Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Wednesday that Hezbollah must be pushed back from the Israeli border, and if it’s not achieved through diplomatic means, Israel will take military action.
The comments suggest Israel is considering opening a second front in Lebanon beyond the cross-border strikes Israel and Hezbollah have been exchanging since October 7.
According to a recent report from Axios, some US officials are concerned that Israel might provoke Hezbollah to justify a wider war in Lebanon. The report said that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin had “expressed concern” in a phone call with Gallant in November about the risk of escalation on Israel’s northern border.
Gallant made the comments on Wednesday while visiting the northern coastal city of Nahariyya. He said the Israeli government would not encourage the approximately 80,000 civilians who evacuated areas of northern Israel to return to their homes until Hezbollah is pushed back beyond the Litani River, which is 18 miles north of the Israel-Lebanon border in southern Lebanon.
At the end of the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war, UN Security Council Resolution 1701 established a demilitarized zone between the border and the Litani River, requiring Israeli forces to withdraw from southern Lebanon and Hezbollah to move north of the river.
According to The Times of Israel, Gallant said the best option would be to reach a diplomatic solution to agree on the enforcement of Resolution 1701. If that didn’t happen, he said Israel would “act with all the means at its disposal” to push Hezbollah back through military action.
Last month, Gallant threatened a major war with Lebanon, saying Israel could turn Beirut into rubble like Gaza. “Hezbollah is dragging Lebanon to a possible war, and is making mistakes,” he said. “What we can do in Gaza, we can also do in Beirut … Our pilots are sitting in their cockpits, their aircraft facing north.”