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Why Iran vs. Israel rhetoric could escalate into war

Iran and Israel traded verbal barbs this week, with a former Israeli intelligence chief calling for a preemptive military strike against Iran. Analysts worry that both sides could get carried away and find themselves at war.

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US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (2nd r.) walks with Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak (c.) through an honor cordon at the Pentagon in Washington, Monday.

Jim Young/Reuters

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The Israeli drumbeat for a military strike against Iran’s nuclear program grew louder this week as former intelligence chief Shabtai Shavit said the Jewish state must not “sit idly and wait until the enemy comes to attack you.”

“Since there is an ongoing war, since the threat is permanent, since the intention of the enemy in this case is to annihilate you, the right doctrine is one of preemption and not of retaliation,” Mr. Shavit told a conference at the hawkish Bar Ilan University on Monday.

Israel and the Islamic Republic of Iran have long been arch-foes. But these enemies have grown in their ignorance, misperceptions, and demonization of each other – and have thereby dangerously raised the risk of escalation to direct conflict, analysts say. That has raised jitters in Washington, with Israel’s closest ally warning against a unilateral attack that would inevitably draw in US forces already overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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