Blogging a Dead Horse; or The Ballad of Luther Baldwin

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It sounds like the stuff that conspiracy theories are made of. In a coastal resort near Tel Aviv, senior Israeli politicians and generals confer with top officials and politicians from Washington to discuss the threat of a nuclear Iran. In any good conspiracy theory, however, these talks would be going on in secret – preferably in an underground bunker. In fact the Herzliya conference on “Israel’s national security” is taking place perfectly openly in a smart hotel. And I am in the audience.

The Israel participation is, as one would expect, high level. The conference is scheduled to close with a speech from Ehud Olmert, the prime minister. The lunch-time speaker yesterday was Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud leader, and maybe the next prime minister. We’re hearing from the foreign minister, the defence minister and a string of present and former generals.

But what has really struck me is the number of top Americans who have bothered to come over for the conference. The speaker at dinner last night was Gordon England, America’s deputy defence secretary; earlier in the day we heard from Nick Burns, the number three at the State Department. Several contenders for the presidency in 2008 have also felt obliged to tip their hat to Herzliya. Mitt Romney, who is probably second favourite for the Republican nomination, is turning up in person. John McCain, the GOP front-runner is appearing by satellite, so is Rudy Giuliani. For the Democrats, John Edwards is also scheduled to make a satellite address....Also well represented among the participants are well-known hawks like Richard Perle, Jim Woolsey (the former CIA director), Newt Gingrich and Jose Maria Aznar, the former Spanish prime minister. A lot of these chaps were very prominent in the drive to go to war in Iraq. Now, flushed by their undoubted success there, they are turning their attention to Iran.

There is no doubt that the war drums are beating pretty loudly here in Herzliya. The main topics of conversation that keep coming back and back – in the corridors and also in the conference hall – is how close is Iran to the bomb....Netanyahu claimed that Iran is 1,000 days away from having nukes. But the Israelis tend to argue that military action would have to come much sooner than that, before the Iranians learn how to enrich enough uranium to make a bomb. Shaul Mofaz, Israel’s deputy prime minister, argued that Iran is bent on building a “hegemonic empire in the Middle East” and presents an “existential threat to Israel”.

...Jim Woolsey, a former director of the CIA, castigated Burns for his caution and his emphasis on diplomacy. He also likened Iran to Nazi Germany. Funny thing is I distinctly remember hearing a similar speech from Woolsey at an international conference in 2002, when he likened Saddam Hussein to Hitler. Now Hitler is back – except that this time he’s Iranian.

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