When world leaders, policy experts, technology wonks and journalists gathered last year for the Israeli President’s Conference, the Arab Spring was in its infant stages and the European economic crisis was on the verge of becoming catastrophic.
China and Russia were flexing their muscles in the face of US hesitations over the Middle East, and Israel was facing an existential threat from the ayatollahs.
Leap forward a year, and Israel finds itself in an even more precarious situation. Think Iran, the Arab Spring and the stagnation of the peace process.
In his opening remarks to the welcoming plenary at this year’s conference, Tony Blair — currently the Quartet’s official envoy to the Middle East — addressed the shift from authoritarian rule to the beginnings of democracy in the Arab world.
“Democracy is a way of thinking, and not just a way of voting,” said Mr Blair, adding that for the first time in the Middle East and North Africa, “politicians are becoming scared of the people instead of the people being scared of the politicians.”
Israeli fears about an ‘Islamic Winter’ on its borders and doubts about any credible international dialogue over Iranian nuclear enrichment were met with agreement by a number of analysts and policy experts.
Dennis Ross, who has been a staple of American diplomacy in Middle East affairs since the Carter administration, did not reject a military strike on Iran but cautioned that those involved in a possible attack must be prepared for the “day after”.
Former US Ambassador to the EU, Stuart Eizenstat, assured Israelis that the Obama administration’s sanctions package was starting to cripple the Iranian regime and that the US President was not bluffing when he said: “We will not let Iran acquire a nuclear weapon.”
Mr Eizenstat also addressed the fact that several countries are rising to challenge US interests across the globe. “Although American military strength cannot be matched, there are other profound factors that will challenge US influence and power,” said Mr Eizenstat, who also said that both Israel and the Jewish people faced immense challenges in dealing with increasingly powerful nations whose populations are either unfamiliar with the Israeli-Jewish narrative or are apathetic about the need for a Jewish state.
Also speaking at the conference were Limmud’s global chair Carolyn Bogush, Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP Group, and journalist Peter Beinart.
Steve Rubin is a freelance writer based in Israel. Twitter: @TheRealRubin