Captives of a Concept – The Sharon Plan

Governments and armies must forever be concerned to avoid the element of surprise, yet history is full of their failures to do so. If the victims survive, the lessons they learn may prevent a recurrence, but the lessons are often misunderstood, misapplied, or simply irrelevant. In a chilling premonition of what was to come, Ambassador Richard Parker wrote just days before the 9/11 tragedies:

We must never become victims of our own myths and see our opponents through a distorting, ethnocentric lens. We would do better…if we educated our policymakers and military leaders more thoroughly to be wary of simple answers and to be more alert to the diverse character of the world’s peoples and the…complexities of their problems.1

Ambassador Parker’s caution was clear – if nations become victims of their own myths (and act upon those myths – or fail to act because of them), they expose their people to mortal danger. That is, governments must see their enemies as they are, not as they wish them to be.


A paradigm is a set of beliefs, perceptions or a framework within which facts are considered (or not considered) and upon which assessments are based. The ruling paradigm propels everything from developing needs assessments, to how to position armies for battle, to decisions on whether to create an integrated intelligence infrastructure to deal with perceived threats. If the security paradigm is wrong, if its assumptions are incorrect or redundant, so then are the assessments, the rules, the regulations and the procedures that are based upon it.

In the medieval period, the ruling paradigm held that the world was flat and that the sun revolved around the earth. Any evidence to the contrary was deemed heretical – facts be damned, and those who argued the point through mathematical and scientific logic were excommunicated (if they were lucky) or burned at the stake (if they were not).

Furthermore, because mental disorders were not fully understood, people were burned at the stake as witches based upon the ruling paradigm that they must have been possessed by the devil and fire was the only way to exorcise the evil.

To the Islamic fundamentalist, the ruling paradigm provides that there is only one true religion (Islam) and only one true interpretation of the will of Allah as set down in the Qur`an (theirs). All others are heresy and, more often than not, punishable by death.

In the case of 9/11, the ruling paradigm provided that the hijacking and intentional crashing of commercial passenger aircraft into buildings was highly improbable despite intelligence warnings suggesting otherwise. Besides (so the paradigm went), the oceans that historically separated America from its enemies and its “technological edge” have always (and would continue to) keep America safe – or so it thought. Consequently, intelligence information pouring into America (especially from Israeli and German sources) in the years, months, weeks and even days prior the disasters were recorded, noted and filed, but given little or no priority until virtually the last moment. Terrorist watch lists were neither shared nor integrated. A culture of secrecy prevailed within the intelligence community. In several cases, FBI field agents who presented documented concerns about suspected terrorists (in Minneapolis and Phoenix in particular) were ignored and, some were even reprimanded for wasting time and pursuing false leads. Even the laws governing the exchange of criminal and intelligence information between the FBI and the CIA inhibited the ability of the American security and intelligence community to conduct proper threat assessments.

Prior to the tragedies of 9/11, the American security and intelligence communities had become captives of a concept. It was much more than a mistake. It was a fundamentally flawed security paradigm that prevented them from making proper risk assessments of the danger that threatened (and continues to threaten) America. And because the risk was low on the priority list, it was not significant enough to expend the necessary human and financial capital to deal with it.

The 20th century is replete with such errors including the failure of Stalin to anticipate Operation Barbarossa (the Nazi invasion of Russia on June 22, 1941) because, as he stated, he had “shaken hands with the man” (despite 84 warnings of a pending invasion from his generals in the field); the failure of American intelligence to anticipate the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 (despite a wealth of information suggesting that such an attack was imminent)2; the exceptionally high murder rate of Dutch Jewry during the Holocaust (102,000 of 140,000 Dutch Jews perished) due to the inability of Dutch Jewish leadership to recognize the true threat posed by Nazi Germany3; the Israeli failure to recognize the imminence of war until the morning of October 6, 1973; the American “blind spot” (when it came to understanding the concept of “martyrdom” in Arab Muslim culture) that showed itself on October 23, 1983 when a truck laden with the equivalent of more than 12,000 pounds of TNT crashed into the Marine headquarters building at Beirut International Airport, killing 241 US military personnel (despite prior suicide bombings on its Beirut Embassy and numerous warnings that another major suicide attack was being planned against American targets)4; the almost universal misreading by international intelligence agencies of Saddam Hussein’s true and stated intentions and actions toward Kuwait in 1990; and, as noted, the intelligence failures and irresponsibility bordering on negligence leading up to the tragedies of September 11, 2001.

