northern front

Rubio warns of ‘real threat’ of ‘full-scale war’ between Israel and Hezbollah

The Florida senator said in an interview with JI that the continued attacks out of southern Lebanon aren’t ‘getting nearly enough attention’

Orthodox Union/Twitter

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks at Orthodox Union event on Capitol Hill, Jan. 11, 2024

Following a trip to Israel last week, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, warned of a serious risk of full-scale war between Israel and Hezbollah along Israel’s northern border.

Continued attacks and threats from Hezbollah, which have left thousands of Israelis displaced, are not “getting nearly enough attention” in the U.S. and globally, Rubio said in an interview with Jewish Insider this week. 

Hezbollah’s ongoing provocations must be addressed, Rubio said, preferably through a diplomatic solution to create a demilitarized area in southern Lebanon.

“But I understand the imperative that Israel has at some point to address it, even though there’s a real threat there of a full-scale war with Hezbollah, which militarily is a lot more challenging and destructive,” he continued. “I think we should expect and understand what Israel has to do as well.”

He said he doesn’t think Israel nor Hezbollah want a war, “but they may still get one, unfortunately, because of the position they find themselves in.”

He said American leaders have to lay the groundwork of explaining the Hezbollah threat to fend off criticisms that will arise if such a war does occur.

“They’re going to say, ‘Well, this is just [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu trying to start another war, to perpetuate himself in power,’” Rubio said. “That’s why it’s important for us to begin to describe that there is another scenario happening right now, which is untenable, unacceptable and needs to be addressed.”

Rubio also said that Israel needs to carry out an operation in Rafah to eliminate the remaining Hamas fighters there, adding that Israel aims to “entice” as many civilians as possible to leave the area.

He said that Israel needs continued material and diplomatic support from the U.S., which “requires the constant work of explaining a very complicated region in the simplest terms possible,” including pushing back on “ridiculous narratives about war crimes and genocide, and the latest one is a famine.”

Rubio insisted that Israel is assisting in the delivery of humanitarian aid even though it is known that Hamas is stealing much of that aid.

The Florida senator is reportedly a top contender for former President Donald Trump’s vice presidential slot, a job that could force him to temporarily move out of Florida. He told reporters that no offer had been made, without directly denying the rumors.

Rubio downplayed the former president’s repeated comments criticizing Netanyahu and Israel’s conduct of the war in Gaza, and Trump’s calls for Israel to wind down its operations. Trump, in a recent interview, also declined to rule out conditioning or withholding aid to Israel.

Rubio said that Trump was “the most pro-Israel president in my lifetime” and that he “judge[s] him by those actions that are in place.” 

He also suggested Trump’s comments stem from a lack of information, noting that Trump is not in regular national security briefings where he would be “taking the temperature of the entire dynamic that’s at play here and understanding.”

Rubio insisted that if Trump were in office, the State Department would not be investigating Israel for potential violations of U.S. and international law.

“I would much rather him be president now than Joe Biden in this regard,” Rubio said.

Rubio also argued that his votes against supplemental aid for Israel and other U.S. allies shouldn’t be seen as a sign of lack of support for Israel, noting his past championing of annual aid to Israel and his calls for additional Israel aid to move as a stand-alone bill.

“The problem is that it was taken hostage and mixed with a bunch of other issues,” Rubio said. “I made very clear that I would not vote for a bill that had Ukraine aid — even though I’m supportive of helping Ukraine — unless it also had border security.”

Rubio and other Republicans rejected a bipartisan compromise border security bill as insufficient. GOP holdouts ultimately won no concessions on immigration policy in the aid bill.

“[The aid package] also had the TikTok ban, something I’ve been working on… starting in 2019,” Rubio continued. “But I had made a very firm commitment, and if I back off that commitment, the next time an issue like that comes up, no one will take my statement seriously and my ability to achieve public policy in a process that involves give and take is impeded.”

In the lead-up to the massive Iranian drone and missile attack on Israel last month, Rubio issued multiple public and specific warnings about the risk of an Iranian strike. He said now that Iran likely wants to avoid full-scale war with Israel in the short term, but that Iran still seeks to drive Israel and the U.S. from the Middle East in the long term and conflict could flare “at any moment.”

Rubio, an alumnus of the University of Florida, said he’s been “very proud” of the school and university President Ben Sasse’s swift and decisive response to anti-Israel protests on campus.

When students break the law or violate restrictions on campus demonstrations, “then you need to be arrested and you need to be evicted, and that’s what Florida did,” he said.

“If you don’t do that early on, if you don’t address that at the very beginning, then you become a magnet for all these professional, anti-Western, anarchist, anti-American, anti-Israel activists to travel across the country funded by somebody — we need to get to the bottom of who — who co-opt these movements and take it to the next level,” Rubio continued, elevating accusations that campus protests have been infiltrated by outside agitators.

He also blamed universities for helping to stoke antisemitic activity by “indoctrinat[ing]” people into systems and ideologies that have led them to reject America and Israel and view the Jewish people — “the most discriminated people in the history of humanity” — as colonial oppressors.

Subscribe now to
the Daily Kickoff

The politics and business news you need to stay up to date, delivered each morning in a must-read newsletter.