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Israel needs to remove Hezbollah threat in north, Gantz tells Blinken

Hezbollah has been testing the waters in recent weeks, initiating a series of fire exchanges as the Jewish state fights Hamas terrorists to the south.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a meeting in Jerusalem with then-Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, March 27, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a meeting in Jerusalem with then-Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, March 27, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

The upsurge in attacks on northern Israel from Lebanon compels the Jewish state to act and remove the Hezbollah threat from its border, Israeli Minister-without-Portfolio Benny Gantz told U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a phone call on Monday evening.

“The international community must act against the state of Lebanon to stop the aggression in the border area,” warned Gantz, a member of the Israeli War Cabinet, according to a readout from his office.

Gantz said he also updated Washington’s top diplomat on the progress of the Israel Defense Forces’ operation against the Hamas terror group and conveyed his “profound appreciation” for the U.S. veto of a U.N. Security Council resolution that called for an immediate ceasefire.

Blinken and Gantz “discussed ongoing efforts to facilitate the safe return of all remaining hostages, further increase levels of humanitarian assistance and prevent the conflict from expanding,” according to State Department spokesman Matthew Miller.

Blinken “stressed the urgent need for affirmative steps to de-escalate tensions in the West Bank and reiterated that Israel must take all possible measures to avoid civilian harm” and “emphasized that the United States remains committed to advancing tangible steps towards the realization of a Palestinian state,” according to Miller.

Blinken’s decision to sidestep his Israeli counterpart—Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen—and call Gantz comes in the backdrop of reported disagreements between the Biden administration and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over post-war plans for the Gaza Strip. Foremost among those is what role, if any, the Mahmoud Abbas-led Palestinian Authority will play.

Netanyahu’s firm stance against a Palestinian Authority-controlled Gaza Strip is at odds with the U.S. administration, which has repeatedly taken the position that the P.A. is the best alternative.

Blinken also called Gantz on Nov. 17 to discuss “efforts to augment and accelerate the transit of critical humanitarian assistance into Gaza.”

While the Jewish state fights Hamas terrorists to the south, Iranian-backed Hezbollah has been testing the waters in recent weeks, initiating a series of fire exchanges. Since Oct. 7, three Israeli civilians and six IDF soldiers have been killed in attacks on the northern border.

On Sunday, two attack drones infiltrated the Western Galilee region from Lebanese territory, moderately injuring two IDF soldiers. Four others were lightly hurt from shrapnel and smoke inhalation.

On Dec. 6, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told local leaders in northern Israel that Jerusalem plans to utilize all diplomatic and military means to push Hezbollah out of Southern Lebanon.

U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 stipulates that Hezbollah is not allowed to operate south of the Litani River, which is located some 30 kilometers (18 miles) north of the Israel-Lebanon frontier.

The U.N. resolution, which was passed after the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah—and ratified by both Beirut and Jerusalem—also calls for the Iran-backed group to be disarmed.

The some 80,000 evacuated Israelis who live up to nine kilometers (5.5 miles) from the northern border will not be asked to return home until Hezbollah withdraws to the north of the Litani River and “security is established” in the area, Gallant assured community leaders last week.

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