These intelligence failures were similar in one major respect. Where the facts conflicted with the accepted security paradigm (or what historians refer to as the “concept”), the threat was either minimized or dismissed and the nation was left exposed to catastrophe.

The Sharon “Concept”

It is arguable that Prime Minister Sharon is operating on the basis of his own “concept” of Palestinian reality – that he will make Israel safer by requiring Israel to disengage itself from all contact with the Palestinians; that he can win the hearts and minds of the Palestinians and support Mahmoud Abbas’ stature among his own people by “jump-starting” the Roadmap to Peace; by releasing hundreds of unrepentant terrorists from prison; by handing over West Bank towns to Palestinian security control, by evacuating Gaza, by dismantling the military infrastructures in Gaza and the northern West Bank, by supporting the incorporation of terrorists into the new Palestinian Security Services, and by allowing the infusion of millions of dollars in foreign aid into the Palestinian civil and economic infrastructure despite the fact that the last time the world showered the Palestinian Authority with billions of dollars what ensued was not peace and prosperity, but a bloody conflict, a 150,000-man corrupt bureaucracy, and a 50,000-strong army that refuses to stop the terror and dismantle its 12 secret services.

If these actions are the product of Prime Minister Sharon’s security paradigm, there is a very distinct possibility that the paradigm is fundamentally flawed, if only because the facts on the ground suggest a far different, more deadly threat.

Considering…all the agreements made and broken by the Palestinian leadership since the Oslo Accords; the peace initiatives and ceasefires derailed by Palestinian terrorism for the past four-and-a-half years; withdrawing from Gaza unilaterally while receiving nothing of substance in return from the Palestinians; recent intelligence reports stating that Palestinian terrorist organizations are planting explosives throughout Gaza in preparation for renewed hostilities; that Abu Mazen has secretly applied to more than 20 world governments with urgent requests for large quantities of heavy weapons (in contravention of every international accord the Palestinians have ever signed with Israel and every pledge Abbas has made to the Bush administration and other world leaders)5; that Abbas has lifted the suspension order of March 3 on the execution of several condemned Palestinians, half of whom were sentenced to death for “collaborating” with Israel; repeated warnings by military intelligence that Hamas is continuing to smuggle weapons (rockets, mortar shells, and Kassam rockets) through the tunnel-ridden Philadelphi Corridor that connects Gaza with Egypt. (This is especially disconcerting since Israeli intelligence believes Egyptian President Mubarak is quietly helping Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad to spread their influence in the area.) The secret plans (revealed by Israeli intelligence) of Hamas and al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades to relocate the entire Damascus terrorist infrastructure from Syria to the Gaza Strip and from there to the West Bank in the event of a civil war in Lebanon; the release of hundreds of Palestinian terrorists (despite the experience of the May 1985 “Jibril deal” prisoner release where 114 of 238 released back into the West Bank and Gaza resumed their terrorist activities),6 that suicide bombers are continuing to try (and, on February 25, 2005 succeeded) to penetrate Israeli security even as the ceasefire continues; Mahmoud Abbas’ declared intention to incorporate known terrorists into his new Palestinian Security Force (despite evidence suggesting that Hamas continues to seek political cover for its military movements and remains committed to the destruction of Israel either by the ballot or by the bullet); Israel’s concession to stop pursuing Palestinian terrorists and further allowing them to carry weapons in the face of the Roadmap to Peace (which calls for terrorists to be disarmed); Abbas’ declared insistence on demanding a “right of return” of Palestinians to Israel proper; his unwillingness to dismantle the Palestinian terror infrastructure, choosing instead “an accommodation” with the terrorists; the control exercised by Hizbullah operatives over Palestinian terror cells and Hizbullah’s stated intention to torpedo the ceasefire at a time and place of its choosing; the decisive victory of Hamas over the Palestinian Authority in January’s Gaza municipal elections (despite Abbas’ support for the Sharon Plan, and Sharon’s support for Abbas); the “culture of death” that continues to permeate all aspects of Palestinian society (2/3 of Palestinians still see terror as an effective weapon); that dozens of Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel have been and continue to be summarily executed by militants; the continuing Palestinian belief that the Gaza withdrawal represents an Israeli “retreat” in the face of violence – suggesting to the terrorists that violence, as a tactical weapon, pays;* and the speeches (given in Arabic) by Palestinian leaders to the effect that Gaza is but the first stage in the phased elimination of “the Zionist enemy”…all show reason for concern.

