got on a call with Mr Netanyahu and his war cabinet urging Israel to stand down. The Israeli leader wasn’t convinced but members of his war cabinet, particularly Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, explained a broader war was inevitable and they wanted to get ahead of an attack. The US pushed back, insisting a bigger war could be averted.
After 45 minutes of discussion, Mr Netanyahu ended the call, saying he would discuss the matter with his cabinet.
About the same time, northern Israel went on alert. Israeli soldiers on the northern border received urgent orders from their commanders that they should prepare to fight Hezbollah fighters paragliding and driving into the country from southern Lebanon. Israel sent out an alert for everyone in northern Israel to immediately head into bomb shelters.
The warnings, which later proved to be false alarms, were among a series of incidents that fuelled their fears of another attack.
It took about six hours of back-and-forth calls and meetings before Israeli officials agreed to stand down, as the US insisted the intelligence didn’t suggest an imminent Hezbollah attack.
After pushback from Mr Biden, Mr Netanyahu and the war cabinet decided not to go ahead with the major strike. Officials in the Israeli Prime Minister’s office and the Defence Ministry declined to comment.
The risks of miscalculation on both sides of the border persist.
Militants in Lebanon have hit Israel more than 200 times in attacks that have killed 10 people, including seven Israeli soldiers, according to data compiled by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project. Israel has responded with nearly 1000 strikes inside southern Lebanon that have killed more than 120 Hezbollah fighters and 10 Lebanese civilians.
After more than two months of strikes that have delivered a significant blow to Hezbollah forces in Lebanon, Israeli officials expressed optimism that the militant group would agree to withdraw its forces from the Israel-Lebanon border.
“The feeling is that this is doable now,” one official said.Article link: https://todayspaper.theaustralian.com.au/infinity/article_popover_share.aspx?guid=d478ffe1-314f-443d-8166-d649c0ff61e1&share=true
Article source: The Australian / Wall Street Journal | Vivian Salama - Dion Nissenbaum - Benoit Faucon | 26.12.23