In meeting with Israeli counterpart Yoav Gallant, US Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin warns against ‘catastrophe’ of wider war.

United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has said that a diplomatic solution is needed to avoid a costly war between Israel and the Lebanese armed group Hezbollah.

During a meeting with Israeli counterpart Yoav Gallant on Tuesday, Austin blamed soaring tensions on “provocations” by Hezbollah but noted that a full-blown war would be destructive for all involved and could spark a regional conflagration.

“Diplomacy is by far the best way to prevent more escalation. So we’re urgently seeking a diplomatic agreement that restores lasting calm to Israel’s northern border and enables civilians to return safely to their homes on both sides of the Israel-Lebanon border,” Austin told reporters.

Hezbollah and Israeli forces have exchanged fire on a near-daily basis since the beginning of the war in Gaza, but escalating attacks over the last several weeks have caused growing unease.

Gallant has often suggested that Israel could pursue a large-scale war against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. On Tuesday, Gallant said that he was “working closely” with Austin to find a diplomatic resolution, but that they also discussed military “readiness on every possible scenario”.

While Israel has blamed Hezbollah for the displacement of thousands of Israelis from their homes near the Lebanese border, the Iran-linked group has signalled throughout the conflict that it is not interested in a wider war.

Thousands of Lebanese civilians have been displaced from the areas near the border with Israel, and more than 80 civilians and noncombatants have been killed. In Israel, 11 civilians have been killed since October.

Hezbollah is considered one of the most sophisticated and well-armed paramilitary groups in the world, and a larger conflict between the group and Israel could have devastating impacts on each side.

While the administration of US President Joe Biden has repeatedly urged Israel to avoid a war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, it has recently stated that, in the event of such a move, Israel would receive full US support.

“Such a war would be a catastrophe for Lebanon and it would be devastating for innocent Israeli and Lebanese civilians,” said Austin.

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Aljazera

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