by Emanuel A. Winston

Generals who are successful in combat are not necessarily as successful at political threat assessment. In fact, throughout Israel's history, Generals have been proven to be extremely poor at political analysis when dealing with Intelligence aimed at threat assessment. Israeli generals turned politician have become too easy prey for foreign interests simply because they believe what they are promised.

In 1948 the nascent Israeli military told David Ben Gurion that Israel had only a 50/50 chance of surviving a war with the hostile neighboring Arab countries. They were extremely apprehensive of the threatened Arab attack if Ben Gurion would decide to declare a state. Half of his Cabinet were opposed to such a declaration. The vote was 6-4 in favor, only because Ben Gurion leaned heavily on Moshe Sharett to agree.

In 1967 the Israeli military conducted simulated war games which produced very pessimistic results of an Israeli/Arab military confrontation. Then Chief-of-Staff Yitzhak Rabin lost his composure and, as a result of the anxiety this assessment provoked, was said to have suffered a nervous breakdown. Rabin spent the initial days of the 1967 war in seclusion under a doctor's care. In any case the military's threat assessment made it necessary for the Hevra Kadisha (Jewish Burial Societies) to prepare Israel 's parks as major burial sites in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem in expectation of mass casualties. Only when the Israeli Air Force convinced Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan to overrule the assessment of Military Intelligence, did Eshkol order the brilliant pre-emptive strike against the mobilized Egyptian and Syrian forces which led to the miraculous 6 Day victory.

In 1973 Military Intelligence suffered complete failure to decipher the data (which in retrospect is very clear) of the Egyptian and Syrian military preparations for attack, leading to the disastrous Yom Kippur surprise assault which cost Israel almost 3,000 dead. It took 3 weeks of vicious fighting to overcome the enemies' gains in the first week. If Israel had been at the bottom of the Golan then (where she will be again if the Golan is given away to Syria now) Israel would have been cut in two and the Syrian Army could have reached outskirts of Haifa.

In 1980 Iraq invaded Iran. The Israeli Military said it would only be days or weeks before Iraq would score a decisive victory. That war lasted almost 10 years. It took the American bombing of Iranian oil installations to deny Iran victory.

In 1981 P.M. Menachem Begin ordered the bombing of Iraq's nuclear facility at Osirak (before it was operational) in defiance of Mossad and Military Intelligence who warned such an attack was doomed to certain failure and could cause serious danger to Israel. If Israel had not bombed Osirak in 1981, in the1991 Gulf War American and Allied soldiers would have faced Saddam's nuclear weapons.

In 1990, a few months before Iraq invaded Kuwait starting the Gulf War, then Deputy Chief-of-Staff Ehud Barak and Chief of Military Intelligence Amnon Lipkin-Shahak briefed members of Congress that there was no conclusive evidence of Saddam's intentions to attack Israel or Kuwait.

In 1993, then Chief-of-Staff, Lt. General Ehud Barak conducted Operation Accountability, one of Israel's biggest military failures, for the first time bestowing legitimacy on Hezb'Allah (Party of G-d) terrorist operations in South Lebanon, handcuffing the Israeli soldiers' ability to defend themselves - making them sitting duck targets, and exacerbating the position of the northern Galilee towns as hostages to Hezb'Allah terror.

In 1993 (later) Chief-of-Staff Ehud Barak invented the concept of ‘temporary expulsion' of 400 Hamas leaders into South Lebanon, where they benefitted from a 2 month course at Hezb'Allah terrorist facilities, returning to Gaza as the engine which escalated terror attacks against Israel. They are still operational and have since grown exponentially.

Not to be forgotten, is the serious failures in military threat assessment through the frequent release of trained convicted terrorists into the general Arab community. There they became the hero role models and trainers for a whole generation of future terrorists who can be called upon to explode upon command. Short-sighted political generals thought they could buy good will and peace only to find out they fathered a whole new generation of terrorists-in-training.

In April 1996 then Chief-of-Staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak (now a negotiator with Syria for the surrender of the Golan) was the engineer and commander of the Operation Grapes of Wrath - as disastrous as Operation Accountability - which was planned with the inspiration of Barak, who was then a member of Peres' Cabinet as Foreign Minister negotiating the surrender of the Golan to Syria. This failure continues to play havoc on Israel's northern borders.

Now, the same people advise the Israeli negotiators, the Israeli people, the American Administration, Congress, and the American people that Syria's President Hafez al-Assad has no hostile intentions or capability to attack Israel and win.

