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Israel weighs its response to Iran's attack

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Israel says its confrontation with Iran is not over yet. Last night, Iran launched an unprecedented drone and missile attack against Israel. Nearly all of the more than 300 ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and drones launched by Iran were intercepted by the Israeli military and its allies, which included the U.S. Iranian state media said the attack was in retaliation for an attack by Israel earlier this month against an Iranian diplomatic compound in Syria that killed two senior Iranian officials. Here in the United States, President Biden held a call with other world leaders today to coordinate a diplomatic response. NPR's Rob Schmitz joins us now from Tel Aviv to talk about the reaction inside Israel. Rob, last night when I talked to you, you were in a bomb shelter. I hope you're doing well today.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Yeah, a little better today.

DETROW: Let's start with here in the U.S. President Biden today reaffirmed his commitment to defending Israel. But we are told that Biden also made it clear that the U.S. would not support an Israeli counterattack on Iran. How is Israel's leadership responding to last night's attack?

SCHMITZ: Yeah. I mean, given that there wasn't a single reported fatality inside of Israel after such a massive air attack, the Israeli government is declaring its ability to protect its people a big success. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with his war cabinet today. We don't know yet what Israel's next steps will be. An Israeli official tells NPR that it's clear Israel has to respond but unclear when and how. There's a sense from the government reaction here that last night's attack could have been much worse, that its air defense system and assistance from the U.S. military and others were a rousing success, and it can rest on these achievements while it sort of figures out the next steps.

You know, at the same time, though, while it's clear President Biden prefers this conflict to end here, Benjamin Netanyahu may feel like he needs to respond in some way. He's sort of performing a delicate balancing act here between wanting to show a strong reaction to this attack, yet not so strong that it starts a wider regional war. You know, he's also likely thinking about his waning popularity among Israelis. So that plays into his calculus as well.

DETROW: Well, let's talk more about that. How is the Israeli population responding to what happened last night?

SCHMITZ: Yeah, I spoke to several people here in Tel Aviv today, many whom didn't get much sleep last night.

DETROW: Yeah.

SCHMITZ: You know, one thing people kept telling me was how tired they are of this new status quo Israel finds itself in. Everyone wants the hostages back. They're fatigued by the ongoing war in Gaza, by Israel's standing in the world. And now this attack from Iran just adds to all of this. You know, I spoke to Eden Lipson at a local bakery, and here's what she said.

EDEN LIPSON: I just want everything to go back to normal, the normal we know. We know it's going to take a while.

SCHMITZ: And Scott, many people I spoke to are also tired of their prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who they think is responsible for the vulnerable and difficult position that Israel is in now.

DETROW: And let's just say it again - we are talking about a direct attack from Iran onto Israel. This is something that could really rapidly escalate even more than that. How scared are people there about Israel's next steps and this continuing threat from Iran?

SCHMITZ: Yeah, I think they're worried. You know, one of the people I spoke to today - his name is Daniel Israel - told me he thought Iran's attack last night was only a preview of what Iran's military is capable of.

DANIEL ISRAEL: It was a response from Iran, but it's not, like, all their power. It's just like a hint. And I think, like, if it will escalate to a war with them, it's going to be terrible.

SCHMITZ: And Scott, you know, Daniel echoed others I spoke to when he told me that last night's attack felt like it was meant to fail so that the damage wouldn't be so bad. For example, Iran signaled it was going to attack days before it did...

DETROW: Right.

SCHMITZ: ...And it started the attack with slow-moving drones that took hours to reach their targets, making them easier to shoot down before they even got close to Israeli airspace. The whole operation, to many here, felt performative, from a regime in Tehran that needed to show its population it was retaliating against Israel but from a Tehran that did not want to provoke Israel too much. And in some ways, the way this turned out was sort of a gift for Netanyahu. You know, the question now is will Benjamin Netanyahu - a prime minister who has shown a penchant for being aggressive in his war on Hamas - will he show restraint now when it comes to Iran?

DETROW: That's NPR's Rob Schmitz joining us from Tel Aviv. Thank you, Rob.

SCHMITZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.
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