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Donald Macintyre

Donald Macintyre: An attack on Iran? It's a hawkish fantasy

Could superhawk John Bolton be guilty of wishful thinking? Within hours of the Bulgarian attack the former US ambassador to the UN was on Fox News predicting that Israel would respond to the killing of five of its citizens by attacking Revolutionary Guard facilities in Iran itself.

As a Republican who thinks that Israel should have long ago bombed Iran's nuclear installations, Mr Bolton sounded positively excited by the escalation that would be triggered by such a reprisal. But will it happen like that?

Certainly there is a link between the strong language again used by the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, yesterday to describe "the most dangerous state on earth" and his determination to stop Iran becoming a nuclear military power. Which is to use the Bulgaria attack as yet another means to impress upon the international community what kind of regime, as he sees it, would have a nuclear weapon if it is allowed to get it. It's because he doesn't think his allies yet "get it" that he has – ominously – refused to take the unilateral military option off the table.

But it is far less clear that even a political duo as preoccupied with Iran as Mr Netanyahu and his Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, would regard the Bulgaria attack, rather than Tehran's progress towards a nuclear weapon, as the right casus belli.

According to one Israeli official yesterday, a likelier model for retaliation might be the painstaking – though not always correctly targeted – hunting down, man by man, of the killers of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munch Olympics 40 years ago.

Israel purports to have, or to be confident of getting, the intelligence needed for such an operation. In a volatile region, nothing is certain today. But that remains a likelier outcome of the Burgas bombing than the immediate conflagration Mr Bolton appears to want.