The future foils Sharon
Were a NIS 5 coin to serve as prime minister, and be tossed in the air to choose between possible future scenarios, it would have a greater chance of hitting the mark than Sharon. If you want a reasonable forecast of things to come, you ought to clarify what Sharon says about it, and then choose the opposite scenario.
Last week, shortly before the blackout in northeast America, a small light went out in the Pentagon: Rear Admiral (ret.) John Poindexter was forced to resign as head of the Pentagon's Office of Information Awareness, under the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), due to the public outcry caused by one idea, which came to light on May 20, even though it was largely hidden in a long, routine report presented to Congress. The idea was to use investors and stockbrokers to forecast possible terror attacks, such as "a biological attack on Israel next year," on the theory that fluctuations in stocks and bonds reflect prescient forecasts in the market.
Justifiably, doubts arose concerning Poindexter's sanity. Under this delusional idea, a person who wants to perpetrate terror attacks would invest in "terror stock," and persons who purchase such stock would be compelled to hope that terror attacks arise (in fact, monitoring of a list of such investors, to identify possible terror plotters among them, would not necessarily be effective). No less perplexing is Poindexter's inability to predict his own fate - how could he think that he would find the means to forecast his country's security future when he didn't have a clue as to how his own behavior influenced his own destiny?
Of course, comparisons can't easily be drawn between Poindexter and Ariel Sharon. Yet Israel has never before had a prime minister who so consistently missed the mark with his own forecasts. Were a NIS 5 coin to serve as prime minister, and be tossed in the air to choose between possible future scenarios, it would have a greater chance of hitting the mark than Sharon. If you want a reasonable forecast of things to come, you ought to clarify what Sharon says about it, and then choose the opposite scenario.
Sharon erred about virtually every forecast that preceded one of his initiatives - from the battle at the Mitla Pass in 1956, through the circumstances of his resignation from the Israel Defense Force in 1973, through the 1982 Lebanon War. He erred most of the time, though not always, but that's worse than the accuracy you get when you toss a coin. Particularly revealing is his July 1973 decision to quit the army immediately, instead of waiting for his term to end in January 1974. Sharon erred in both personal and national terms. In an Haaretz interview, he concluded at the time: "If logic can be trusted, it could be said that no war is probable so long as we maintain existing borders, because countries don't embark on war when victory is not certain. But Arab logic can't be trusted. Looking at it logically, it doesn't seem to me that war will flare again."
It's true, Sharon added in the interview, "The Egyptians have a feeling that they might nonetheless notch a small achievement. Let's assume for a moment that they manage to hold on to a small bridge on the east bank for a day - that would be an achievement even if they were to be forced to retreat from it; and if they held the bridge for a week, that would be a huge victory for them. But I don't foresee any chance of the Egyptians making any such gain. The IDF is prepared in the Sinai in a way that guarantees that the Egyptians would suffer a decisive, immediate blow. The same holds true on the northern border...."
Sharon's talent for prognostication has not improved a whit since then. Particularly telling is his forecast as to the timing, pace and determination displayed by the Bush administration relating to the application of the road map. These assumptions regarding the American president's commitment have been proven false. Just as Bush's father asked James Baker and other advisers in the heat of an argument, the U.S. president has the power to ask "if you're all so smart, how come I'm president and you're not?"
Given his consistent failure to predict events, how could Sharon win office as prime minister? The answer is that he was aware of his series of mistakes, and so made heavy investments on the side in political life insurance; he became the last survivor in the Likud's leadership. The second reason for his success is that Sharon is only the runner-up in the errors derby. The championship belongs to the inept wing of the Labor Party, headed by Yossi Beilin and Amram Mitzna. In autumn 2000, Beilin blocked Sharon's inclusion in Ehud Barak's government; in so doing, he ensured that within three months Sharon would become not a mere government minister, but prime minister. Mitzna forced early elections, which conferred to Sharon a Knesset majority and the wherewithal to form a government without the weakened Labor party. Under different political circumstances, Labor would continue to hold the defense portfolio, and impede Shaul Mofaz's transformation as a political power-broker; and were Labor to have this ministerial portfolio, it would have received credit for establishing the hudna cease-fire; and it would have approached October 2003 elections with Sharon mired in a legal thicket.
This all leads to a worrisome conclusion: Sharon will continue with his gaffes, but his political rivals will lack the acumen to take advantage of them.
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