Biden said to tell PM to 'think carefully and strategically'

War cabinet said to favor hitting back at Iran but divided over when and how

Israeli official quoted insisting ‘there will be a response’ as top decision-making body ends talks on counterattack without reaching decision and US nudges Israel to think twice

File - 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)
File - 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)

After over three hours of deliberations on Sunday afternoon, Israel’s five-person war cabinet did not reach a decision as to how the country would respond to Iran’s massive missile and drone barrage on Saturday night.

Given several reports that the US is urging caution and that US President Joe Biden himself urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “think carefully and strategically,” the war cabinet suspended its discussions, but is expected to reconvene in short order, Channel 12 News reported.

The Israel Hayom daily newspaper cited, however, an Israeli official as stating that “there will be a response,” while the NBC network quoted an official source in the Prime Minister’s Office as saying that while a decision has yet to be made, “the IDF will need to present options” and that “it is clear that Israel will respond.”

Israeli officials cited by Reuters said that the war cabinet favors a retaliation against Iran, but is divided over the timing and scale of any such response.

The war cabinet discussions come less than 24 hours after Iran launched an unprecedented assault against Israel in which it fired some 350 ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and drones at Israel on Saturday night, 99% of which were successfully intercepted, the IDF said.

According to multiple Hebrew media reports, in light of this massive salvo, war cabinet Minister Benny Gantz and his National Unity party colleague Gadi Eisenkot, an observer in the war cabinet, both proposed striking back at Iran while the Iranian attack was still underway.

Air defense fire interceptors during a drone and missile attack by Iran as seen over Jerusalem, April 14, 2024. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

This suggestion was firmly opposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, IDF Chief Herzi Halevi, and others, Channel 12 news reported, in part because of the strain of undertaking simultaneous action, when the IAF was focused on intercepting Iran’s incoming missiles and drones.

The Prime Minister’s Office denied the report, saying “the opposite was true,” although Channel 12 said it stood by the story, saying it had been confirmed by four sources.

Subsequently, when the success of Israel’s air defense systems became evident and it was clear that the Iranian onslaught had caused little damage, and after Biden spoke with Netanyahu, the idea of an immediate Israeli response was set aside, both Channels 12 and 13 reported.

In a separate, unsourced report, Channel 12 claimed that the US had not sought to veto any Israeli response, but that it told Israel it needed to know in advance and be coordinated, on any such reaction. The US has publicly made clear that it will not participate in any Israeli response.

Channel 12 further claimed that Israel is trying to ascertain whether, in return for restraint, it can attain some kind of “strategic pact” with the US against Iran, without having to make commitments on matters such as the Palestinian issue.

Earlier Sunday, Foreign Minister Israel Katz spoke with British Foreign Secretary David Cameron and French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné and thanked them for their support and assistance in thwarting the Iranian attack on Israel last night.

“However, I emphasized: Israel, like any other country, is committed to defend its citizens,” said Katz in a post on X.

“I told them — it’s your time to weaken the Iranian regime, to proscribe the IRGC as a terrorist organization, and to impose crippling sanctions on the Iranian missile project. Iran must pay a price,” he added.

And the Foreign Ministry issued an official statement earlier in the day, stating that Israel has the right to self-defense following Iran’s massive aerial assault, and said that “Iran must pay a price for its aggression.”

Vehicles move past a building with a banner depicting missiles and drones flying past a torn Israeli flag, with text in Persian reading, ‘The next slap will be harder,’ and in Hebrew, ‘Your next mistake will be the end of your fake state,’ in Palestine Square in Tehran on April 14, 2024. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Jerusalem said the “initial price” must be the immediate recognition of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — the massive paramilitary force which answers to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and which staged Saturday night’s attack — as a terror organization, as well as new sanctions against Iran, especially those targeting Tehran’s ballistic missile program.

“Last night, a large-scale and unprecedented attack — consisting of hundreds of drones, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles — was launched by Iran against the State of Israel,” said the ministry in a statement to the press.

“This attack proves once again what Israel has been saying for years: Iran is the one behind the terrorist attacks in the region, and is also the greatest threat to regional stability and world order.”

The Foreign Ministry noted that Iran-backed militias in Iraq, the Houthis in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon, all “supplemented” the Iranian attack with their own aerial assaults on Israel.

“Just like any other country, Israel has the right to defend itself in the face of Iran’s massive attack. Israel successfully defended itself against Iran’s aggression and will continue to do so in the future,” the Foreign Ministry said.

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