JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli cabinet minister and former military chief Gadi Eizenkot told Israel’s Channel 12 on Thursday that he prevented Israel from preemptively attacking Hezbollah in Lebanon in the days after Hamas’ deadly Oct. 7 onslaught on southern Israel.

Eizenkot, whose youngest son was killed in fighting in the Gaza Strip last month, said Israel was on the verge of striking Hezbollah though the group, designated as a terror organization by Western states, had not yet fired on Israel. Eizenkot said he convinced officials in the war cabinet to hold off.

“I think our presence there prevented Israel from making a grave strategic mistake,” Eizenkot said.

The Israel-Lebanon frontier has seen daily fighting but has stopped short of an all out war. The wider region teeters dangerously toward a major escalation of the conflict ignited by the Gaza war.

Both Israel and Hezbollah have signaled they want to avoid war, but both say they are ready to fight if necessary.

Opposition party members Eizenkot and Benny Gantz, also a former army chief, joined Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government shortly after the Oct. 7 attack by Palestinian militants Hamas which prompted an Israeli air, ground and sea offensive in the Gaza Strip.

Israel has vowed to annihilate Hamas after its fighters killed 1,200 people in Israel and dragged 240 more back to Gaza as hostages, according to an Israeli tally.

Some 24,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since Oct. 7, according to the health ministry there, and around 1.9 million, 85% of the population, have been displaced.

Hamas, designated as a terrorist group by the United States and other Western countries, is sworn to Israel’s destruction.

A November hostage deal saw around half the hostages released, but Eizenkot said the more than 100 who remain in captivity are scattered throughout the enclave and a renewed deal would be required to bring them home.

“It’s impossible to retrieve the hostages alive soon without a deal,” Eizenkot said. He said the wars aims of stripping Hamas of power in Gaza and killing those responsible for the Oct. 7 attack would “still be valid” after a temporary ceasefire.

(Reporting by Emily Rose; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

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