Israel's Miscalculation Syndrome

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An Israeli Merkava tank is positioned for deployment during a drill in the Israeli annexed Golan Heights near the border with Syria on 5 May 2013. (Photo: AFP - Menahem Kahana)

By: Mohamad Bdeir

Published Monday, May 20, 2013

Every now and then, the Israelis joke about the accuracy of their intelligence services’ projections on the outbreak of war. "Every time the intelligence agencies claim there is no war on the horizon, Yom Kippur War veterans run for cover," one joke goes.

These words point to the military intelligence’s previous mistake of insisting that the Arabs would not go to war with Israel, despite many contrary indications.

The mistake cost Israel thousands of lives and injuries, with many of its leaders fearing a threat to its existence, before the US altered the war’s course. It created an aerial bridge to supply the occupation army with weapons that allowed it to fight back. Later, the Israeli military establishment made some structural adjustments based on lessons learned, specifically related to the process of intelligence projections.

It was not long before Israel's next military experience in South Lebanon in 1982, compelled by a political plan to create an allied regime in Baabda. The project had its renewed connections with established Lebanese groups, which had laid its foundations. However, it only took a few weeks for Tel Aviv's aspirations to crash into an unexpected reality that changed Israel's estimations.

Israel had hoped for a quick and cheap military and political victory. However, it found itself facing a Lebanese resistance whose emergence was not calculated by intelligence services: Hezbollah. They had no way to know that it would be a new kind of resistance henceforth unseen in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

This is how a "promising" strategic project turned into an absurd game that lasted 18 years, a quagmire that could not be escaped until Israel's arrogance had been eroded. Between 1982 and 2000, several battles, from Operation Accountability in 1993 to the Grapes of Wrath in 1996, unveiled an Israeli disappointment at not being able to understand the mind or behavior of the resistance.

Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak expressed that disappointment best. "Despite having the best intelligence and forecasts in the world, we still need a dreidel to know how Hezbollah got us," he said.

All that and we still have not broached the July 2006 War and its scandalous intelligence failures, with the miscalculation of Hezbollah's containment maneuver that Israel mistook as a sign of weakness.

Then comes Syria, a place that Israel always bragged as being easily within its reach. We all remember Ehud Barak confidently expressing his expectations that Assad would fall in a matter of weeks. Once weeks turned into months, Tel Aviv then projected that the regime would ultimately fall in a year or two, but without setting a specific date.

This is why Israel decided to barge into the Syrian scene with its balance-tipping weapons, saying that Syria was a way station between Iran and Hezbollah. Whatever the background of the Israeli decision and its objectives, one can be certain that the givens of the decision were limited to feasibility and cost-effectiveness. It is also possible that the calculations related to cost focused on one issue, the possibility of a Syrian reply in the direct military sense.

However, Israel had another appointment with a new mistake in its calculations, when the Syria-Iran-Hezbollah reply came in a different manner than expected. Israel seemed to gain tactically, but lose strategically. This was not only due to the commitment to the Syrian leadership – exceeding all political caveats – to supply the Resistance with weapons, but a strategic decision to open the Golan front, which means nothing less than a war of attrition where Israel does not have the upper hand.

Faced with this challenge, Israel played its favorite game, fleeing forward, through an official insistence to implement with the "red lines" policy, threatening to overthrow the Syrian regime if it dares to implement its latest decisions to arm the Resistance, open the Golan front, and strike back with military force in the event of a future Israeli attack.

What does that mean in terms of the fractured regional situation?

It means we will be facing a new bout of the Israeli miscalculation syndrome. It does not take a genius to conclude that Syria's strategic allies (Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah), who prohibited and deterred the UN Security Council, NATO, Turkey, and other countries from direct military intervention, will not stand and watch while Israel intervenes to achieve this goal.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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