President Isaac ‘Bougie’ Herzog is Israeli aristocracy. His father, Chaim Herzog, was the sixth president, serving between 1983 and 1993; his grandfather Yitzhak Herzog was chief rabbi; his maternal uncle was Abba Eban, the most famous of the country’s foreign ministers. After leading the Israeli Labor party and the parliamentary opposition in the Knesset between 2013 and 2017, Isaac became Israel’s 11th president in July 2021. He is the first to be born in Israel since the Declaration of Independence 75 years ago.
My first question rather asks itself: how is the war going? ‘Depends on what you mean by war,’ Herzog quickly replies, before turning the discussion away from Gaza to ‘the grand picture’. He believes worries about whether the battle against Hamas might morph into a larger regional conflict are already out of date. ‘It’s regional already,’ he says. ‘Unfortunately, it is regional because elements that emanate constantly from Tehran and its proxies are carrying out this war, whether it’s attacks from Lebanon, from Iraq, from Syria and, of course, from Gaza, which was the original perpetrator of this heinous atrocity.’ He points to the recent Houthis’ piracy in capturing the Galaxy Leader, an Israeli-owned ship in the southern Red Sea, as merely the latest manifestation of the phenomenon.
Continuing in this vein, I ask about the disturbing claim that a Hamas terrorist had been found with instructions on how to launch chemical warfare in southern Israel. ‘Yes, [it is] true, including how to create a cyanide-deploying device and how to use it,’ he says. ‘Way beyond the horrible atrocities that we have seen; atrocities that humanity hasn’t seen in generations.’
Herzog, 63, who was a lawyer before his political career, believes that everybody should watch the footage that Hamas terrorists filmed themselves of the 7 October attack.