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The intelligence reports, budget calculations and other ongoing material on the desk of the chief of staff, Lieutenant General Moshe Ya'alon, have recently been joined by an unclassified document, a chapter from a collection of articles summing up discussions that were held at Harvard University. The topic: the impact of culture on political and economic developments; or, how it came to pass that after getting independence some countries, from Israel to Singapore, Western democracies or Eastern authoritarian systems, arrived at their advanced level, whereas others - in Africa, Asia and Latin America - remained sickly and backward, hotbeds of unemployment and fanaticism, violence and terror.

Ya'alon, whose diversity of reading and study might interfere with his image as an army man, wanted this piece of research in order to address the question of what post-Saddam Iraq will look like (his conclusion is encouraging), though the effort to characterize states is not directly related to the current crisis.

Two years ago, the Institute for Defense Analyses, which is affiliated with the Pentagon, tried to come up with a table of human personality traits that could be applied to nations. In the family of nations, as in human society, there are introverted and extroverted types, those who think and those who sense, those that are intuitive and those that feel. Israel, India and Pakistan are "introverted, intuitive, thinking" states; Britain and Italy are "extroverted, sensing, feeling" states. Among the introverts, China and Saudi Arabia are sensing and thinking states; Japan, Egypt and Spain are sensing and feeling states; Iran, Russia and Serbia are intuitive and feeling states. Among the extroverts, Germany and Sweden are sensing and thinking states; France and Turkey are intuitive and thinking states; and Portugal, Holland and the United States are intuitive and feeling states.

The purpose of the analysis of "strategic personality types" was to identify signs attesting to a heightened ambition to acquire weapons of mass destruction or the image of the benefit of the use of such weapons: Why some states will construe events as threatening and when they will conclude that nuclear weapons will be the best way to solve their problems. The same event will produce a different impact in different capitals: The Israelis will think, the British will feel, the Chinese will sense.

If that sounds like a lot of psychobabble, it nevertheless provides something of an explanation for what happened to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who this week sustained one of the greatest intelligence failures in the history of contemporary statesmanship.

When he assumed the most senior position in the administration of President George Bush, following the precedent of two generals who became secretaries of state in the administrations of President Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan, Powell was portrayed as the successor of the renowned George Marshall and not of Alexander Haig, who was removed under a cloud of disgrace.

Powell in fact began as Marshall but is liable to end up like Haig. His mistaken evaluation that time was on the side of the United States in mustering broad international support for a military campaign against Iraq - thus making it worthwhile to defer the attack against Saddam Hussein from the summer of 2002 to the winter-spring of 2003 - landed Bush with a serious diplomatic defeat.

One reason for Powell's failure is that he is too familiar with the objects of his evaluation, namely the heads of state and their foreign ministers. In Israel, Military Intelligence and the Shin Bet security service have in recent years - as a lesson learned from the Oslo process - created an emotional barrier between the chief evaluators and senior Palestinian figures. Friendship, and ultimately personal disappointment, is not the way to come up with a cool-headed analysis.

This is the other side of the old dispute over who to rely on more in intelligence, the microphone and the camera, or the human agent. In the 1970s, when the Central Intelligence Agency had to make a decision about where to invest resources, it opted for the instruments and fired the agents and their handlers. The explanation, as retired U.S. Air Force General Richard Hawley noted sarcastically, was that spy satellites "can identify license plates from a distance of 300 kilometers" - which can be very useful, Hawley agreed - when you are under attack by license plates.

Hawley accused Admiral Stansfield Turner, the head of the CIA in the administration of President Jimmy Carter, of failing to foresee the revolution in Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In an interview, Turner admitted the mistaken evaluations, and included in them the victory of Menachem Begin in the 1977 elections. The Israelis themselves were surprised, he said in his defense.

In Washington, Tel Aviv and many other centers around the world, statesmen, the military and intelligence chiefs are waiting to see who was right and who was wrong in their evaluations of the timing of the start of the war in Iraq, its development, its impact on Israel and its aftermath. One issue has already been decided: Almost all of them were able to say how complicated "the day after" will be, but few estimated how long the day before would be.

Come fly with me

Icarus and Daedalus and the Wright brothers will be remembered, among their other achievements, as major innovators in the realm of fashion accessories: Thanks to them, wings of cloth and metal appeared in uniforms, on the left and, as symbols abounded, on the right, too. First pilots, then additional air crews, and soldiers who arrive in battle by parachuting and landing - from planes, gliders and helicopters - and finally others, too, who may be grounded but deserve the pride of their own winged unit.

The wing industry is highly developed and trade in its objects occupies manufacturers, peddlers and collectors, who are able to distinguish between a Scottish regiment and a Polish commando unit or the private air line of an American oil company in the Persian Gulf.

The most exciting innovation - one that is going to produce no-holds-barred battles among veterans of the hobby around the world - is of Israeli origin: the wings of the expulsion unit of the Immigration Directorate in the Israel Police.

"It's very simple," a proud policewoman this week volunteered to decipher the symbol. "The wings symbolize the planes that will take home foreign workers who are in the country illegally, and the world means the world."