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Apakah Israel akan serang Iran? Bergantung pada siapa anda tanya

Would Israel attack Iran? Depends on who you ask

Occupied Jerusalem (Reuters) March 5 - Israel has long been the wild card in debates on the Iranian nuclear programme - a country that while formally outside negotiations, has lobbying clout given its strategic fears and penchant for pre-emptive strikes.

But Israeli officials, once quick to project military menace in the face of what Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has called an "existential threat", are increasingly taking a softer public line on how to meet Iran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment.

It appears that many Israelis have grudgingly decided that Iran is too tough an enemy for their armed forces to take on alone -and that the international community senses this too.

"The last thing Israel is interested in is an escalation or some military action against Iran," said Avigdor Lieberman, the usually ultra-hawkish Israeli strategic affairs minister.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who suggested a year ago that Israel consider attacking Iran in a mission akin to its 1981 air strike on Iraq's atomic reactor, is now redirecting his rhetoric to calls for crippling Western sanctions on Tehran.

"There's no question that if stiffer measures are needed, it's better that the United States lead the way," Netanyahu told foreign reporters last month.

Pre-emptive strikes

Like its US ally, Israel refuses to rule out pre-emptive strikes as a last-ditch means of curbing a nuclear programme that Iran insists is peaceful. But unlike with Iraq under Saddam Hussain, Iran's nuclear facilities may be too distant, numerous and fortified for Israel to tackle.

The sense of tactical limitation was reinforced, throughout the region and beyond, by last year's inconclusive Israeli war against Hezbollah fighters.

"It is becoming increasingly clear that Israel has no viable military option on Iran, and is pinning its hopes on some sort of solution by the Americans," said Alon Ben-David, Israel analyst for Jane's Defence Weekly.

"But there are also a growing number of Israelis who think the country will just have to live with a nuclear-armed Iran," he said.

Resigning itself to an Iranian bomb could spell a major credibility crisis for Israel, which was founded on the promise of preventing a 'second Holocaust' and, to that end, is believed to have procured the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has fuelled fears of a catastrophic regional conflict by denying the Nazi genocide took place and urging that the Jewish state be "wiped off the map", though Tehran officials said this did not constitute a threat.

The tension is especially felt in war-wary Europe, which has robust trade ties with Iran. There have been recent European proposals for accommodating Iran by allowing it limited uranium enrichment, something anathema to the United States and Israel.

"The possibility of a preventive Israeli strike helps to concentrate European thinking on options for resolving the impending crisis before it would get to that stage," said Mark Fitzpatrick, senior fellow for nuclear non-proliferation at London's International Institute for Strategic Studies.

At least one European leader, French President Jacques Chirac, has already spoken of a nuclear-armed Iran as a possible fait accompli.

In a late-January interview that he later tried to retract, Chirac said Iran would not attempt a nuclear attack on Israel for fear that Tehran would be 'razed' in response.

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