AIPAC calls its annual policy conference in Washington, DC, “the most important two-and-a-half days of the year in the US-Israel relationship.” The 2012 AIPAC Policy Conference – taking place in a US presidential election year and against the backdrop of high-stakes meetings between the American and Israeli leaders as they grapple with the issue of Iran — may well live up to the hype.

Beginning in earnest with President Barack Obama’s speech on Sunday, March 4, at 9:30am EST and 16:30 in Israel, it features several telling “firsts,” some of which highlight the most pressing challenges facing the US-Israel alliance.

Firsts

–This will be the first time a sitting US president (Sunday) and US defense secretary (Tuesday) both appear at an AIPAC conference.

–This will be the first time an Israeli prime minister (Monday) and Israeli president (Sunday) both appear at an AIPAC conference.

–This will be the first time that presidential candidates from the opposition party will be speaking during a year when the incumbent is seeking reelection. More on this here from the venerable Ron Kampeas of the JTA. (List of confirmed speakers at the conference.)

–This will be the first time something called the “AIPAC Village” will be featured. The Village is said to be a display area showcasing US-Israeli technological cooperation in the fields of medicine, clean energy, IT, agriculture, water, and defense.

–This will be the first time (at least in recent memory) that the ‘Gala Banquet’ is just a ‘Gala,’ i.e. no dinner. The reason: the room cannot accommodate 13,000+ people seated at round tables.

–While this certainly won’t be the first time that anti-Israel protesters descend on the conference, it will be the first time they’ll be marching under the banner, ‘Occupy AIPAC.’

Must-reads

Obama to Iran and Israel: ‘As President of the United States, I Don’t Bluff’ (Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic)

For Obama and Netanyahu, Wariness on Iran Will Dominate Talks (Ethan Bronner, The New York Times)

An Israeli strike on Iran? Not so fast (David Horovitz, The Times of Israel)

Peres Says U.S. Must Put All Iran Options on Table (Judi Rudoren, The New York Times)

Political, Communal Divisions Pose Fresh Threats To AIPAC (James Besser, The New York Jewish Week)

(Full disclosure: The writer, a correspondent for The Times of Israel, is a former AIPAC press secretary.)