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Friday, January 09, 2009

The advantages of craziness

I once had a co-worker - a really nice guy, actually - who was a master manipulator of other people. He would set up office politics in ways that would benefit himself, without anyone really realizing that he was calling the shots.

One way he manipulated the boss was to give an aura of unpredictability and scariness. Once every couple of months, he would (quite purposefully) get into an argument with the boss at a staff meeting, and it would degrade into a shouting match. This was meant to keep the management a little leery of him, and the boss would give him a wide swath to avoid these embarrassing confrontations. The net result was that management felt that he was a good worker as long as his superiors didn't cross any of his "irrational" lines.

In other words, he would use craziness as a tool to keep himself on top.

I am reminded of this by this posting on Power Line, quoting JCPA analyst Dan Diker:
Israel may have reached a deterrent moment in its war in Gaza against Iranian-backed Hamas. I spoke with a senior Arab diplomat last night. He told me that the Arab street is afraid that "the Jews have gone crazy."

Yes, it's true. He noted, "Israel has begun to restore its deterrence" in the Arab world. "Hamas miscalculated," he added. They had thought Israel would not attack, but would merely accede to tougher Hamas demands for an improved "Tahdiya," their version of a temporary calm.

This is perhaps one of the more optimistic assessments I have heard from Arab colleagues recently. There is supporting documentation. Hizbullah's immediate public denial yesterday of the Katusha rocket attack from Southern Lebanon against Israel's North and the reports on Lebanese TV of convoys of Lebanese (read: Hizbullah) vehicles moving north in expectation of a major Israeli reprisal strengthens this sense.

It's also notable that Al Jazeera's reportage yesterday avoided interviewing ordinary Gazans. Arab sources in Gaza confided that the public anger is not directed at Israel any more than it is at Hamas. Al Jazeera, doing a superb job as PR agents for Iran's proxies, likely wanted to avoid risking those types of reactions from the battlefield.

The Arabs thought they had the Jews figured out. They thought they knew just how far to push them and still get concession after concession; they thought they knew that Israelis would inevitably bow to public pressure, they thought that Israel couldn't stomach the civilian deaths that Hamas was orchestrating.

But once they get the idea that they miscalculated, things change - not only for this war but for the next couple of decades.

And you can only make predictions about someone else's behavior when they act consistently and rationally. Once they start acting crazy, you have to be afraid, because you simply can no longer guess what is coming next.

I don't think that Israel is feigning craziness like my friend used to. Israelis clearly had enough of the Qassams over the past seven years and are not going to let them go on, world pressure notwithstanding. But from the Arab perspective they have crossed a line that Arabs felt comfortable would never be crossed. The Hamas strategy of using human shields and putting Gazans in grave danger in order to pressure Israel is backfiring - because Israel is not being daunted by the civilian deaths this time. From Israel' s perspective, it is clear that all civilian deaths are Hamas' fault; from the Arab perspective, it looks like Israel really is indiscriminately killing civilians this time.

It is not so much that the Arabs are afraid that the Jews have gone crazy - they are afraid that the Jews are starting to act like Arabs.

And if Israel is fighting a war with the same rulebook that the Arabs have used forever, that is something to be scared of.

Today's "craziness" could end up saving many, many lives in the future. Because in the end, it is not concessions or land or handshakes that will protect Israel; it is deterrence.