Israel appears to have made a gesture of publicly reaching out to Iran at the recent Munich Security Conference.
Even Israel’s top officials were being relatively nice to the Iranians. On Sunday morning, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and the other Israeli delegates who were still in Munich (Livni and Cohen had already left) remained in their seats when Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif took the stage at one session.
In at least one photo I have seen, Ya’alon sat in the front row. This does show a change in policy towards Iran. As noted in the same article by Raphael Ahern in the Times of Israel:
Just four months ago, Netanyahu ordered Israel’s delegation to the United Nations to walk out during the speech by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to the General Assembly. “When Iran’s leaders stop denying the Holocaust of the Jewish people, stop calling for the destruction of the Jewish state and recognize Israel’s right to exist, the Israeli delegation will attend their addresses at the General Assembly,” Netanyahu said at the time.
In my opinion, there is almost zero chance that Defense Minister Ya’alon would have stayed for the Zarif panel if he had been told otherwise by his boss, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Does this signal a complete shift in Netanyahu’s Iran policy? Unlikely. However I believe that it does signal a small positive step forward in order to test the waters, to see how the Iranian side reacts. Israel wins no matter what. If Iran reacts positively then it would show that moderation and goodwill works. If Iran does not react or continues with its rhetoric against Israel then Israel could say that it is the other side that does not want to change, no matter what. This would strengthen Israel’s case against Iran’s nuclear program.
It must be noted that sitting through the presentation of your adversary at international forums has been used before to convey a message of goodwill. For example, in September 2000 former US Secretary of State Albright attended President Khatami’s speech at UNESCO. The next day president Clinton sat through president Khatami’s UNGA speech. Both were signs of good will to the Khatami government.
There have already been several instances — in the 80s, 90s and in 2000 – in which Israel has tried to reach out to the Iranian government. These include, among other steps, reaching out to the Khatami government through intermediaries in Europe and sending technical delegations to Iran. Until now, none of these seem to have brought about any change in Iran’s hostile rhetoric and policies towards Israel.