Mired in Preconceived Notions

A large proportion of the Israeli public prefers Obama's view to Netanyahu's, and see the settlements as a security burden, not an asset.

Ten years ago this week, the submarine Dakar - which went down in the Mediterranean Sea in January 1968 - was found on the ocean floor between Crete and Cyprus. For 29 years, Israel had been searching for it in the wrong places. But an American team from Nauticos, a deep-sea exploration company whose services the Clinton administration volunteered in 1997, eventually needed but a short time to overturn the accepted wisdom. After other methods had failed to yield results - because they were employed in places identified as low probability from the start - this team was awarded the search contract two years later, and found the sub in two weeks, in a location that confirmed the searchers' predictions.

"Never Forgotten," a book by Nauticos founding president David Jourdan, was recently published by the Naval Institute Press in Annapolis. Its most important lesson is that to solve a difficult problem, it is necessary to abandon preconceived notions. For three decades, Israel's leading experts tried to solve the riddle of the Dakar, but in vain. They came to the task equipped with a unique blend of thorough knowledge of the relevant material and emotional commitment. And that is also what tripped them up: They set out again and again from the same erroneous starting points, with the same incorrect assumptions, as isolated from the outside world as if they were in a submarine.

To the Israel Navy's credit, it should be noted that in the second half of the 1990s - when rear adm. Alex Tal then commanded the force and rear adm. (res.) Gideon Raz headed the Dakar search team - the commanders identified this weak point and recognized the need for openness to outside ideas. The fresh approach taken by Jourdan and his colleagues, which stemmed from their personal experience as submariners and during previous searches, and the financial and technological assistance provided by the U.S. government, turned conventional wisdom on its head and led to a solution to the riddle.

What was true of an incident (the loss of the Dakar) that had already happened but remained shrouded in mystery is doubly true when it comes to predicting future developments. The benefits of changing the groups that conduct analyses and make recommendations, which are constantly stewing in their own juices, is becoming ever more clear to intelligence researchers who have learned from past failures. The staff of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, manned by representatives of all the intelligence agencies, also includes policemen, who are trained to look at things in a different way. A municipal detective and a CIA veteran can examine the same set of facts, each from his own viewpoint, and reach different conclusions.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who during his last term started the chain of events that led to finding the Dakar, needs to learn a more mundane lesson from it: Endlessly revisiting old assumptions that have been proven wrong before will not suddenly make them valid 10 years later.

Netanyahu has returned, arrogant and smug, to power along with his advisors, who consider themselves experts on America. When he was warned that his preconceived notions would inevitably push him into a confrontation with Barack Obama, he scoffed. Yet a large proportion of the Israeli public prefers Obama's view to Netanyahu's, and see the settlements as a security burden, not an asset.

Netanyahu is distorting the lessons (which he diagnosed in advance) of the Gaza disengagement - which he voted in favor of throughout most of the approval process. Terror from Gaza has increased because the Israel Defense Forces have neither a regular presence there nor immediate access to it. But four settlements in the northern West Bank were evacuated at the same time as Gaza was, and there, terror has decreased - because the IDF is still in the vicinity.

It is not "natural growth" that worries Israelis, but the opposite: an unnatural decrease due to war and terror attacks. If Netanyahu insists on remaining mired in his preconceived notions, let him do so on his own time, without dragging the entire State of Israel into the depths along with him.