Prof. Uzi Arad's office at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy, situated on the campus of the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center, was abuzz with activity on Tuesday afternoon.
With under a week left until the annual conference on the Balance of Israel's National Security, Arad and his aides were busy fine-tuning the list of speakers set to discuss the country's most pressing military-security issues, as well as issues related to diplomacy, socio-economic challenges and the economy.
"We have done away with lengthy introductions to present the speakers," Arad said, pointing to an ever-changing schedule. "We're looking to save every minute we can for the speeches themselves."
The conference, which has been running annually since 2000, is Arad's brainchild and is aimed at getting political and business decision-makers from Israel, the US and other countries to "take stock of national security," he said.
It features intensive sessions at which experts weigh in on policy dilemmas and alternatives, and offer recommendations that are then compiled into a report sent to the Israeli government.
But this may be the last time, at least for a while, that he organizes the conference, for if the Likud wins next month's general elections and Binyamin Netanyahu becomes prime minister, there's a good chance that Arad will become his foreign policy and strategic adviser, a post he held when Netanyahu last served as prime minister between 1996 and 1999.
"If I am called to serve, I will," Arad said.
Arad chooses his words carefully - a reflection of his 25 years in the Mossad.
He urges a prudent approach for navigating the treacherous strategic waters around Israel, where a series of flashpoints stretching from Gaza to southern Lebanon and all the way to Iran are interlinked.
He believes that "diplomatic adventurism" that leads to dangerous concessions is "as bad as military adventurism." When asked if it was already too late to prevent a military confrontation with Iran, Arad said the sand had not yet run out of the hourglass.
"There is a way to prevent a military confrontation with Iran, if it obeys the international community and stops action to produce a nuclear weapon," he said. If, however, all economic and diplomatic efforts fail, "the possibility of a military operation can't be ruled out."
Israel's current predicament could have been avoided entirely, Arad said, had a powerful international coalition come together to apply pressure on the Iranians.
"It is a huge failure on the international community's part, Israel included, that no supreme diplomatic efforts from 2003 onwards were made to prevent this, when Iran was much more susceptible to effective measures," he said.
Part of the problem, he explained, was the 2005 disengagement from Gaza, which took priority over the Iranian threat.
"Was leaving Gaza the most urgent thing?" he asked.
Looking at what makes the Islamic Republic tick, Arad warned against holding too simplistic a view of the decision-making process in Teheran.
"Some elements in Iran are messianic," he said. "Deterrence could be possible under such circumstances but requires much greater efforts and means to be effective. Deterrence must be tailored to this kind of regime to be effective."
Could Israel rely on US President Barack Obama to neutralize the Iranian threat if his current push for dialogue fails?
"We don't know," he answered. "There is a commitment by the Obama administration that Iran will not go nuclear, but how this is to be accomplished is yet to be seen."
Shifting his focus to Gaza, Arad cast a critical look at the results of Operation Cast Lead, saying that "half measures" would ultimately lead to a "half-baked outcome."
"We will only know in the future [if deterrence has been established]," he said. "We cannot declare the outcome in advance. Deterrence is in the eye of the beholder. If Hamas sees Iran is closer to a nuclear weapon and feels it has a patron, Hamas may be less deterrable."
Arad said he believed that Operation Cast Lead had "amorphous goals," adding, "Hamas must be degraded, its command level and military ability mortally damaged in every way."
The correct steps, he said, would lead to Hamas "effectively decaying as a political party."
Arad expressed full confidence in the Likud Party chairman's ability to lead the country, saying, "The historical record shows that Netanyahu has been right in reading the situation and also I think his state-craft has been marked by a policy consisting of a clear adherence to the national strategic interest."
It was this "cautious, guarded movement, always insisting on reciprocity," and Netanyahu's "understanding that the operational rule should be one of prudence," that would successfully steer Israel clear of the dangers ahead, Arad said.
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