Russia had hoped to bolster that margin with a win later away to Northern Ireland but Fabio Capello’s men must wait 24 hours after heavy snow in Belfast forced a postponement with the Windsor Park pitch unplayable.
Despite the presence of the likes of Real Madrid star Ronaldo, Portugal have struggled in recent qualifying tournaments. Having already dropped four points from their opening four fixtures they again found themselves on the back foot — despite taking a second-minute lead through Bruno Alves.
The Zenit St Petersburg veteran headed in from a corner but thereafter it was all Israel. Fine strikes from Tomer Hemed, of Spanish side Mallorca, midway through the first half and Eden Ben Basat on 40 minutes, followed by a Rami Gershon header in the 70th minute left the hosts on the brink of an upset.
But within two minutes former Tottenham striker Helder Postiga had pulled one back and then Fabio Coentrao, who had already hit the crossbar, rescued a point for Paulo Bento’s side after Hugo Almeida nodded on a Carlos Martins cross.
The draw leaves both Israel and the Portuguese on eight points from five matches in the tournament but with only the group winners guaranteed a berth in the finals in Brazil, the Russians appear to hold the whip hand.
Ronaldo had a quiet game by his own exalted standards and, adding to his frustration in front of goal, picked up a yellow card in the second half as the Portuguese showed the kind of shortcomings which marred their route to Euro 2012. He will miss Tuesday’s trip to Azerbaijan as a result.