(Bloomberg) -- They didn’t cancel the free folk dancing on the promenade at Tel Aviv’s Gordon Beach, and hundreds turned out on Saturday. It was breezy for bathing but sails filled the horizon, bikers cruised the cycling lanes and tables set with seaside brunch were full.

It’s not that Israel is cavalier about the threat of an imminent Iranian missile attack. Its military issued stern statements of preparedness (“We have increased our readiness to protect Israel from further Iranian aggression. We are also prepared to respond.”) and defense officials have been in frenzied meetings for days, including with a top US general.

But as retired businessman Rafael Gigi put it as he strolled the Tel Aviv promenade with his wife and thousands of others late Saturday morning, “The Iranians have already driven people to buy water and be concerned. Most threats don’t result in action. We’re not going to sit around and be afraid.”

While Israel’s government has issued no special orders to its citizens about the threat, other countries have. The US State Department barred its employees from traveling to many parts of Israel this weekend, the UK urged its citizens to leave the country and France warned its citizens against traveling to Israel. 

And, indeed, preparations for an attack by Iranian proxies in Lebanon and Syria or from Iran itself — as US intelligence is predicting — were under way even before two top Iranian generals were killed in Damascus on April 1, in an attack widely attributed to Israel. 

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Satellite phones have been distributed to every mayor in Israel. The northern port city of Haifa is urging the purchase of landlines and preparing for leaks of dangerous substances. Ashdod, south of Tel Aviv, is setting up centers for the disabled in case the power goes out. Israel’s communications ministry has suggested everyone stock up on transistor radios and spare batteries. 

And at the Tel Aviv post office these days, after stamps are purchased, the clerk typically suggests a range of war-related options, including a battery-powered light that can also charge a mobile phone, for 99 shekels ($26).  

Israel hasn’t claimed the killing in Damascus but few doubt who carried it out as the shadow war between Israel and its arch-enemy Iran escalates. The brutal attack by Hamas on Israel six months ago, which left 1,200 dead and 240 abducted, and set off the devastating war in Gaza, is part of it, along with the daily exchanges of fire across the northern border with Lebanon.  

Hamas, considered a terrorist organization by the US and European Union, says 33,000 Palestinians have been killed it the war. It doesn’t distinguish between fighters and civilians.

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The question of preparing for the worst has a complicated history in Israel, especially since the Oct. 7 incursions. The security establishment was so confident Hamas had been contained and wouldn’t dare try a big attack, that the country failed to guard its southern border with Gaza, with devastating results. 

As a result, the last thing Benjamin Netanyahu’s government or Israel’s military wants is to be accused once again of being surprised by its enemies. 

A similar issue existed 50 years ago, when Israel was certain that Egypt and Syria wouldn’t dare attack after their terrible loss in the 1967 war. When they did, in October 1973, and Syrian tanks rolling unimpeded into Israel, the country found itself in the greatest danger of its history. 

The concern raised this week by intelligence services is that Iran will retaliate by firing rockets from its soil onto Israeli government compounds, an unprecedented act that would raise the stakes markedly. 

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That’s put Israelis into a familiar position for them, that of the feisty victim. It’s one they far prefer to the image they’ve developed in much of the world in recent months, as reckless aggressors. It seems also to have bolstered relations with Washington, which have been frayed by concerns over how Israel has conducted the war in Gaza, with civilian deaths and property destruction that many consider excessive. There’s also intense concern over imminent famine in Gaza. 

As Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said after meeting with US Central Command’s General Michael Erik Kurilla, “Our enemies think that they can pull apart Israel and the United States, but the opposite is true - they are bringing us together and strengthening our ties. We stand shoulder to shoulder.”

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