When Israeli President Shimon Peres called on February 2nd at the Herzliya conference for the use of "moral pressure" against Iran (in addition to economic sanctions), he may have been signaling a new, nuanced way to deal with this politically charged issue.
Little noticed but powerful in its significance, this position contrasts sharply with the rising chorus of neoconservative voices in Washington calling for Iranian regime change.
No one can accuse Peres of being soft on Iran, and in both public panel debates and side conversations here in Herzliya on the issue of how to deal with Iran, the hesitance to promote regime change and use military power against Iran has been a recurring theme.
Here's a quick summary of my impressions about the Iran debate taking place at Herzliya:
Talk about Iran focuses almost exclusively on the nuclear issue. Interest in the changing internal Iranian political dynamics is minimal, as the general opinion is that the Iranians will still pursue a weapon even if they have a new government. This is largely because of the view that the Greens are either the sons/daughters of '79 revolutionaries, or are being led by revolutionaries instead.
There's also a deep skepticism about Americas' previous failed nation building efforts in the region. As a result, there's trepidation about the idea of regime change and the unknowns that could come with such a scenario.
Interestingly, there's minimal talk about military action being taken against Iran, and instead a general view that intensive sanctions and the isolation of Iran are the best near term path.
In addition, there's a grudging acknowledgement that President Obama's engagement has had some value (certainly in shaking the regime), but that it can only continue (if at all) if it's coupled with tough measures.
There has also been an intriguing recognition that Israel has made this issue too much of an Israeli problem, and that it needs to shift to making it a global concern. And there's little hope that Russia and China will help on sanctions, leading to a view that some other type of hard pressure must be pursued.
Lastly, there's a common view that the Arab states also have something to fear from Iran, with an interesting judgment that Israel and the moderate Arab states are closer today because of this common adversary. Yet while Israeli political leaders at this conference have called for a two state solution with the Palestinians in order to help solidify the growing closeness with the Arab states, that view has been met with deep skepticism by the audience, largely because of doubts about Palestinian capacity to deliver on their end.
It will be interesting to hear what Prime Minister Netanyahu says about this tonight