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Israel asked U.S. to warn Lebanon over Hezbollah retaliation threats

Pompeo with Hariri (L). Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday to pass a strong warning to the Lebanese government that Israel will hold it responsible if Hezbollah attacks Israel, Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's secretary-general, threatened to attack Israel in retaliation for a drone attack over the weekend on the organization's headquarters in Beirut. Tensions between Israel and Hezbollah are now at their highest point since the 2006 war.

Driving the news: Israel did not formally take responsibility for Sunday's drone attack. Nasrallah said it failed and only damaged the organization's media office. Israeli officials claim it hit a much more important target.

  • Israeli officials tell me Netanyahu told Pompeo in their phone call on Sunday that he should convey to Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri that if Hezbollah attacks Israel, Israel won't differentiate between Hezbollah and the Lebanese government and will retaliate against the Lebanese state as a whole.
  • Pompeo spoke by phone with Hariri yesterday and passed on the message. 

The big picture: The Trump administration is supportive of Israeli efforts to counter Hezbollah and has put new sanctions on many members of the organization in the last 2 years. However, the administration has been careful not the harm relations with the Lebanese government and cooperates closely with the Lebanese army.

The latest: After Pompeo's call with Netanyahu, the State Department issued a statement that focused on Israeli airstrikes against Iranian targets in Syria and didn't mention Lebanon at all.

  • According to the Lebanese prime minister's office, though, Pompeo told Hariri it was necessary to prevent any escalation as a result of the drone attack. According to the Lebanese statement, Pompeo called for all sides to help “prevent any form of deterioration."