The public row with Mr. Barak illustrated the magnitude of Mr. Netanyahu’s retreat and his difficulty in explaining it. He was left with implying that he had been undermined, if not betrayed by, his own defense minister. But that was not the full story of why he had blinked.

In fact, Mr. Netanyahu’s about-face resulted from a long-building revolt by Israel’s professional security establishment against the very idea of an early military attack, particularly one without the approval of the United States.

For months, former and even serving chiefs of Israel’s defense and intelligence communities have vigorously and publicly opposed Mr. Netanyahu’s case for attacking Iran sooner, rather than after all other means have been exhausted. Meir Dagan, the much respected former head of Mossad, did so to an American audience in an interview with Lesley Stahl broadcast last March by CBS’ “60 Minutes.” In Israel earlier, he had been quoted as saying that such an attack was “the stupidest idea I have ever heard.”

In addition, Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Barak had proved unable to win sufficient support for early military action from other members of the government. Despite months of sustained effort, Mr. Netanyahu was not able to muster a majority even in his nine-member informal inner cabinet, much less Israel’s larger security cabinet, whose agreement he would need before attacking.