Ben Gvir: We must 'go crazy'; Gantz: Respond when it suits us

Should Israel launch an immediate retaliatory attack on Iran? Lawmakers are divided

Some hard-right members of the government call for harsh retaliation, while war cabinet members Gantz and Gallant issue more measured statements, urging global alliance building

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

Pictures released by the Israel Air Force showing planes returning after intercepting the direct attack from Iran, April 14, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
Pictures released by the Israel Air Force showing planes returning after intercepting the direct attack from Iran, April 14, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Far-right members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government issued strident calls for Israel to react to Iran’s attack on Israel with a show of force, while other moderate members of the coalition, including war cabinet Minister Benny Gantz, urged a balanced approach aimed at avoiding a spiraling escalation.

While some members of the security cabinet issued vehement calls for retaliation, according to Hebrew media reports the security cabinet on Saturday night authorized the narrow war cabinet — whose only voting members are Gantz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant — to make the ultimate decision on a response.

In a possible indication of how Israel will respond, Gantz on Sunday afternoon declared that Israel must strengthen the “strategic alliance and the regional cooperation” that allowed it to weather the Iranian attack.

“Faced with the threat of Iran, we will build a regional coalition and exact the price from Iran, in the way and at the time that suits us. And most importantly, in the face of the desire of our enemies to harm us, we will unite and become stronger,” Gantz stated, seemingly indicating that he does not support immediate retaliation against Iran itself.

The Israeli war cabinet and top security officials meet in Tel Aviv on April 14, hours after Iran’s missile and drone attack on Israel. (Amos Ben Gershom/ GPO)

“Even today, we must remember that we have not yet completed our tasks – primarily the return of the hostages and the removal of the threat against the residents of the north and south,” he said. “We will continue the campaign, with determination and responsibility. And together – we will win.”

Meanwhile National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir demanded a “crushing” counterattack in a series of statements over the weekend, insisting that the only way to create deterrence is to “go crazy” and shed “restraint and proportionality.”

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir leads a meeting of his far-right Otzma Yehudit party at the Knesset, on March 18, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Israel’s response must not be a scarecrow, in the style of the dune bombings we saw in previous years in Gaza,” the far-right politician declared in a video message criticizing retaliatory strikes against Gaza prior to October 7 as ineffective. “The concepts of restraint and proportionality are concepts that passed away on October 7.”

Ben Gvir’s rhetoric was echoed by fellow ultranationalist Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who insisted in his own video that now is the time to “restore deterrence.”

“And now, the eyes of the entire Middle East and the entire world are on the State of Israel. If our response resonates throughout the Middle East for generations to come — we will win,” he stated.

“If we hesitate, God forbid, we will put ourselves and our children in immediate existential danger,” Smotrich warned, following up on a earlier statement calling on Israel to invade the southern Gaza city of Rafah and “restore full Israeli control” over the entire strip.

Finance Bezalel Smotrich holds a press conference at the Knesset, Jerusalem, March 13, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

These statements came after US news outlet Axios reported that Biden had told Netanyahu he would oppose any Israeli counterattack against Iran, that the US would not join any such attack, and that the prime minister should “take the win.”

Speaking on behalf of Netanyahu, Cabinet Secretary Yossi Fuchs has reportedly called on members of the government not to make public statements about Iran and the United States, Hebrew media reported.

Beyond Ben Gvir and Smotrich, other security cabinet members also released aggressive, if not as bellicose, statements following the attack.

“We said that if Iran attacks Israel, we will respond in Iran. This is still valid,” Channel 12 quoted Foreign Minister Israel Katz as saying while Transportation Minister Miri Regev tweeted that Israel was “prepared to defend and attack against Iran.”

“Those who hurt us will pay a heavy price,” Regev stated.

Despite this, calls for an immediate strike against Iran were far from universal, with even some hawkish members of the cabinet and Knesset qualifying their demands for retaliation with calls not to rush headlong into a regional conflict without sufficient preparation.

Praising the IDF and Israel’s allies, Likud’s Education Minister Yoav Kisch declared that “calmly and judiciously, it’s time to go on the attack,” while New Hope MK and former cabinet minister Gideon Sa’ar — who has repeatedly urged Netanyahu to ramp up the war in Gaza — insisted that last night’s attack “gave Israel room to maneuver and strategic flexibility.”

New Hope – The United Right chairman Gideon Sa’ar at a faction meeting in the Knesset, March 18, 2024. (Sam Sokol/The Times of Israel)

“You need to know how to adopt strategic patience as well. Israel does not have to rush its response and disrupt the order of priorities it has set for itself,” he tweeted, calling on Israel to focus on “the defeat of Hamas and the release of the hostages.”

