Infection with viruses often protects the infected cell against external stimuli to apoptosis. Here we explore the balance of apoptosis induction and inhibition for infection with the modified vaccinia virus Ankara (MVA), using two MVA mutants with experimentally introduced deletions. Deletion of the E3L-gene from MVA transformed the virus from an inhibitor to an inducer of apoptosis. Noxa-deficient mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEF) were resistant to MVA-DeltaE3L-induced apoptosis. When the gene encoding F1L was deleted from MVA, apoptosis resulted that required Bak or Bax. MVA-DeltaF1L-induced apoptosis was blocked by Bcl-2. When expressed in HeLa cells, F1L blocked apoptosis induced by forced expression of the BH3-only proteins, Bim, Puma and Noxa. Finally, biosensor analysis confirmed direct binding of F1L to BH3 domains. These data describe a molecular framework of how a cell responds to MVA infection by undergoing apoptosis, and how the virus blocks apoptosis by interfering with critical steps of its signal transduction.