Who Exactly is Served by the Herzliya Conference?

During the week we were ceaselessly bombarded by a stream of news, statements and speeches flowing from the speakers’ podium of the Herzliya Conference. All the who’s who, and some who are not, in politics, security, media and academia arrived there to speak their mind. Beside seriously worrying status reports, we also heard confident statements which make one wonder what they are backed by. What we did not hear were apologies for serious past mistakes and statements of accountability for heavy failures.

There is something surrealistic in watching the stream of speakers – from military commanders carrying on their shoulders high ranks who are still to face the real tests, to media personalities carrying on their shoulders the ranks of vice-God. From the architects of the Oslo agreement to the godmothers of Security Council Resolution 1701. From the Lebanon escapists, the leaders of the futile ‘Cast Lead’ operation and those directly responsible to the ‘Marmara’ fiasco, to the commanders of the IDF during the period leading to the 2006 war in Lebanon. From those who abandoned the Philadelphi route to those who got embroiled in the Gallant letter affair, stepping one by one onto the stage, making statements full of wisdom and authority and relying on the very short memory of the Israeli people.

As many before me have been saying for years – the Herzliya Conference is a problematic event on two main counts. It mixes politicians and military men with media personalities and financial tycoons in a way that raises questions about the blurring of appropriate boundaries when dealing with fortune -government-papers-security (Hon-Shilton-Iton-Bitakhon in Hebrew). It also serves as a stage for certain declarations by government ministers that if they should be made at all, they should be made from the stand assigned to them by the Israeli democracy – the speakers’ stand of the Knesset.

Naturally, the subject that received most of the media coverage was the issue of the Iranian nuclear programme. It is unclear to whose ear all the talk and blurb on this subject was aimed. If to the ears of the Iranians themselves, then they have already heard enough to understand that although the likelihood for this is quite small, Israel may try to attack their nuclear facilities. There is no question of this understanding bringing them to halt their nuclear effort – whoever still believes this is hallucinating. The Iranians are already doing all they can to prepare both for the actual attack and for their retaliation that will follow it. One can assume that even the exact timing of the attack will not come to them as a complete surprise – Russia, Turkey and other allies of Iran in the region have the intelligence capabilities to provide them with a pre-warning, even if only a short time one. If however the speeches were aimed at the ears of the United States and other NATO members, then here also everyone already understands the situation and Israel’s position on it. The Americans have already formulated their policy – they will not participate in an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities and will not get involved in the war that will follow it, unless the Iranians will directly attack their forces in the Middle East or their vital interests like the free flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz. If the Iranians will be wise enough to manage their war without giving the Americans a reason to get involved, Israel may find itself fighting alone both against Iran and on the other fronts that will flare up around its borders.

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