Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III urged Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant to work to de-escalate tensions with the Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon during a meeting at the Pentagon this morning, Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said today.

The men discussed efforts to “de-escalate tensions along the Israel-Lebanon border, to surge more humanitarian aid into Gaza, and to stand together against Iranian and Iranian-supported attacks against Israel and destabilizing activities throughout the Middle East,” Ryder said.

During the meeting, Ryder said, Austin reaffirmed the United States’ “ironclad” commitment to Israel and noted the U.S. has pledged more than $14 billion in assistance as part of the national security supplemental appropriation Congress passed in February. He also noted U.S. assistance in April when American assets helped defend Israel from drone and missile attacks from Iran and Iranian-backed groups.

Hezbollah has ratcheted up provocations on Northern Israel since the Hamas attack on Israel in October 2023, and those provocations have been increasing. Austin stressed that these provocations “threaten to drag the Israeli and Lebanese people into a war that neither of them wants, and that such a war would be catastrophic for Lebanon and it would be devastating for innocent Israeli and Lebanese civilians,” Ryder said.

Austin stressed to Gallant that diplomacy is the only way to prevent further escalation of tensions in the region, Ryder said. The secretary also urged Gallant to “double down on efforts to protect Palestinian civilians and humanitarian aid workers in Gaza,” he said. Austin and Gallant also discussed ways to improve the distribution of humanitarian aid to Palestinian civilians in dire need, Ryder said.

While the U.S. and Israeli officials looked at mechanisms for ensuring aid could get to the Palestinians who need it, they agreed “the most important aspect, though, would be … a cease-fire, and the onus is on Hamas,” Ryder said. “If a cease-fire could be put into place right now, that would greatly facilitate security and safety considerations on the ground, which would further facilitate the flow of aid.”

Ryder also said Austin spoke by phone today with Russian Defense Minister Andrei Belousov, noting the call is part of the secretary’s belief in the importance of maintaining lines of communication. The last time Austin spoke to a Russian counterpart was a call to then-Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on March 15, 2023.

Leave a comment

Powering peace, equipping nations