Israel weighs response to Iran attack, and each option poses a risk | ET REALITY


Israeli leaders were debating Tuesday how best to respond to Iran’s unprecedented weekend airstrike, officials said, weighing a set of options calibrated to achieve different strategic outcomes: deterring a similar attack in the future, defusing its American allies and avoid an all-out war.

Iran’s attack on Israel, an immense bombardment that included hundreds of ballistic missiles and explosive drones, changed the unspoken rules in its archrivals’ long shadow war. In that conflict, large air attacks from the territory of one country directly against the other were avoided.

Given that change in precedent, the calculus by which Israel decides its next step has also changed, said the Israeli officials who requested anonymity to discuss Iran.

“We cannot stand by in the face of this type of aggression,” Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, a spokesman for Israel’s military, said Tuesday. Iran, he added, will not emerge “free from this aggression.”

As Israel’s war cabinet met to consider a military response, other countries applied diplomatic pressure on both Israel and Iran in hopes of de-escalating the conflict.

Almost all of the missiles and drones fired in Iran’s attack early Sunday were intercepted by Israel and its allies, including the United States and Britain.

The attack, Iran said, was a response to an Israeli airstrike earlier this month, in which several armed forces commanders were killed in an attack in Syria. That attack on the Iranian embassy building in Damascus was different from previous targeted killings of people in the shadow war.

That strike destroyed a building that was part of the Iranian embassy complex, the type of facility normally considered beyond the reach of an attack. Israeli officials said the building was diplomatic in name only and was used as an Iranian military and intelligence base, making it a legitimate target.

Iran, which noted that it viewed the attack as an Israeli break from the norms of shadow warfare, felt compelled to retaliate strongly, analysts said, to establish deterrence and maintain credibility with its proxies and hardline supporters. .

Israel does not want Iran to conclude that it can now attack Israeli territory in response to an Israeli attack on Iranian interests in a third country, some of the officials said, summarizing the internal Israeli debate. But, they added, Israel also does not want and cannot afford a major conflict with Iran as it continues to wage war in Gaza and skirmishes with Iranian proxies along its borders.

Members of Israel’s small but fragmented war cabinet, officials said, are considering options big enough to send a clear message to Iran that such attacks will not go unanswered, but not so big as to provoke a major escalation.

The officials described the following options, and their disadvantages, among which Israeli leaders are choosing a response:

  • Carry out an aggressive attack against an Iranian target, such as an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps base, in a country other than Iran, such as Syria. (The downside is that it lacks the symmetry of responding to a direct attack on Israel with a direct attack on Iran.)

  • It attacks a largely symbolic target inside Iran. (Such a move would likely require consultations with the United States and would risk angering Americans who have advised against such an attack.)

  • Carry out a cyber attack on Iran’s infrastructure. (Doing so could prematurely expose Israel’s cyber capabilities and would not be an in-kind response to a major airstrike.)

  • Accelerate small attacks inside Iran, including targeted assassinations, carried out by Mossad. (Israel does not claim responsibility for such attacks, so they are inconsistent with the public nature of Iran’s attack.)

Other Israeli options include doing nothing (a move intended to build on the international and regional alliance that came together to help repel the Iranian attack into something more robust and permanent) or taking a more diplomatic approach, including a boycott of Iran by the United Nations Security Council, other officials said.

At least two cabinet members argued at the time of the Iranian attack that Israel should respond immediately, two Israeli officials said, arguing that a quick response in self-defense would give such a counterattack obvious legitimacy.

However, after three days of meetings, the cabinet has yet to decide on a response. On Tuesday, the five-member Cabinet met with security officials for two-hour consultations, according to an official, and were expected to meet again on Wednesday.

War cabinet discussions are shrouded in secrecy and riven by old rivalries and mistrust. Its members share stories of fierce competition, as well as personal and political betrayal, which can sometimes color the details that leak out.

According to two officials’ accounts, the main advocates of immediate retaliation over the weekend were Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot, two former military chiefs and now centrist political allies who crossed parliamentary lines to join the government in the name of national unity. after the October 1 attacks. 7 Hamas-led attack against Israel.

But for reasons that remain unclear, no attack followed the Iranian attack on Sunday.

American officials have tried publicly and privately to persuade Israel that it does not need to retaliate for the Iranian attack. Netanyahu, they have argued, can “carry the victory” gained through a successful defense against the Iranian attack, which caused minimal damage and injured only one person, a young Bedouin woman.

But U.S. officials have also said they understand that persuading Israel not to retaliate may be impossible. American officials have said they understand that Israeli officials believe they must respond to a direct attack by Iran on Israel in a way that the world can see. A covert attack by Israel against Iran, US officials said, would probably not be enough to satisfy Netanyahu’s coalition partners or the current Israeli government.

If that counterattack provoked another round of Iranian missiles and drones, U.S. officials said, U.S. fighter jets and warships would once again come to the defense of their ally against its main adversary in the Middle East.

The United States also supports diplomatic efforts to pressure and punish Iran, including by imposing tougher sanctions on the country in the coming days, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said at a news conference in Washington on Tuesday.

Yellen declined to elaborate on what form the sanctions might take, but suggested the Biden administration was considering ways to further restrict Iranian oil exports. The United States is also looking for ways to cut off Iran’s access to military components it uses to make weapons such as the drones it launched toward Israel over the weekend, according to a Treasury official, who asked not to be identified to discuss private deliberations.

“Treasury will not hesitate to work with our allies to use our sanctions authority to continue disrupting the Iranian regime’s malign and destabilizing activity,” Yellen said ahead of the spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

As Israel faces pressure from its allies to avoid a broader conflict with Iran, several countries, including Russia, China and Japan, have also been urging Iran to avoid further escalation.

And the European Union is considering expanding economic sanctions against Iran’s weapons program to punish it for last weekend’s attack on Israel and try to prevent any escalation of violence across the Middle East, the EU’s top diplomat said Tuesday. EU.

“I’m not trying to exaggerate when I say that, in the Middle East, we are on the brink of a very deep precipice,” said Josep Borrell Fontelles, the EU’s foreign policy chief, after a hastily convened meeting of European diplomats to discuss the crisis.

The report was contributed by Eric Schmitt, Alan Rappeport, Cassandra Vinograd, Aaron Boxerman Christopher Schuetze and Lara Jakes.

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