Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said today he is concerned about the rise in rocket attacks in Israel’s north by Lebanese Hezbollah.

“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 said, as he hosted an enhanced honor cordon and meeting at the Pentagon for Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. 

Hezbollah’s rocket attacks mean more suffering for the more than 60,000 Israelis now displaced from their homes and for tens of thousands of displaced Lebanese, Austin said. 

“Lebanese Hezbollah’s provocations threaten to drag the Israeli and Lebanese people into a war that they do not want, and such a war would be a catastrophe for Lebanon, and it would be devastating for innocent Israeli and Lebanese civilians,” the secretary said. 

Another war between Israel and Hezbollah could easily become a regional war with terrible consequences for the Middle East, and diplomacy is by far the best way to prevent more escalation, he said.

Israel’s citizens still face a very real and very dangerous threat from Iran proxies and terrorist partners — not just Hezbollah, but also Hamas and the Houthis, he said.

The United States stands together with Israel to ensure that Iran, which is the source of so much of the region’s violence and instability, can never develop a nuclear weapon, Austin said. 

The secretary also said he commends Israel for the comprehensive cease-fire and hostage proposal that it offered, as outlined by President Joe Biden and endorsed by the U.N. Security Council.   

“The onus is on Hamas to accept this road map to a durable end to this war, and the failure of Hamas to accept this important proposal is prolonging the agony of Palestinian civilians and Israeli civilians alike,” he said. 

Israel must continue to do more to protect Palestinian civilians in Gaza, which is both a moral necessity and a strategic imperative. Israel must also continue to increase the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza, Austin said. 

The secretary said he’s also extremely concerned about the attacks by violent Israeli extremists against innocent Palestinians in the West Bank. 

Austin said he looks forward to discussing how the U.S. and Israel can work with the Palestinian Authority and regional partners to increase security in the West Bank and bring stability to Gaza by credible planning for a postwar period and by moving on a path toward a two-state solution.   

“Israelis and Palestinians both have the right to live in dignity and security, and as we move forward, our security bond with Israel will remain rock-solid,” he said. 

Gallant thanked the United States for defending Israel against the massive April 13 drone and missile attack on Israel by Iran and its proxies. 

Talks today, he said, should focus on assuring the security of Israel, the return of the 120 hostages in Gaza, and the end of Hamas. 

The greatest threat that the region and the world faces, Gallant said, is a nuclear-armed Iran. 

Yesterday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met with Gallant. They discussed ongoing efforts to achieve a ceasefire in Gaza that secures the release of all hostages and alleviates the suffering of the Palestinian people, according to a State Department statement.

The secretary emphasized the need to take additional steps to protect humanitarian workers in Gaza and deliver assistance throughout Gaza in full coordination with the United Nations, the statement said.

Blinken updated Gallant on continuing diplomatic efforts to advance security, governance and reconstruction in Gaza during a post-conflict period and emphasized the importance of that work to Israel’s security.

Blinken also underscored the importance of avoiding further escalation of the conflict and reaching a diplomatic resolution that allows both Israeli and Lebanese families to return to their homes, the statement said.

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