Updated Apr 17, 2024 - World

Israel considered striking Iran on Monday but decided to wait, officials say

A member of the Israeli military stands next to an Iranian ballistic missile that fell in Israel on the weekend, during a media tour at the Julis military base in Israel on Apr. 16, 2024. Photo: Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP via Getty Images

A member of the Israeli military stands next to an Iranian ballistic missile that fell in Israel on the weekend, during a media tour at the Julis military base in Israel on Apr. 16, 2024. Photo: Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP via Getty Images

Israel considered conducting a retaliatory strike against Iran on Monday night but eventually decided to postpone it, five Israeli and U.S. sources told Axios.

Why it matters: Israel has vowed to respond to Iran's unprecedented missile and drone attack. The Biden administration has warned that an escalation with Iran wouldn't serve U.S. or Israeli interests and urged Israel to "be careful" with any retaliation, U.S. officials said.

Zoom in: The U.S. is concerned that continued counterattacks could trigger wider regional escalation.

  • "We are not sure why and how close it was to an actual attack," a U.S. official said. A second U.S. official confirmed Israel told the Biden administration on Monday that it decided to wait.
  • A third U.S. official said a "small Israeli strike" inside Iran would likely trigger an Iranian retaliation. But the Biden administration hopes it would be more limited than Iran's strike on Israel on Saturday and would end the exchange of attacks between the two countries.
  • This is the second time that a decision on Israel's retaliation has been postponed since Saturday.

Behind the scenes: The Israeli war cabinet on Monday considered giving the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) the go-ahead for a strike against Iran. But later that night, a decision was made not to go through with it "for operational reasons," according to two Israeli officials.

  • One U.S. official said Israeli officials notified the Biden administration on Monday about the upcoming war cabinet meeting and said they would brief the U.S. about the decisions.
  • After the cabinet meeting, Israeli officials told the Biden administration the decision was to wait.

Catch up quick: Iran launched nearly 350 attack drones and missiles against Israel on April 13 in retaliation for an April 1 Israeli airstrike on its embassy compound in Syria that killed a top Iranian general and others.

  • Most of the drones and missiles were intercepted outside of Israeli airspace by Israeli, U.S., British, French, Jordanian and Saudi forces, officials said.

Between the lines: An Israeli official said the decision to respond to the Iranian attack against Israel has been made, and that the only question is when and how.

  • The positions of Israel's war cabinet members on a counterattack reflect their backgrounds more than political party lines.
  • Israeli and U.S. officials said IDF chief of staff Gen. Hertzi Halevi and the the cabinet's other former generals Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and ministers Benny Gantz and Gadi Eizenkot — are pushing for a response.
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the leader of the ultra-orthodox Shas party, Aryeh Deri, have been more cautious so far.

What they're saying: Deri said in an interview to his party newspaper on Tuesday that Israel needs to focus on its war against Hamas in Gaza and on ending the fighting with Hezbollah on the border with Lebanon — and not get dragged into opening new fronts.

  • "We need to listen to our friends and partners around the world. I don't see it as weakness," Deri said. He added that rabbis he consulted on this issue told him Israel needs to be restrained and patient and not act just for the sake of revenge.

State of play: Netanyahu met on Wednesday with the foreign ministers of the U.K. and Germany, who visited Israel ahead of the G7 summit in Italy.

  • The prime minister's office said Netanyahu told them Israel will maintain its right to defend itself against Iran.
  • Netanyahu told the two foreign ministers that Israel will respond to the Iranian attack but will do it in a "thoughtful and calculated way," a source who attended the meeting told Axios.
  • The source said he didn't feel a sense of urgency from Netanyahu and said the prime minister mentioned the need to finish the fight against Hamas in Gaza, which Netanyahu said would also weaken Iran's ability to harm Israel.
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