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

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"There is one issue they are obsessed with and that is the Iranian nuclear program," he says. "Attacking Iran and attacking Hezbollah involves a major escalation, and the question is whether Israel wants a major escalation. I suspected that Israel doesn’t want a major escalation."

To be sure, Israel has a track record of ordering swift and harsh revenge strikes, which sometimes escalate in to prolonged confrontations.

A year ago, Israel immediately launched strikes on the Gaza Strip after a deadly cross-border ambush from Egypt that Israel blamed on Palestinians. Israel's response to Hezbollah's 2006 kidnapping of Israeli soldiers on the Israel-Lebanon border kicked off a several-week war with the militant group. And Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon followed an assassination attempt on its London ambassador by a Palestinian Liberation Organization operative.

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

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.

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