Biden administration fears Netanyahu may escalate war with Hezbollah to save his career

Israeli officials have insisted that they have a duty to protect their citizens from the terrorists’ rockets that they have launched at the north daily for three months.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Some senior U.S. officials have expressed concern that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may escalate the ongoing conflict with Hezbollah to save his position as head of state, The Washington Post reported Saturday.

According to the American daily, these unnamed administration officials believe that “if the Gaza war ends tomorrow, Netanyahu’s political career will end with it, incentivizing him to broaden the conflict.”

“The political logic for Netanyahu is to rebound after the historic failure of Oct. 7 and have some kind of success to show to the Israeli public,” said Bilal Saab, a Lebanon expert in the Middle East Institute, a D.C. think-tank that has received tens of millions of dollars in funding from Saudi Arabia and the UAE to “promote better understanding” of the region in the U.S.

The prime minister’s approval rating has tanked following Hamas’ surprise invasion on October 7 in which 1,200 people were massacred in Gazan envelope communities and some 250 were kidnapped. A December survey showed that in a head-to-head contest, only some 27% of the population would still want to see him lead the country, while Benny Gantz of the centrist National Unity party was approved by 45%.

Netanyahu’s Likud party would also lose some half of its seats and the right-wing government would not be able to hang onto power if elections were held, the poll showed, with Gantz’s party jumping from 12 to 37 seats, making it the largest faction by far in the Knesset.

The report said that the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency thinks that opening a second front now would spread Israeli forces too thin, even though thousands of reservists have been sent home in the last week as the IDF seems to be reducing its offensive in the Gaza Strip.

The government has touted the move as part of its plan to normalize the economy, since a significant percentage of the workforce was called to duty when Israel declared a total war on Hamas following the slaughter. It could also be a way to give their manpower a rest before moving on to confront Hezbollah, some of the officials said.

Hezbollah is also a more dangerous foe, the Americans pointed out, which is something that Israel knows well. The primary Iranian terror proxy has a much greater number of seasoned fighters, who gained military experience helping Syrian leader Basher Assad keep power during his civil war. They have at least five times the number of rockets that Hamas has, and its arsenal includes some precision-guided missiles that could potentially wreak havoc on critical Israeli infrastructure and military sites. In addition, it has access to anti-aircraft batteries that Hamas does not have, one reason being that Hezbollah is part of the regular Lebanese army.

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The Biden administration has worked overtime trying to keep the conflict from escalating, from warning Iran and Hezbollah to sending naval forces to the Mediterranean, to having top defense, military and State Department officials, including Secretary Antony Blinken, visit both the Israeli and Arab capitals to urge calm.

Israel has said it is extremely concerned about a Hezbollah copycat invasion on its north, which is why the IDF sent tens of thousands of soldiers and reservists to the border in the days following the war’s breakout in Gaza. Their alertness and constant patrols have seemingly deterred the terror organization from a frontal assault, but Israel was forced to evacuate some 80,000 residents of border communities due to the constant rain of rockets from over the Lebanese border that have caused millions of shekels of damages and killed several Israeli soldiers and civilians.

The IDF has retaliated with artillery and airstrikes on Hezbollah targets that are reaching steadily deeper into Lebanon.

The U.S. does agree that Israel has a right to defend itself from terrorism, and Jerusalem has made clear that a government’s first duty is to protect its people and allow them to live peacefully everywhere within its borders.

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Reiterating this message, which he has stated several times, Netanyahu said Sunday again that “We must put all other considerations aside and continue together until total victory. This victory will only be achieved when we complete our goals and when we restore security to the residents of both the north and the south.”

“I suggest that Hezbollah learn what Hamas has already learned in recent months,” he continued. “No terrorist is immune. We are determined to protect our citizens and return the residents of the north safely to their homes. This is a national goal shared by all of us and we are acting responsibly to achieve it. If we can, we will do it through political means, and if not, we will act in other ways.”

Israel is pushing to finally execute UN Resolution 1701 that ended the Second Lebanon War in 2006, which states that only the Lebanese army should be on the border with Israel, with Hezbollah pushed north beyond the Litani River. It has never been implemented on the ground.

Despite the American officials’ opinions, when asked in a poll taken at the end of December, a solid majority (57%) of Israeli Jews support dealing Hezbollah a heavy blow now, due to the intensifying rockets attacks and the threat the terrorist organization represents to the country.