Today they err the same as they have in 1948, 1967, 1973, 1980, 1981, 1993, 1996, etc. These are life and death errors of judgement on a monumental scale. Courage on the battlefield makes generals and soldiers effective on the battlefield but usually that does NOT transpose into expertise for political analysis of threat assessment.

The broad comprehension of religious, economic, social, historical, cultural background of the Middle East and personal characteristics of Arab leaders enable one to be a capable assessor of hostile threats in Middle East politics. Very few generals are endowed with such background and training. Being actively involved in the narrow Military culture all their lives usually precludes time, energy or inclination for such broad-based training and experience that would produce this kind of wisdom. I know of only a few such men. It doesn't matter if a military man is Right or Left, Hawk or Dove, even very brave generals usually cannot assess the enemies' capability or their own country's ability to overcome what usually seems to be insurmountable odds.

Good or even great Israeli military strategists do not become good or even adequate political strategists.


Generals have notoriously poor track records of forecasting coming political and/or military events. Presently, Prime Minister/Defense Minister Ehud Barak has launched a fear campaign, telling the Israeli population that Israel will suffer fearsome casualties on the Golan from superior Syrian forces. But, if we retreat as he and Clinton wish, there will be no Jews there and, therefore, none to be killed. Presumably, it follows that conventional wisdom could make that same argument for all of Israel. If there were no Jews, the Arabs would not have attacked Israel in six wars.

The subject to discuss is the credibility and track record to forecast coming military events of generals or especially generals turned politician. The above historical data lists only some of the important predictions of such expected events and the disasters that occurred or would have if their advice was followed.

There is a frantic struggle taking place to convince the people of Israel that withdrawal from the Golan is the only answer. The messages are mixed and confused. Barak is offering a "fear" message that Syria's 6 Divisions on the Golan can easily roll over Israel's forces causing massive casualties and that, therefore, Israel must abandon the Golan. At the same time some of his Generals are saying Israel can defeat Syria, even with a coalition of Arab armies.

DEFENSE NEWS of January 17, 2000 quotes the Left-leaning Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University that "The Israeli Military maintains a firm and unchallenged hold on the balance of power in the Middle East and is thus capable of defending against practically any combination of conventional threats from the region." They go on to speak of Syria's weaknesses across a broad array of equipment categories. Shai Feldman, Director of the Jaffee Center, concludes that "This is an opportune time to give up territory." The argument seesaws back and forth between the military analysts who have been so notoriously wrong in the past.

If James Carville were to explain it, he would likely say, ‘It's not the hardware, stupid; it's the dictator behind the hardware.'

Barak is selling fear; some Generals are selling strength, but, both tell us that, by financially accommodating Syria and Arafat, we can count on the dictators to keep their commitment to peace.

Regrettably, the same story was sold to the American people prior to the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam. The Bush-Baker regime tried to sell Congress on the Concept since the mid to late 1980s that providing Saddam with generous foreign aid would moderate the aggressive behavior of the Iraqi dictator.

This is the same story that was sold to the Israeli people in their deal with Yassir Arafat. His would-be replacements are already making the case that, whatever Arafat agrees to, he did not have that right and, therefore, upon his demise, all prior agreements will be null and void. This, too, illustrates the inability of General Rabin and now General Barak to see over the horizon and predict the future.

In 1993 P.M. Yitzhak Rabin capitulated to Clinton and began the surrender process to Arafat, at once reinvigorating the PLO which was beginning to self-destruct and also weakening the center of the county. Rabin's surrender process totally violated the four promises by which he won his 1992 election, namely, that he would NOT: 1. Negotiate with the PLO; 2. Withdraw from the Golan; 3. Divide Jerusalem; or 4. Return to the 1967 borders. Even though these were all in his Declaration of Principles signed on the White House lawn, no one believed that he had put Jerusalem, the Golan and 1967 borders on the table for Israel's dismemberment.

Conclusion: Therefore, giving up the Golan with its barrier mountains and 30% of Israel's water resource is ill advised, despite General Barak's insistence. The same is true for General Barak's further withdrawal from Israel's soft underbelly in the center of the country counting on a peaceful future Palestinian State. It is clear that the judgement of the generals have proven to be consistently flawed on geo-strategic realities. Barak is regrettably incapable of planning Israel's future.

1. "Tel Aviv Flexes Military & Commercial Muscle; Ranks 5th among Arms Exporters & Force Strength Still Unchallenged" both by Barbara Opall-Rome U.S. DEFENSE NEWS 1/17/2000


Emanuel A. Winston is a Middle East Analyst & Commentator and research associate of the Freeman Center For Strategic Studies.

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