Tue 16 Apr 2024 1:45 pm - Jerusalem Time

Israel made mistakes on Gaza. It has more to lose on Iran

Anshel Pfeffer

On October 7 and on April 13, Israel was under attack. Both times, the country's leadership failed to properly assess the enemy's intentions, and both times, Israel won the sympathy of the Western world – but not for long. The price of another miscalculation on Netanyahu's part is far higher

All of a sudden, world leaders are standing in line to express their solidarity with Israel and condemn its enemies. The international media is reporting on the Israel Defense Forces as one of the most technologically advanced and efficient armies in the world. It seems so long since this happened, but at the same it also feels familiar. This is like things were six months ago, in those dark days following October 7.

It's sadly ironic, but the only thing Israel needs to gain the sympathy of the Western world is to be under attack. And Iran, with its 300-plus drones and missiles fired at Israel in the early hours of Sunday morning, gave it just that.

"We got a do-over," said one weary Israeli general. "The world is back on our side like it was on October 8. Let's see how quickly we waste it this time."

There's one more thing the day after the Iranian attack has in common with the day after October 7: both events were preceded by a failure among Israel's intelligence community and leadership to properly assess the enemy's intentions.

The first time, it was the assessment that Hamas was "deterred" and focused on trying to bolster its hold over Gaza rather than attacking Israel. This time, it was the belief that Iran would stick to its decades-old policy of using its proxies to attack Israel rather than do so directly. It was this belief that guided the decision to launch the April 1 attack on the Iranian Embassy compound in Damascus, killing seven senior officers from the Revolutionary Guards.

The difference this time is that Israel, with a lot of help from its friend President Joe Biden, had time to reassess and prepare its defenses before the attack. That's the difference between 1,400 dead and captured, and one injured 7-year-old girl. Israel's decision-makers – and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is just one of them – are not reacting on behalf of a traumatized and wounded nation.

Another key difference is that while Israel has to make its own decisions on how to respond to the Iranian attack, it now has more to lose. This brief moment of international support is not just a rhetorical one. The defense it mounted on Sunday, which prevented all but a tiny handful of the Iranian missiles from getting through, was together with a U.S.-led coalition that included both Western and Arab nations. Whatever Israel does next, it risks squandering not just international goodwill but an unprecedented level of military cooperation that only a few years would have been unthinkable.

As the three full members of the war cabinet – Netanyahu, Yoav Gallant and Benny Gantz – deliberate over Israel's response, they are all aware of the mistakes made the last time around when they sent the IDF into Gaza (though they probably don't agree on what those mistakes were), and of the stakes this time around.

Gallant has said as much in a statement his office released after he spoke with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, highlighting "the opportunity to establish an international coalition and strategic alliance to counter the threat posed by Iran."

In his own statement, Gantz stressed that "we need especially now to strengthen this strategic alliance and network of regional cooperation that we have built."

Netanyahu, on the other hand, has remained silent ever since the attack. He put out one social media post at 7 A.M. on Sunday saying: "We intercepted. We blocked. Together we will win." Since then, nothing. An astonishing silence from the man who has built an entire career on fulminating against Iran.

Gallant and Gantz's positions are relatively simple. They both think Israel should retaliate to the Iranian attack, but are in favor of doing so in a way that will avoid any further major escalation and also not jeopardize that ad hoc coalition formed on Sunday morning. They both recognize this as a unique strategic moment that must not be wasted. Netanyahu's calculations are much more complex.


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