update deskU.S.-Israel Relations

Gallant meets with Biden admin officials in NYC

US energy envoy Amos Hochstein is headed to Lebanon to try to de-escalate tensions at the Israeli border.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant at the government's swearing-in ceremony at the Knesset, Dec. 29, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant at the government's swearing-in ceremony at the Knesset, Dec. 29, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant met with Biden administration officials in New York City on Tuesday.

Gallant met with U.S. Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf and was scheduled to meet with National Security Council Middle East coordinator Brett McGurk.

The minister is not, however, expected to meet with his U.S. counterpart Lloyd Austin, due to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s directive for ministers to not meet with their U.S. colleagues until the premier receives a White House invitation from President Joe Biden.

On Monday, Gallant called for the United Nations to step in to stop the growing threat from Hezbollah at the Lebanon border.

He made the request during a meeting at the organization’s headquarters in New York with U.N. Secretary General António Guterres.

U.S. energy envoy Amos Hochstein will arrive in Beirut on Wednesday for discussions with Lebanese leaders on de-escalating tensions with Israel. Hochstein will reportedly meet with Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, House Speaker Nabih Berri and military chief Gen. Joseph Aoun. 

Hochstein will also reportedly visit Lebanon’s southern border to review the activities of UNIFIL, the U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon whose annual mandate is up for a vote in the Security Council on Thursday and is expected to be renewed.

UNIFIL was established in 1978 to confirm Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon following a military incursion (“Operation Litani”). After the summer of 2006’s Second Lebanon War between Hezbollah and Israel, UNIFIL’s mandate was expanded to monitor the cessation of hostilities.

During his meeting with Guterres, which included other senior Israeli officials including U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan, Gallant cited examples of Hezbollah provocations at the border, including establishing dozens of military posts and increasing patrols by Hezbollah operatives.

“Minister Gallant stressed the urgent need for immediate U.N. intervention in de-escalating tensions by strengthening UNIFIL authority in the region, ensuring their freedom of movement and implementing their mandate,” a Defense Ministry statement said.

“Minister Gallant noted that Israel will not tolerate increasing threats to the security of its citizens, and will act as required in their defense.”

While in Lebanon, Hochstein is also scheduled to tour a natural gas rig that recently arrived in Lebanese waters and is set to begin offshore oil and gas exploration. This follows a U.S.-brokered agreement last year that Hochstein mediated which set a maritime border between Israel and Lebanon for the first time.

Then-Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid signed the deal in Jerusalem last October, calling it a “tremendous achievement.” The agreement was criticized at the time by opposition leader and now current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called it “illegal” and a surrender to Hezbollah.

Lapid, now the opposition leader, will travel to the United States next week for high-level meetings in Washington, his office said on Tuesday.

Lapid’s planned visit comes as Netanyahu has been snubbed, so far denied a traditional White House visit. On July 17, more than six months after Netanyahu returned to the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, Biden invited Netanyahu for a meeting “somewhere in the United States” at some time “later this year.”

It is unclear whether the long-expected meeting will take place at the White House.

Netanyahu is expected to fly to New York for the U.N. General Assembly general debate next month, during which he may meet with Biden in the city, although neither side has confirmed details.

“The details are going to be worked out by the different teams,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told journalists last month. “But they have committed to meeting and seeing each other.”

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