A gruesome old joke tells about a World War II quiz, in which the leading candidate annoys the judges with his tiresome erudition. In the final question he is asked to give the exact number of war fatalities each nation has suffered. When he accomplishes this mission impeccably, to the judges disappointment, one of them says dismissively, "names, names."

Ehud Barak did not list the names of the First Iran War fatalities, when he predicted they would be less than 500. Pity, because had he done so, perhaps the controversy over the equation of the possible attack on Iran's nuclear facilities would have sobered up.

Instead of a tie, as a survey of Israeli public opinion indicated, perhaps a crushing majority would have supported Barak and heaved a sigh of relief at being off the list. And only 499 families, at the most, would have spoiled the celebration.

Barak said he had taken the alluringly low magic figure from on-paper simulations of war scenarios.

By so doing he erred twice, in principle and intrinsically. The scenarios are drafted by professionals, not decision makers. Performance-research and system-analysis experts in the IDF Planning Division, air force, Home Front Command and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, who calculate the fortifications' thickness and the warheads effectiveness, on both sides, sprinkle a little population behavior ("if the people are sure to enter the houses" ) and bring it to a boil. They cannot say when the fire is to be put out, because the attacked side might rebel against the role it was cast in and continue a war of attrition far beyond the attacking side's desires.

If Barak is relying on professional data, then he admits the importance of the planning and operating staff work. Yet he repudiated that when he scorned the significance of the chief of staff and the chiefs of Military Intelligence, Mossad and Shin Bet, at least insofar as they reportedly refused to help him lay the groundwork for war.

His figures are wrong. The Defense Ministry, which the defense minister finds acceptable as far as we know, provided in the summer a scenario predicting more than 1,000 fatalities in the next war. The scenario of the IDF drill Turning Point 5 consisted of a downed passenger plane and numerous civilian fatalities, mostly from rockets and missiles fired into crowded places by Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and other jihadists. These are only Iran's partners and allies, before taking the Shahab missiles into account.

The use of scenarios for operative planning is intended to grade priorities among various alternatives of ideas, routes and arms; prepare for evacuation to hospitals; supervise supplies and know when the suffocation grows to such an extent that Israel would depend on an American shipment of supplies. This use of simulations is essential, on condition the users are aware of their limitations.

A sophisticated chief of staff like Barak did not foresee in 1992 that killing Hezbollah leader Abbas al-Musawi would generate a terror attack on the Israeli Embassy in Argentina - bringing into the equation a quality factor that is not subject to quantity calculations. We received Hassan Nasrallah, an enemy more crafty and resolved than his predecessor.

Performance research relies on imperfect intelligence. This is how bombing Salah Shehada's house was planned without knowing there were civilians nearby. The scenarios do not include hitches in the drills (the Tzeelim II training disaster ) and in operations (abandoning Ron Arad's plane ) and "friendly fire," which has killed hundreds of IDF soldiers in wars and training.

If, when saying Israel is stronger than anyone else in this region, from Tripoli to Tehran (it's a good thing he didn't add, from Istanbul to Islamabad ), Barak is hinting at some capability, but this assumption has not been proved yet. The implication is that it would be successful, but there is no certainty.

The figures, in and of themselves, are not self-evidently meaningful.

"Only" 20 fatalities a year drove Israel out of south Lebanon, because the necessity of being there had lost its broad public support.

The crux of the matter is the immediate urgency to carry it out ourselves, alongside the proper judgment, good faith and good intentions of Barak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The doubts regarding all these is a denial of support for them, both in the public and in the army.

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