Political Animal / Gut Feelings

We are conversant with Syria's ways exactly to the extent that we are conversant with Iran's ways. And all of the assessments that we are offered in the conference call that is known as a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee are gut feelings, and to each assessor his own gut.

Oceans of ink will now be spilt on the disagreement between Military Intelligence and the Mossad regarding the Syrian president's intentions. Before they fight here to the last drop of ink, I hereby reveal the state's deepest secret.

The following is the secret of someone who spent 25 years on the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and five years in the security cabinet: Our intelligence community in all its branches hasn't more than an inkling as to what Syrian President Bashar Assad intends and where he is heading. Who can read thoughts and who, as the Book of Jeremiah has it, tries the reins and the heart. Even in the heart of totalitarian regimes thoughts are many, and only the word of the ruler prevails.

Israel is getting to the bottom of Assad's thoughts just as the Soviet Union got to the bottom of Hitler's intentions on the eve of the big attack; just as the United States deciphered Japan's plot before the calamity at Pearl Harbor; or just as the United States understood four years ago what was waiting for it in Iraq; or what Israel knew only five months ago about Hezbollah that was right under its blocked nose.

The aforementioned secret is even worse: We are conversant with Syria's ways exactly to the extent that we are conversant with Iran's ways. And all of the assessments that we are offered in the conference call that is known as a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee are gut feelings, and to each assessor his own gut.

Even the head of the Mossad has a gut of his own in which the juices are particularly caustic, and even his good friend, former prime minister Ariel Sharon, was exposed more to his gut than to his mind. Did anyone here really expect that Meir Dagan's prejudices, which have long been familiar, would not shape his later opinions? Military Intelligence, however, already understands that if evil does indeed come down from the north and a Winograd on behalf of the government is appointed again, its people will be able to appear with a Power Point display in hand: Here is what we said before, here is what we warned again and again, we fulfilled our obligation and the general deafness is not our fault.

We must not forget the observation of Abba Eban, himself a British intelligence man during World War II. "The intelligence community," he said, "is born to err." And it has indeed erred in various ways, and in its persistent erring has even contradicted the laws of statistical chance that apply to roulette games. The community was in the dark on the eve of the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War and the peace agreement with Egypt and the outbreak of Lebanon Wars I and II and the first intifada and the war in Iraq. Each time the warning bells rang and the red lights flashed but they had eyes and did not see, ears and did not hear.

When a heavy shadow of consternation and perplexity weighs on our lives, many of us are still seduced into believing, into hoping: "We are thoroughly confused. But the people up there certainly know what is happening and what has to be done." I regret that I must disappoint once again: They don't have a clue up there either. And when there is no solid intelligence, there is no alternative but to think and analyze with the help of the individual head that has been affixed to the shoulders of each and every one of us; this a quite an effort, I know. And when there is no intelligence, there is no alternative but to probe, to check, to examine, to try; and this is an impossible mission for a government that is blind and lame.

Cutting words

Education Minister Yuli Tamir is also letting the defense world devour the education goat, that same goat that the Finance Ministry brings into the budget-fold every year. At the last minute they cast it out and suddenly an illusion of wellbeing is created: Indeed the goat is gone but the cut stays and bleats.

Last week the education minister met with representatives of the students; they came to her bureau with a demand to implement the recommendations of the Winograd committee on education, which reduced tuition fees, and to add a member on their behalf to the Shochat committee, which is liable to raise tuition fees. The meeting ended in nothing. Tamir said to the students that the Winograd committee had been a mistake, that its conclusions had damaged higher education and that they had led to a drop in the number of registered students at the universities and colleges.

Riddle me a riddle: How does a decrease of 50 percent in tuition fees decrease the number of candidates for registration? Tamir must have the solutions. But the minister's personal stance is even more of a riddle and we have the solutions. My memory kills, and not only me. I have suddenly recalled that Professor Tamir was the first to have shaken my hand after former prime minister Ehud Barak's government approved the Winograd report and she congratulated me for the achievement; I found her congratulations pleasant at the time. All this was ages ago; times have changed and with them so have people.

But only two years ago, in December, 2004, the Knesset Education Committee held a special meeting on the subject of tuition fees. And I've remembered - the Devil's work - the impressive words of Labor MK Yuli Tamir at that meeting: "Yesterday I already sent a letter to Shimon Peres saying unambiguously that Labor cannot join the government if the Barak government's best and finest decision is canceled upon our entry into the government." The participants in the meeting applauded her announcement, but the MK wrapped herself in modesty. "Applaud," she said, "after I succeed." And then she turned to the student representatives: "Come to my party's central committee too, because that's where the real struggle is."

And she concluded her pertinent and assertive remarks: "I see how Shinui is moving from the opposition to the coalition. I don't want that to happen to us, and if it does happen to us it will be a disgrace, and I will be the first to acknowledge that."