Israel’s Choices on Response to Iran’s Attack All Come With Risks

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.

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