The Israeli leader has denounced a media report suggesting the US president persuaded him to cancel a strike against Hezbollah
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has claimed that a Wall Street Journal report suggesting that he called off a preemptive attack against Hezbollah at the behest of US President Joe Biden was false.
“I have seen erroneous reports to the effect that the US prevented, and is preventing, us from operational actions in the region,” Netanyahu said in a statement on Sunday. “This is incorrect. Israel is a sovereign state.”
The WSJ reported on Saturday that Israel had warplanes in the air to carry out major airstrikes against Hezbollah on October 11, four days after the terrorist attacks that triggered West Jerusalem’s war against Hamas. Citing intelligence suggesting that Hezbollah was preparing a similar cross-border operation against the Jewish state, Israeli officials informed Biden’s administration of their plans to preemptively bomb the Lebanese militant group and sought US assistance, the newspaper said. Netanyahu’s government reportedly canceled the airstrikes at Biden’s urging after the US president called him to voice Washington’s skepticism over the Israeli intelligence reports.
At the time, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had massed thousands of troops on the Israeli-Lebanese border to prepare for a multi-pronged Hezbollah attack. A warning was issued for Israeli residents in the region, ordering them to take cover in their bomb shelters.
However, US officials were reportedly receiving messages through Iranian intermediaries indicating that Tehran, Hezbollah’s biggest backer, wasn’t interested in escalating the conflict in Israel. Biden warned Netanyahu that attacking Hezbollah would make it impossible to avoid a wider war, the WSJ said, citing unidentified officials familiar with the incident.
Netanyahu didn’t address the alleged Hezbollah attack directly in Sunday’s statement, but he insisted that no decisions were driven by US pressure. “Our decisions in the war are based on operational considerations, and I will not expand further,” he said. “They are not dictated by external pressure. The decision on how to use our forces is an independent decision of the IDF and nobody else.”
The Israeli leader ended his October 11 call with Biden by saying that he would discuss the issue with his aides, according to the WSJ report. Israeli and US officials then proceeded to have six hours of back-and-forth phone calls before Israel’s war cabinet finally called off the preemptive attack, the report said.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant pushed unsuccessfully for the airstrikes to go forward. As it turned out, the rumored Hezbollah attack in northern Israel didn’t happen.