Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
After a pointing a finger at Iran and promising a harsh retaliation for a terrorist attack in Bulgaria that killed five Israeli tourists Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Friday revised his accusation and toned down his threats for revenge.
Speaking to reporters, Netanyahu said it was Hezbollah, acting as the "long arm" of Iran, which actually carried out the attack. And instead of a vague threat of a "strong retaliation," Netanyahu spoke of a protracted manhunt to exact revenge on those responsible, reports the Christian Science Monitor.
The more muted response suggests that, rather than opting for a harsh and swift retaliatory strikes 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. Friday Netanyahu used the Bulgaria attack to disparage Iran as a pariah which 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 US.
"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 as 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.
Meanwhile, the Bulgarian Interior Minister has said that a suicide bomber carried out an attack that killed seven people in a bus transporting Israeli tourists.
Video surveillance footage showed the bomber was similar in appearance to tourists arriving at the airport, Interior Minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov said.