“This is the right and smart thing to do. Iran’s time will come,” he stated.

Even some usually hawkish MKs were more careful than usual in their response, calling for the government to act, but falling short of demanding an immediate strike on Iran itself.

“Once you show your weakness — you will not be able to survive for long” in the Middle East, Yisrael Beytenu MK Evgeny Sova, a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, told The Times of Israel, declining to specify how Israel should respond.

“We must respond because in our neighborhood they only understand power,” a spokesperson for National Unity MK Matan Kahana said in a WhatsApp message. “We will determine when, how, and where, and it will be in accordance with the interests of the State of Israel.”

Likud MK Dan Illouz told the Times of Israel that “Israel must respond decisively, but also on our terms.”

Asked how members of the prime minister’s party were reacting to the attack and what course of action they were demanding of Netanyahu, MK Danny Danon responded that he believed that he “represent[ed] the sentiment of many in the Likud [who believe] that we cannot ignore what happened.”

But while Danon said he believed it was necessary to retaliate as soon as possible, he insisted that it is unhelpful to analyze Israel’s potential response “according to political pressure” — a sentiment shared by a party insider who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Iron Dome air defense system launches to intercept missiles fired from Iran, in central Israel, April 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Tomer Neuberg)

According to the Likud source, while sentiment within Likud is mostly in favor of a retaliatory strike, there is no consensus, and the views within the prime minister’s party likely have less weight than many pundits would assume.

“The only three people who will make a decision are Gallant, Gantz, and Netanyahu,” the source said, referring to press reports that the security cabinet had authorized the war cabinet to make decisions regarding Israel’s response to the Iran attack.

That means that the war cabinet, which met on Sunday afternoon, will not have to return to the security cabinet to get decisions approved, thereby streamlining the process when quick decisions are required.

“Beyond that, I don’t really see anything other than political positioning,” the insider stated.

Demonstrators wave Iranian and Palestinian flags as they gather in front of the British embassy in Tehran, on April 14, 2024, after Iran launched a drone and missile attack on Israel. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Ignoring Fuchs’s reported warning, only minutes after Gantz’s statement, Culture and Sport Minister Miki Zohar (Likud) released a statement criticizing what he called a “weak response” to Iranian aggression, calling it “the continuation of the outdated concept of reasonable logic in the face of brutal terrorists.”

“It failed against Hamas and we got the 7th of October, it failed against Hezbollah, which attacks us continuously and led to the evacuation of the residents of the north, and it will fail against Iran, which did not hesitate to attack Israel directly.”

His criticism followed an earlier statement in which he claimed that Israel had “broad international legitimacy… to strike Iran with unprecedented force” following the attack, and urged a response “against the head of the snake that is working to destroy Israel.”

Gallant also stressed the importance of building an anti-Iranian alliance on Sunday.

Touring one of the Arrow 3 air defense system batteries that participated in last night’s interception of Iranian ballistic missiles, Gallant stated that “we have an opportunity here to establish a strategic alliance against this serious threat from Iran, which threatens to put nuclear explosives on the heads of these missiles.”

“This thing could be a very serious threat. The US, Israel, and its allies stand shoulder to shoulder to defend against this threat,” Gallant said.

Members of the opposition have advocated an approach more similar to that of Gantz than that of Zohar, with outgoing Labor chief Merav Michaeli asserting that Israel’s allies’ role in thwarting the attack “proved once again how critical the strategic alliance with the US and the countries of the region is to the security of the State of Israel.”

Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar arrives at a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on December 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Now the same people who incited against the USA, against regional agreements and against the security establishment are trying to tell them that it is time for a ‘decisive attack,’ without realizing that there is no such thing as Israel alone in the face of these threats,” she stated.

“Don’t let them hide behind belligerent words and lead us into a terrible and never-ending regional war. Such a war is meant to serve Netanyahu, not the State of Israel. Now is the time to take advantage of the momentum for a regional agreement that will stop the war and bring our hostages home.”

A spokesman for Opposition Leader Yair Lapid declined to comment on his preferred response to the Iranian attack, although the Yesh Atid chairman did tweet that “the world is strongest when we stand united against the threat of terror, extremism and the fanatical regime in Iran.”

Asked why Lapid has stayed in the United States over the weekend when his last meeting with a US official was on Thursday, the spokesman confirmed that he was on the way back to Israel, but provided no details of his activities over the weekend.

Emanuel Fabian and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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