War cabinet said set on ‘forceful’ response to Iran, but one that won’t spark wider war

Analysts quoted as saying Israel’s response to Tehran could be ‘as soon as Monday’; Gallant reportedly told US counterpart Israel has ‘no choice’ but to respond to ballistic missiles

File - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convenes a meeting of the war cabinet in Tel Aviv, early morning on April 14, 2024. (Courtesy)
File - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convenes a meeting of the war cabinet in Tel Aviv, early morning on April 14, 2024. (Courtesy)

The war cabinet on Monday afternoon wrapped up a discussion on Israel’s response to Iran’s massive missile and drone barrage, amid calls for Jerusalem to exercise caution, so as not to spark a regional war, and reports that a retaliatory move could come “as soon as Monday.”

In an unsourced report, Channel 12 claimed the war cabinet decided to hit back “clearly and forcefully” against Iran with a response designed to send the message that Israel “will not allow an attack of that magnitude against it to pass without a reaction.”

The response would also be designed to make plain that Israel will not allow the Iranians to “establish the equation” they have sought to assert in recent days, the report said. This was an apparent reference to Iran’s warning that future Israeli strikes on Iranian territory, including its international diplomatic premises, will henceforth again be met by Iranian retaliatory strikes on Israel.

However, the Channel 12 report added that Israel does not want its response to spark a regional war, or to shatter the coalition that helped it defend against Iran’s attack. It noted also that Israel intends to coordinate its action with the US.

The war cabinet meeting finished as the Axios news site reported that Defense Minister Yoav Gallant had told his US counterpart in a Sunday call that Israel has “no choice but to respond” to Iran’s attack, given the use of ballistic missiles.

According to sources quoted in the Monday report, Gallant also told US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that “Israel won’t accept an equation in which Iran responds with a direct attack every time Israel strikes targets in Syria.”

Emergency and security personnel search the rubble at the site of strikes which hit a building annexed to the Iranian embassy in Syria’s capital Damascus, on April 1, 2024. (LOUAI BESHARA/ AFP)

Iran launched an unprecedented direct assault on Israel late on Saturday, sending around 300 attack drones and missiles, in retaliation for a deadly April 1 strike on a building in Tehran’s embassy compound in Syria, in which several commanders of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps were killed, that it blames on Israel.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, Iran’s attack included 170 drones, 30 cruise missiles, and 120 ballistic missiles — 99% of which were intercepted by air defenses.

Most of the projectiles were intercepted before they reached Israel, with the help of the United States, Jordan, and other allies, and the sole injury was a Bedouin girl, who was struck and seriously wounded by falling shrapnel in the Negev desert. The IAF’s southern Nevatim base suffered minor damage to infrastructure, the IDF said, but continued to function during the attack.

A crater is seen in a road in the Mount Hermon area, following an Iranian ballistic missile strike, April 14, 2024.

Channel 12 reported that the war cabinet had discussed several retaliatory options that would be “painful,” but that would be aimed at avoiding a spiraling escalation.

Some of the options on the table include cyber attacks, according to a Monday report in the Wall Street Journal, along with “targeted attacks on key state-owned sites such as Iranian oil infrastructure.”

Strikes on personnel and infrastructure related to Iran’s nuclear program or on one of Tehran’s proxies in the region — including the Palestinian Hamas terror group, the Lebanon-based Hezbollah and the Houthis in Yemen — are other possible responses, according to analysts quoted in the report.

The analysts also said that a strike on Iran’s nuclear sites would be “unlikely,” especially given the fact that US support and funding would be needed for such an operation.

Israeli air defense systems intercept missiles fired from Iran, in central Israel, April 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Tomer Neuberg)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday reiterated Washington’s support for Israel, while also warning against an escalation in hostilities with Iran.

“We don’t seek escalation, but we’ll continue to support the defense of Israel and to protect our personnel in the region,” Blinken said at the start of a meeting with Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister Mohammed Ali Tamim.

“What this weekend demonstrated is that Israel did not have to and does not have to defend itself alone when it is the victim of an aggression, the victim of an attack,” he added, calling Iran’s actions “unprecedented.”

Blinken said he was involved in a flurry of talks over the last 36 hours, seeking to coordinate a diplomatic response that would prevent any escalation of the crisis in the region.

The US secretary of state has notably spoken with his counterparts in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey, Britain, and Germany, according to the State Department.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (C) and Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Muhammad Ali Tamim (R) arrive for remarks at the State Department April 15, 2024, in Washington, DC. (WIN MCNAMEE / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

Former Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren told the Wall Street Journal, “The point is to respond smartly, in a way that won’t undermine the opportunity for regional and international cooperation that we created.”

Iran has warned Israel that it could face a “much larger” attack if it retaliates, having said it “deemed the matter concluded” shortly before it launched the ballistic missiles early Sunday.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told his British counterpart on Monday that Tehran does not want increased tensions but will respond immediately and more strongly than before if Israel retaliates, according to Iranian state media.

Unnamed US and Western officials quoted by the Wall Street Journal said that the retaliation would likely come quickly, though Israel’s war cabinet is scheduled to meet again on Tuesday, according to Channel 12, and Home Front command regulations have not been changed, indicating that an Israeli attack was unlikely to take place immediately.

The Wall Street Journal also noted that Israel was weighing retaliatory options against Iran that would not “overstretch” troops already deployed in Gaza and the West Bank, and on the northern border with Lebanon.

Amid calls from far-right members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government for Israel to react to Iran’s attack with a show of force, the report cited analysts as saying that while Jerusalem’s response to Tehran is not necessarily connected to the ongoing war in Gaza, “they are connected politically.”

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)

Former Israeli deputy national security adviser Chuck Freilich was quoted as saying that Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partners would be unlikely to support him in a restrained approach against both Iran and its Palestinian proxy, Hamas.

“Even if he wants to show restraint on both fronts, he has to balance that,” Freilich was quoted as saying.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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