On Oct. 15, Iran issued a stinging public ultimatum to its archenemy Israel: Halt your onslaught on Gaza or we'll be forced to take action, its foreign minister warned.

Only hours later, the country's U.N. mission softened the hawkish tone, assuring the world that its armed forces wouldn't intervene in the conflict unless Israel attacked Iranian interests or citizens.

Iran, a longtime backer of Gaza's rulers Hamas, finds itself in a quandary as it tries to manage the spiraling crisis, according to nine Iranian officials with direct knowledge of the thinking within the clerical establishment.