Israel’s Iran attack carefully calibrated after internal splits, US pressure

Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari (R) and his deputy Masha Michelson pose next to an Iranian ballistic missile which fell in Israel on the weekend, during a media tour at the Julis military base near the southern Israeli city of Kiryat Malachi on April 16, 2024. (AFP)
Global - Israel’s apparent strike on Iran after days of prevarication was small and appeared calibrated to dial back risks of a major war, even if the sheer fact it happened at all shattered a taboo of direct attacks that Tehran broke days earlier.اضافة اعلان

Netanyahu’s war cabinet had initially approved plans for a strike on Monday night inside Iranian territory to respond forcefully to last Saturday’s missile and drones from Iran, but held back at the last-minute, three sources with knowledge of the situation said.

By then, the sources said, the three voting members of the war cabinet had already ruled out the most drastic response - a strike on strategic sites including Iran’s nuclear facilities whose destruction would almost certainly provoke a wider regional conflict.

Facing cabinet divisions and strong warnings from partners including the United States and in the Gulf not to escalate, and aware of the need to keep international opinion on Israel’s side, the plans to hit back were then postponed twice, the sources said. Two war cabinet meetings were also delayed twice, government officials said.

Netanyahu’s office did not respond to requests for comment for this story. Before the attack, a spokesperson for the government’s National Public Diplomacy Directorate cited Netanyahu as saying Israel would defend itself in whatever way it judged appropriate.

Reuters spoke to a dozen sources in Israel, Iran and in the Gulf region, as well as the United States, who described six frantic days of efforts in the Gulf, the US and among some of Israel’s war planners to limit the response to Iran’s first ever direct attack on its archrival after decades of shadow war.

Most of the sources asked not to be named to speak about sensitive matters.

The eventual strike on Friday appeared to target a Iranian Air Force base near the city of Isfahan, deep inside the country and close enough to nuclear facilities to send a message of Israel’s reach but without using airplanes, ballistic missiles, striking any strategic sites or causing major damage.

Iran said its defense systems shot down three drones over a base near Isfahan early on Friday. Israel said nothing about the incident. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States had not been involved in any offensive operations,

An Iranian official told Reuters there were signs the drones were launched from within Iran by “infiltrators,” which could obviate the need for retaliation.

A source familiar with western intelligence assessments of the incident also said initial evidence suggested Israel launched drones from inside Iranian territory. Iran’s foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

“Israel tried to calibrate between the need to respond and a desire not to enter into a cycle of action and counter reaction that would just escalate endlessly,” said Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington.

He described the situation as a dance, with both parties signaling to each other their intentions and next steps.

“There is huge relief across the Gulf region. It looks like the attack was limited and proportionate and caused limited damage. I see it a de-escalation,” veteran Saudi analyst Abdelrahman al-Rashed told Reuters.

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