World Leaders Urge Restraint as Israel Weighs Retaliation Against Iran: Live Updates

As Israel’s leaders continued on Monday to mull a possible response to the massive Iranian aerial attack over the weekend, they faced several choices, all of which carry their own risks.

In the past, Israel has hit back hard when its enemies attacked, hoping to discourage further hostilities. A cross-border raid in 2006 by Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese group, kicked off a devastating monthlong war, and rocket barrages fired by armed groups out of Gaza have escalated into days of heavy fighting and destruction.

But this time Israel is juggling a host of conflicting interests, as well as some new factors.

If it does respond to the unprecedented Iranian attack — itself carried out in retaliation for a strike on an Iranian Embassy building in Syria that killed top commanders in Iran’s armed forces — Israel must weigh whether to do so in proportion to the actual results of the Iranian assault, which was largely blocked by air defenses and caused little damage, or to consider what could have happened if more than 300 drones and missiles had actually hit Israel.

Hard-right members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government are pushing for an immediate and forceful response, saying that the lack of one will further weaken Israel in its enemies’ eyes. Some Israelis see an opportunity to use military strikes to fulfill the longstanding Israeli goal of degrading Iran’s nuclear program.

But other Israelis are urging restraint or so-called “strategic patience,” wary, among other things, of taking the nation’s focus away from its war with Hamas in Gaza, the efforts to release its scores of hostages there and its skirmishes with Hezbollah along its northern border, as well as the risk of setting off a broader regional conflict without international support.

Analysts say the success of Israel and its allies, led by the United States, in blocking most of the Iranian attack has given Israel the leeway to choose how and when to respond, if at all.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, center, at a war cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv on Sunday.Credit…Israeli Prime Minister Office, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“Israel has the apparent legitimacy to attack Iran,” said Yaakov Amidror, a former major general and national security adviser in Israel who is now at the conservative-leaning Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security.

“The other option is to say, we achieved what we wanted by eliminating the Al Quds Force commanders in Damascus, the Iranian attack failed, so let’s do what we need to do,” he said — which means finishing the campaign against Hamas in Gaza and investing in preparations to take on Hezbollah in Lebanon.

“Both are good options,” he said. “Each has pros and cons. It’s a matter of preference.”

Foreign leaders, chief among them President Biden, Israel’s most important supporter, have been pressing for restraint. Mr. Netanyahu has not publicly threatened Iran since the attack ended on Sunday morning. Other Israeli military and political leaders say they want to preserve and strengthen, not jeopardize, the alliance of Western and moderate Arab countries that, for the first time, came together to repel the Iranian attack and defend Israel.

The Iranian attack has given Israel a burst of international support after months of censure and opprobrium over the scope of the killing and hunger in Gaza, and some officials say that means Israel should act against Iran only in coordination with its allies.

“Israel versus Iran, the world versus Iran,” Benny Gantz, a centrist member of Israel’s war cabinet, said on Sunday, laying out the choices. “The strategic alliance and the regional cooperation system between us has been seriously put to the test, and now is the time for us to strengthen it. We’ll build a regional coalition against the Iranian threat and exact the price from Iran in the manner and at the time right for us.”

Israel’s options range from openly striking Iran, symbolically or with full force, to not retaliating at all, a concession that experts say Israel could leverage to encourage further international sanctioning of Iran or the formalization of the anti-Iranian alliance.

There is a precedent for doing nothing: During the Gulf War of 1991, as Iraq lobbed Scud missiles at Israeli cities, Yitzhak Shamir, then Israel’s hawkish prime minister, exercised restraint at the urging of the Bush administration to preserve the American-led coalition with friendly Arab states.

Israel could also orchestrate some kind of bloodless cyberattack or revert to the ways of its yearslong shadow war with Iran, relying on spy craft and covert actions against Iranian interests, inside or outside Iran, without claiming responsibility for them.

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