Israel is backing away from a threat to attack Iran. Robert Berger reports from the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.

Israeli defense officials have rejected comments by Cabinet Minister Shaul Mofaz, who said last week that an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities is "unavoidable."

The statement was a factor in a spike in oil prices by nearly nine percent. Defense sources said such irresponsible statements make it harder for Israel to convince the West to tighten sanctions on Iran.

Israel believes Iran is developing nuclear weapons that pose an existential threat, though Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Mofaz's remarks are widely seen as part of a power struggle in Israel's ruling Kadima party. Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said Mofaz wants to appear tough as he campaigns to become the successor of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who could be toppled by a corruption scandal.

Vilnai told Israel Radio that it is unacceptable to turn "one of the most strategic security issues into a political game."

There has been broad speculation about an Israeli pre-emptive strike on Iran since late 2005 when the Iranian president threatened to wipe the Jewish state "off the map."

But Cabinet Minister Rafi Eitan urged Mofaz and others to refrain from saber rattling.

"It is forbidden to talk about these things," he said.

Eitan, a former operative in Israel's Mossad spy agency, says he believes that when it comes to the military option against Iran, the best policy is secrecy.