Rosh Hashanah 2012: Israel fears conflict with Iran as Jewish New Year comes

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In a battery of holiday interviews granted to Israeli media and American TV networks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intensified his campaign to push the U.S. to declare the conditions that would necessitate a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.

"Iran is guided by a leadership with an unbelievable fanaticism," he told NBC. "You want these fanatics to have nuclear weapons?"

American officials have said they understand Israel's concerns, but there are signs that Netanyahu's challenges in the media are weighing on American patience.

In an interview published in Foreign Policy magazine, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta implied Netanyahu is forcing the issue. "Red lines are kind of political arguments that are used to try to put people in a corner," he said.

Nahum Barnea, a prominent Israeli commentator, said Netanyahu has succeeded at pressuring the international community to increase sanctions. But in recent weeks, "Israeli pressure caused more harm than good," he wrote in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.

"The public conflict with the American administration weakened Israel's power of deterrence; got the state involved, against its better interests, in the U.S. elections race; caused unnecessary economic and political damage; and did not in any way advance the struggle to stop Iran," Barnea wrote.

At a supermarket in central Jerusalem, Israeli shoppers seemed confused if the Israeli warnings about Iran were real or bluff. "You see Rabbi Ovadia Yosef saying we need extra prayers," said Amram Levy, 50, an ultra-Orthodox Jew, citing an influential rabbi. But, he added, "we don't really know if it's really dangerous, or if they're just inflating things."

In a ray of optimism, Yedioth Ahronoth published an upbeat letter from Gilad Schalit, the former Israeli soldier held by the Islamic group Hamas in Gaza for five years and swapped last October for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. His release was cause for national celebration in Israel.

It was Schalit's most detailed personal account to the Israeli public about his first year of freedom. Schalit said he is still often greeted with hugs by teary Israelis, and said a champagne-soaked celebration with basketball players at the NBA finals in Miami was the most significant experience he'd had since his release.

Schalit said he plans a long hike in nature, and then to begin university studies next year.

"Anyone can suddenly find himself in extreme circumstances," Schalit wrote. "Always, always remember that there is a chance for rescue from every trouble."

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