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More than half of Israelis oppose a strike on Iran as Israel’s deterrence capacity shatters

April 18, 2024 at 3:24 pm

Hundreds attend the protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, demanding early election in Tel Aviv, Israel on February 24, 2024 [Mostafa Alkharouf – Anadolu Agency]

A recent poll has found that Israelis are deeply split over whether to launch a retaliatory strike against Iran following Tehran’s unprecedented drone and missile attack last weekend, seen as a major blow to Tel-Aviv’s much vaunted deterrence capacity. Iran’s aerial assault was a response to the illegal and deadly Israel strike on its embassy in Damascus on 1 April.

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem poll found that 52 per cent of Israelis oppose responding militarily to Iran’s barrage, preferring to close out the current hostilities. This contrasts sharply with the overwhelming public support for Israel’s ongoing military operation in Gaza where the death toll is close to 34,000, most of whom are women and children.

“Everyone is on board with the [Gaza war] goals. But we see a very different path here with Iran,” Nimrod Zeldin from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is reported saying in the Financial Times. “Iran is more complicated.”

Former Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, argued that Israel should exercise restraint and strategic patience rather than rushing to retaliate.

“The question is not whether to tolerate or retaliate but … whether it’s smart to do it now or at a future point,” Olmert said. “This government has to have enough sense not to be dragged into a regional conflict.”

READ: Iran Commander warns Tehran could review its ‘nuclear doctrine’ amid Israel threats

Olmert and others worry that escalation with Iran could distract from the key goals in Gaza where, according to many analysts, Israel has failed to achieve any of its main aims, destroy Hamas and secure the release of the hostages.

Israel is also facing growing international pressure, including from key allies like the US and UK, to exercise restraint in its response to Iranian strike. This pressure was highlighted by comments from UK Foreign Secretary, Lord David Cameron, during a recent visit to Jerusalem.

“It’s clear the Israelis are making a decision to act,” Cameron told reporters, suggesting the Netanyahu government was leaning towards retaliation. “We hope they do so in a way that does as little to escalate this as possible.”

Commenting on Israel’s 1 April strike on the Iranian embassy, the former Prime Minister said that Britain would be compelled to strike back against any nation that attacked its embassy.

The poll results underscore the difficult and consequential decision facing Israel’s leadership as they weigh how to respond to Iran’s unprecedented attack. With the public and political class divided, some analysts say that Israel may have to swallow this defeat, having recklessly triggered this latest round of escalation with its attack on the Iranian embassy.

Analysts have pointed out that Israel’s aura of invincibility has twice been shattered.

First by Hamas, as Israeli forces were scrambled together many hours after breaching its fence on 7 October. In the bungled response, Israeli forces are reported to have killed their own civilians.

The second is the Iranian retaliation this weekend. Not just because seven of the 320 missiles pierced through Israel’s defences, but because Israel needed so much help to uphold its defences. The Occupation State had to enlist the support of the US, UK and Jordan and other regional partners to defend against the Iranian strike. The US shot down most of the aerial projectiles after being given 72 hours warning by Tehran.

READ: Israel will defend itself, Netanyahu says, as West calls for restraint