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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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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a statement about a terrorist attack in Bulgaria that killed five Israeli tourists, in Jerusalem, Thursday, July 19.

Emil Salman/AP

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After pointing a finger at Iran and promising a harsh retaliation for a terrorist attack in Bulgaria that killed five Israeli tourists yesterday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today revised his accusation and toned down his threats for revenge.

Speaking to reporters, Mr. Netanyahu said it was Hezbollah, acting as the "long arm" of Iran, that actually carried out the attack. And instead of a vague threat of a "strong retaliation," Mr. Netanyahu spoke of a protracted manhunt to exact revenge on those responsible.

The more muted response suggests that, rather than opting for a harsh and swift retaliatory strike as it has in the past, Israel will keep a low profile and seek revenge in covert hits over time to avoid destabilizing an already chaotic region in the present.

That’s because a knee-jerk response would undermine Israel’s larger goals: weakening the Iranian regime and preventing it from getting nuclear weapons.

For months Israel has been warning that it will attack Iran if it believes that Tehran is about complete a nuclear weapon. Today Netanyahu used the Bulgaria attack to disparage Iran as a pariah that would endanger the world if allowed to obtain nuclear weapons.

Shlomo Brom, a fellow at the Tel Aviv University think tank Institute for National Security Studies, says an overt act of revenge would risk triggering a regional war, something that Israel wants to avoid right now. For now, Israel is deferring to US efforts to apply economic pressure through sanctions and negotiations with Iran. An attack would undermine the United States.

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