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Israel softens response to bus bombing, with eye to Iran talks

With negotiations between Iran and the West over its nuclear program fragile, Prime Minister Netanyahu is treading carefully to avoid knocking them off track.

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The difference is that this time, risking war means risking the possibility of missiles raining down on all of Israel. 

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But analysts don’t see this attack as a sufficient casus belli. Giora Eiland, a former general and Israeli national security adviser, said Israel should keep its handling of Iran’s nuclear program separate from how it responds to the Bulgaria attack. He suggested that Israel needs to focus on cooperating with Bulgarian authorities to track down the perpetrators.

An attack on the nuclear sites depends on different considerations. "The main question… is whether you can reach an understanding with the US, that an Israeli action against Tehran will be accepted positively,"  Mr. Eiland told Israel Army Radio.

Israel is expected to use covert actions to retaliate instead, as it is suspected of doing in the past. Israel is widely believed to be behind a string of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists and attacks on Iranian military sites in recent years. 

In addition, former national security adviser Uzi Arad told Israel Radio today that Israel was behind the assassination of Hezbollah military commander Imad Mughniyah in 2008 – the first time any Israeli official has claimed responsibility for the attack. There has been speculation that the bus bombing was retaliation for Mr. Mughniyah's death – a claim Hezbollah denied today.

Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar Ilan University, says that Netanyahu has been very cautious about using force in general. The Israeli leader is likely to order a manhunt as the government did after the assassination of Israel’s delegation to the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.  

"The history of Israeli responses to terror attacks like this are a very slow and carefully measured response where the perpetrators are identified, and one by one they are found," he says. "The regional environment is extremely unstable, and Israel is not the focus at all. Israel does not want this terror attack to drag it back into the focus as the source of all the instability in the region."

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