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Israel Tones Down Warnings of Strike on Iran as Diplomatic Efforts Intensify


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Israel has for some time warned it is ready to launch preemptive strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities at any time. With international pressure growing on Iran to freeze its nuclear program, analysts say Israeli leaders are toning down those warnings and giving diplomacy a chance to work.

Iran's Islamist leaders have for decades called for Israel to be eliminated from the pages of history, fueling calls by many Israelis for their government to strike and destroy the Iranians' ability to make nuclear weapons.

For months, Israel warned it was ready for an immediate preemptive strike on Iranian targets much like the ones it conducted in the past against Syria, and Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

Recent remarks by Israeli officials, however, indicate Israel may be toning down its approach. A major Israeli newspaper last month quoted Defense Minister Ehud Barak as suggesting Iran is not such a big menace to the Jewish State. The paper quoted Mr. Barak as saying he does not think Israel is on the brink of a new Holocaust in the face of an Iranian nuclear threat.

The remark appeared to be a retreat from earlier statements in which the Israeli government presented Iran's nuclear ambitions as a threat to the existence of the Jewish State.

Others, including Israel's hawkish Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman are sounding more cautious as well. Lieberman spoke on an Israeli TV channel, saying he hopes there is no need to attack anything.

He said he hopes the nations meeting with Iran will use their power to stop what he called the madness of Iran's nuclear program.

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But Israel says all options remain open and officials have explained Mr. Barak's remarks as meaning that Israel is not in danger of disappearing because it has the means to fight off any attack from Iran.

Political scientist Avraham Diskin at Hebrew University in Jerusalem says Israeli politicians cannot afford to rule out military action.

"If Israel or the United States pick that alternative, Israel will pay costly for it. Israel is at the front line and because of that, maybe there is no alternative but to pay the cost and solve that in a military way," Diskin said.

At the same time, analysts say Israeli leaders are skeptical about taking action unilaterally and are waiting to see if international pressure sways the Iranians to freeze their nuclear activities.
Mr. Obama's proposal during his campaign to engage Iran in negotiations without preconditions was not welcomed here, and many Israelis generally view the Obama White House as being softer on Iran.

Diskin says there is the perception among Israeli leaders that the support Israel is getting from Washington now is not what it was under the previous administration.

"I think there is such a feeling. Definitely, there is such a feeling. I also believe that this fear [of] Iran is quite a consensus [maker] and there is a wide consensus that Israel cannot afford a nuclear Iran. There is a wide consensus that this is a new administration and it is more problematic to Israel," said Diskin.

An Iranian-born Middle East analyst in Tel Aviv, Meir Javedanfar, says there are other reasons for Israel's leaders to temper their approach.

"It is also possible that the recent events in Iran show this current regime is not as strong as people thought. Another possibility is that Defense Minister Barak has realized that the more Iran is threatened, the more it helps the [Iranian] leadership," Javedanfar said.

Maintaining its international image is another concern for Israel. The country has been hit with international accusations that its forces committed abuses during their 22-day assault on Islamist militants in the Gaza Strip early this year.

Analysts say Israeli leaders have reason to be concerned that their actions may also come under scrutiny if they rush into a new operation against Iran.

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