Tzipi Livni
© The Associated Press
Tzipi Livni: leadership does not benefit from fear
It is always worth listening to Israelis in their own country when discussing apparent and growing threats to wipe them out. The diplomatic niceties in the West, still carefully preserved even in these crazy days of Middle East policy on the hoof, become irrelevant when one is talking about threats on the same street.

Here at the annual Herzliya conference on security and defence, it took a defence minister to blow through cobwebs of diplomat-ese. Matan Vilnai harangued his audience at the opening on Sunday night. People need to understand what it means to be in the Middle East. If the whole world could understand, he said, it would be important. "We are now in a third world war," he said. Israel didn't have a minister for homeland security. It does now. There is an axis of evil that runs from Beirut to Damascus to Tehran. After Israel withdrew from Gaza it became a terror base. And so on.

None of this was new. But it takes on a different hue when delivered within miles of Hizbollah rockets. Changes in Egypt, Lebanon and elsewhere have the Israelis scared stiff.

But I have been lucky too to have met a former head of Mossad this morning who gave a completely different perspective. Efraim Halevy belongs to the school that says Israel needs to stop viewing everything, from Iranian weapons to Turkish flotillas to homegrown jihadis in Oregon, as an existential threat.

"There is no existential threat to Israel," he says. "I believe that Israel is indestructible. I believe that Israel is a very strong presence in the Middle East."

Halevy's view is not one of inattentiveness of course. But it is about recognising that a singular mindset is limiting. "I think our enemies have a greater respect sometimes for us than we do of ourselves," said Halevy.

It was a view echoed this morning by Tzipi Livny, leader of the opposition, in a speech typically fiery and full of criticism of the stance of Benjamin Netanyahu's government. "I do not believe in a leadership that benefits from fear," she said. "I believe that when Israel takes the initiative it is in a much stronger position."

But even she demonstrated some existential schizophrenia: "Every day that Israel exists is a victory," she said. It's a difficult and nuanced stance to take.