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Last month, the CIA issued an invitation for outside experts to do research under its sponsorship. One problem that the CIA is willing to fund post-doctorate work on, is the famous puzzle known as "Einstein's Riddle": There are five houses painted five different colors, and the five home-owners are of five different nationalities, smoke five different brands of cigarettes, drink five different beverages and keep five different pets. A total of 15 hints are given - the Brit lives in the red house, the occupant of the green house drinks coffee, the horse-breeder is the neighbor of the person who smokes Dunhills and so on - all leading up to the question: Who owns the fish?

It may sound strange that the American intelligence agency, whose job it is to ascertain the color of Saddam Hussein's house and what Bashar Assad is keeping in his laboratories, should be concerned with this riddle. Albert Einstein reportedly asserted that only 2 percent of humanity is capable of solving it. While George W. Bush, unlike Ehud Barak, may not be among this elite, Bush's success as an elected leader doesn't necessarily derive from the intellectual skills needed to solve the Einstein Riddle. Such abilities are more essential for the president's aides, army officers and underlings.

The televised images of tanks, planes, smoke and fire make it tempting to believe in the power of force, but the American army owes it victory in Iraq to thinking - and not just the kind that lies at the basis of technology. The American military has undergone a revolution in the past decade. Though largely brought about by the new digital equipment in weapons systems, such as in the newest model of the Abrams tank and various aircraft (including helicopters, pilotless drones, spy planes and jet fighters), the major factor behind the change was the understanding that this equipment makes possible, and even requires, a different way of thinking.

Lon Maggart, a retired general who was a tank brigade commander in the 1991 Gulf War and then became a commander at the U.S. Army's Armored Force School at Fort Knox, is a regular participant in workshops devoted to critical thinking. At one such gathering two and a half years ago, Maggart cited the words of a philosopher whose writings are not commonly read at war colleges: "Think left, think right / Think low, think high / Oh, the number of thinks I can think up if I try!" - the general quoted from Dr. Seuss. Maggart recommended that the military follow the sage children's writer's advice and give imagination free rein.

This was a revolutionary argument, given the inclinations of American society as a whole and the military in particular. The researcher who spoke next noted that millions of Americans rely on their daily horoscope or various types of gurus for guidance. The army is not in thrall to medicine men or the like, but it is entirely based on discipline, obedience, hierarchy, memorization and drilling; by its very nature, it abhors questioning and reflection. Democracy stops at the gate to the army base.

Midway through the past decade, Maggart and his colleagues realized that they were not fully exploiting the inherent capability of the new tools at their disposal, because the soldiers were learning how to operate them - how "to turn them on and off" - but not how to think about the operational results that could be produced by using these tools in a different, innovative way. This understanding led to a new emphasis being placed on creativity, improvisation and intuition.

The Israel Defense Forces surpass the American military in combat skill and even taught the Americans some important lessons before the war in Iraq, but in Iraq, it wasn't skill that won the war, but art - and, at least until further notice, the Americans are the champions of the art of war. The IDF, which once upon a time - up until the Six-Day War - excelled in resourcefulness and cunning, has become cumbersome in its thinking and lost the intellectual daring it used to have; and this applies not only to the IDF, but also to the national command above it. Anwar Sadat triumphed over Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan and all the vaunted IDF General Staff, and the Israeli leadership never really recovered.

Silent action heroes

In recent years, as a consequence of its ties with American and other foreign research institutes, the IDF has been showing a new openness to the approach that improved the American army. Lieutenant General Moshe Ya'alon is the first chief of staff to be assisted by an "aide for thinking processes." But when it comes to the real test - of which commanders it chooses to put in key positions - the army's top leadership has retreated and given preference to reticent soldiers of the Raful-Mofaz type over the thinkers. Official declarations notwithstanding, the IDF is still leery of those who excel at analysis and the articulation of ideas. In comparison to the silent action heroes, their eloquence makes them suspect and blocks their upward climb; these days - it's wiser to keep your mouth shut.

The formative experiences of young American military officers include four years of study for a bachelor's degree, at either a military academy or a civilian university: General education comes first and practical military experience comes later. (A general like Tommy Franks is unusual in that he enlisted first and later studied in an officers' course). In the IDF, the officer learns about military service directly. This is a virtue in the junior command, in which the officer is connected to the field and the soldiers; and a drawback in the senior command, if he is unable to liberate his thinking from this experience.

