Photo: Reuters
Hamas celebrations following elections victory
Photo: Reuters

Political predictions a losing game

There was no way for Israel to predict last week's Hamas victory

A day before last week's Palestinian parliamentary elections, IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz predicted a narrow victory for Fatah.


The next day it became clear: Halutz had no idea what he was talking about.


Halutz, of course, was only repeating what he'd been told by his intelligence experts. Their view was unified, so much so that even the IDF, which usually has a plan to respond to any eventuality, had not prepared the political echelon for the possibility that Hamas would win.


God knows how our politicians, so used pictures of reality drawn by the Directorate of Military Intelligence and options of action drawn by the IDF operations wing, might be expected to think independently about what might happen.


Failure 2006


The failure to predict the outcome of the Palestinian elections has become in recent days a sort of "Failure 2006": If they don't know what's happening on the ground in territories, how can we trust them to know anything about Iran? one friend asked me in shock.


The answer is simple: Neither the IDF nor the Shin Bet (who offered similar predictions) had any possible way of knowing what the election results would be – just like there was no way to know in 1996 that Benjamin Netanyahu would beat Shimon Peres, or that Amir Peretz would humiliate Peres nine years later.


Placing guilt


But wouldn’t you know it, our intelligence folks found the guilty party: Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki. It was his mistake, they told reporters; he misled us.


Turns out, unsurprisingly, that their main source was the internet. That's where they read what Shikaki and other pollsters said.


And yes, its true – Shikaki got it wrong. Just like all the Israeli institutions that failed to predict Netanyahu's victory, or that Ariel Sharon would lose a Likud Party referendum about the disengagement program in May, 2004.


We never learn


The problem has nothing to do with the head of military intelligence or the chief of staff. The problem is ours. We're the ones that do the asking.


The problem is that after all the failures of Israeli and foreign intelligence services (the American CIA failed to understand that the Soviet Union was breaking apart, until it actually happened), we still believe a few stripes on the shoulder and the ability to eavesdrop gives someone particular insight into the will of the public and elections.


It's incredible, really: Immediately after the results were made official, we went straight back to the same folks to ask what to do now, what the future holds. Will Hamas moderate now that it's in power? Is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict now a religious war, the next battle in a war of civilizations?


Unfortunately for them, Israeli culture doesn't really allow them to answer honestly: We've got no idea.


Life in the crosshairs


A flexible security organization would be able – and the Shin Bet has done this superbly in recent years – to give great tactical intelligence to enable the relevant powers to identify and act against specific targets.


But it has no way – because there is no way – to predict cultural and political trends.


Only a country that sees everything through a crosshairs can turn its people into "national predictors." And only by looking through the crosshairs can a government act the way Israel has these past five years vis-à-vis the Palestinian Authority and Hamas – and has thus contributed a decisive blow, smaller only than that of Yasser Arafat and his corrupt authority, to the Hamas victory last week.


פרסום ראשון: 01.29.06, 10:05
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