Jan 10, 2024 - World

Senior Biden adviser to visit Beirut as tensions on Israel-Lebanon border escalate

Billowing smokes are pictured after Israeli airstrikes in Khiam, Lebanon, on Jan. 6.

Billowing smokes are pictured after Israeli airstrikes in Khiam, Lebanon, on Jan. 6. Photo: Taher Abu Hamdan/Xinhua via Getty Images

Senior Biden adviser Amos Hochstein is expected to visit Beirut on Thursday to continue efforts to calm tensions along the Israeli-Lebanese border as skirmishes between the Israeli military and Hezbollah escalate, the White House said.

Driving the news: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior officials told Hochestein in Tel Aviv last week that there is only a short window of time to find a diplomatic solution that will prevent an all-out war between Israel and Hezbollah.

Catch up quick: Shortly after the war in Gaza began, Hezbollah started attacking Israeli military outposts along the border and launching rockets and drones into the northern parts of Israel. Israel has responded with air strikes and artillery fire.

  • Israel has evacuated tens of thousands of civilians from Israeli villages and towns close to the border as a precaution, with fears Hezbollah's elite Radwan forces could conduct an attack like that of Hamas on Oct. 7.
  • The Israeli government said publicly that the situation along the border must change — through a diplomatic solution or military action — before it will allow evacuated Israeli citizens to go back to their homes. Israel wants Hezbollah's forces to be pushed roughly six miles from the border as part of a diplomatic deal, as Axios previously reported.

State of play: On Monday, the situation along the Israel-Lebanon border escalated further after an Israeli strike killed senior Hezbollah field commander Wissam al-Tawil, who led the group's elite Radwan force.

  • Since then the exchange of fire between the parties continued with Hezbollah attacking the headquarters of the IDF northern command with drones and Israel killing several other field commanders of the militant group.

Behind the scenes: Hochstein is expected to meet with acting Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati and other senior Lebanese government and military officials to advance discussions on how to reach understandings that will restore calm along the border, a White House National Security Council spokesperson told Axios.

Three Israeli officials said Hochstein stressed in his talks in Tel Aviv that once the IDF fully transitions to low-intensity operations in Gaza, it will help calm down the situation in Lebanon. He also proposed that Israel issue a public statement announcing the transition.

  • Hochstein told Netanyahu that once the skirmishes between Israel and Hezbollah stop, he wants to start indirect negotiations on the land border, similar to the negotiations that led to the agreement on the maritime border last year, the Israeli officials said.
  • The officials said Israel doesn't object to holding negotiations on the land border with Lebanon.

The other side: Acting Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said earlier this week at a meeting with UN officials that he received messages from Israel through the U.S. and other countries warning of a war against Lebanon.

  • "They told us: 'Do you support the destruction of Lebanon? Do you want what happened in Gaza to happen in Lebanon,'" he said, according to a statement from his office.
  • Mikati said in several interviews with the Lebanese press that Lebanon is ready to enter negotiations to reach long-term stability in southern Lebanon, including along its border with Israel.

What they are saying: "The United States has made clear it does not support the ongoing conflict spreading into Lebanon and continues to exhaust all diplomatic options to see Israeli and Lebanese civilians return to their homes and live in security and stability," a White House National Security Council spokesperson said.

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