The link connecting the officers' corps with the enlisted men are the "work managers" - the NCOs. The sergeant major of a unit is more important to it than the staff officers, second in importance only to the commander. The IDF has made improvements in recent years, by establishing a "land officers' course" for all the combat corps, instead of separate courses, and by keeping senior sergeants on for several months of duty as part of the standing army. Budget cuts threaten to hurt this program, whose effectiveness has been proved in the fighting in the territories. When it comes down to it, the IDF prefers the lieutenant colonel to the petty officer.

When two pilots in a single B-2 bomber can dispatch 16 "smart bombs" to a variety of targets in one sortie, the comparison between "600,000 soldiers" in the previous war and "300,000" in this one (a comparison that was frequently trumpeted by critics of the Pentagon's war plan, before the big victory in Iraq) is meaningless. It's not the number of troops that count, but the achievements - both in the sense of targets destroyed and war objectives accomplished. And if heads are being counted, then its what's inside the skull that matters.

The contest between the army of Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Myers and Tommy Franks and Saddam's decreasing and scattered loyalists took place primarily not in the Euphrates Valley, but in the realm of perception. Toppling the statues of Saddam was like sticking pins in a symbolic voodoo doll: a reflection of the actual event and in some ways more important than it. It was also a contest between two systems, or two methods - a flexible, decentralized and open democracy versus a menacing, centralist and rigid despotism.

As long as there is agreement on a unified objective, secular democracy will always emerge victorious over fundamentalist, religious or ideological tyranny, though not necessarily in the first battle. Providing that Israel isn't taken over by an unenlightened minority, this is one advantage that the country maintains over its remaining enemies, Syria and Iran. Twenty-first-century war affords a decisive advantage to the party that places voting above saluting - an advantage akin to that having night-vision goggles on in total darkness. Success in such a war is based on knowledge and the ability to project it to all the connecting points in the network: There is virtual telepathy between the command headquarters, the fighters and the apparatus. All of the forces know where they are, where the enemy is and what to do, even if things do not go according to the initial plan, as can be expected in battle.

The real hierarchy that is vital to such success is one of values - in which the good of the majority is always superior to the power of the minority. This week, Colonel Shmuel (Samu) Nir, a senior officer in the reserves and one of the prime expounders of the theory of "limited confrontation," spoke at the IDF's military college. As the students, all destined to become battalion commanders, listened attentively to the lecturer's ideas, which he and others developed after the Israeli experience in Lebanon and the territories, an army major who had just come from Hebron was shaking his head in frustration. The theory may be correct, the major said, but out in the field, in Hebron, even the most balanced and accurate judgments of all the officers are no match for the pressure from the settlers.

High-ranking felons

Colonel Avi Mandelblit, the chief military defense attorney, was appointed this month with little fanfare to be deputy military advocate general. This was not a fateful event, but it was a defeat for the military advocate general, Major General Dr. Menahem Finkelstein, who is not used to losing. Finkelstein had counted on being able to arrange a rank of brigadier general for his deputy, Colonel Ilan Katz; what Ilan Ramon was not given in death, Ilan Katz would be given in life. Chief of Staff Ya'alon considered the promotion and almost gave his approval for it, but held back due to fear of public criticism. Katz resigned angrily and left the door open for Mandelblit.

For some reason, officers' ranks are important to Finkelstein: When he isn't busy trying to obtain a higher rank for his deputy, he is taking his time in stripping high-ranking convicted felons like Yitzhak Mordechai and Ofer Nimrodi of their ranks. The record for slowness in the IDF would have to go for the time that passes - years upon years - between the conviction of such figures and the completion of the demotion process, which is required by law. Finkelstein's considerations are known only to himself. The advocate general's office would only say this week, via the IDF spokesperson, that something would be made known on Sunday, April 20. What that something is, they're not saying.

Nimrodi's case has already got much bigger fish than Finkelstein into hot water. Shimon Peres, for example, who was known for his prophetic abilities, evidently failed in this regard five years ago when he went to bat for Ofer Nimrodi. Judge George Cara, who was about to decide Nimrodi's fate in a plea bargain, took into account, among other things, a letter from the former prime minister praising the defendant's personality and talents. This was in June, but somehow Peres did not foresee that just a few months later, in September, the company under the Nimrodi family's control - Ma'ariv Holdings - would agree to invest $1 million (one-third of that in cash, two-thirds in pledges) to the Peace Foundation that Peres launched for the development of the Palestinian economy. This investment, from 1998, was not revealed until now, in the small print of the foundation's annual report.

A million bills bearing the visage of George Washington in return for a single letter to George Cara. If it didn't involve Shimon Peres, who could not conceivably have gotten mixed up in such nonsense, one might be led to think that there was some kind of a deal here, and that the word "holdings" in the Nimrodi company name might have another shade of meaning.