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Israel asks embassies if they are equipped for ‘security escalation’

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Israel’s foreign ministry has written to diplomatic missions in the country to ask if they have back-up generators and satellite phones in case of a “security escalation”, amid fears its war with Hamas could spiral into a broader conflict.

Since Hamas launched the October 7 attack on Israel that ignited the war, tensions have soared across the Middle East, with Israeli forces trading cross-border fire with Hizbollah militants in Lebanon, and Houthi militants in Yemen firing missiles at Israel and targeting Red Sea shipping.

In a message to the heads of diplomatic missions in Israel dated January 22 and seen by the Financial Times, the foreign ministry said it was collecting information “in preparation for a possible security escalation that may result in power outages”.

It asked whether the diplomatic missions possessed generators, and how long they would run on a full tank of fuel. It also asked missions whether they had satellite phones and if so, to test them by contacting the foreign ministry.

Diplomats in Israel are most concerned about the situation on its shared border with Lebanon, where cross-border fire between Israeli forces and the Iran-backed Hizbollah — one of the world’s most heavily armed non-state actors — has escalated in recent weeks.

In the wake of Hamas’s October attack, Israel has demanded that Hizbollah withdraw its forces some 30km north of the border between Lebanon and Israel, as mandated by a UN resolution that the militant group has long ignored. Israel has threatened military action if a deal is not reached by diplomatic means.

In an attempt to prevent the hostilities from erupting into a full-blown war, US officials have been trying to broker a compromise that could involve Hizbollah withdrawing its forces about 10km from the border, while the number of official Lebanese troops near the border would increase.

However, people involved in the talks told the FT last week that negotiations were still in their early stages and that significant obstacles remained to any deal being reached, with one warning: “Diplomacy and war are in a race right now — and we’re not sure which one is going to win.”

The January 22 message from Israel’s foreign ministry divided diplomats, with some speculating that it might be an attempt to encourage countries with relations with Lebanon to put pressure on Beirut to reach a deal with Israel to de-escalate tensions on the northern border.

“If you really think there is going to be an escalation, you would ask more than these two questions,” said one diplomat.

However, others said they doubted that the communication was meant to spur diplomats into pressuring Lebanon.

“For sure, it’s unusual. It’s not something you see every day. But I don’t think it’s right to read too much into it,” said another diplomat. “If Israel wants us to speak to Lebanon, normally they tell us. They are straightforward.”

Israel’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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