Israeli intelligence and security chiefs (together with their military commanders and operatives in the field) have warned the Prime Minister that Gaza and the West Bank will explode in violence after the Israeli withdrawal and that Israeli cities will come under withering fire from Islamic terrorists who are regrouping and rearming in the south and the east. They suspect that if Mahmoud Abbas attempts to eradicate the Palestinian terror network, he will likely be assassinated, and Israel will be confronted with an even more deadly Islamic enemy – rearmed and rejuvenated by hundreds of formerly imprisoned terrorists.

Despite this advice and the facts on the ground, Prime Minister Sharon has made it clear that he will countenance no dissent to his “concept”. He has sacked both his IDF Chief of Staff, Moshe Ya`alon and his Shin Bet Security Services Director, Avi Dichter. Dichter had warned that releasing hundreds of seasoned Palestinian terrorists into the general Palestinian population would be a major tactical error of monumental proportions, and Ya`alon warned that a withdrawal from Gaza without Israel or the Palestinian Authority first destroying the terrorist infrastructure will sow the seeds of a second Lebanon, and encourage even more deadly attacks after the terrorists have rearmed and reorganized.

In addition, informed security officials are urging the Sharon government to suspend its interchanges with the Palestinian Authority, halt the removal of roadblocks and the hand over of West Bank towns to Palestinian security control, revert to targeted assassinations and take military action to prevent the delivery of illicit military hardware into dangerous terrorist hands.

If Ya`alon and Dichter are correct, it would not be the first time that an Israeli government has dismissed danger signals and underestimated the mindset of an enemy based on a flawed security “concept”. In 1973, Israel knew that it would eventually come into conflict with Egypt and Syria, yet despite all the evidence on the ground in early October of that year, Israeli military intelligence steadfastly refused to believe that that day had actually come. According to a report published in Yediot Aharonot, over 1,500 warnings of the military buildup reached Israeli intelligence before October 1973. The progressive steps of preparation for war, the early warning indicators and strategic warnings were thoroughly reported, but not acted upon. That is because prior to the Yom Kippur War, Israeli military intelligence operated on the false concept that the Arabs would never start a war they knew they could not win. Stubborn adherence to this concept assumed that Egypt would not go to war against Israel until it was able to destroy Israel’s major military airfields in order to paralyze her air force and Syria would not launch a major offensive against Israel except simultaneously with Egypt.

While Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, Chief of Staff David Elazar and Mossad Chief Zvi Zamir were completely convinced that war was imminent and advised Prime Minister Golda Meir accordingly, Military Intelligence Chief Eli Zeira, relying upon his own “concept” of Arab intentions, disagreed. Zeira refused to acknowledge the implication from “the facts on the ground” that indicated war was imminent. Even when Sadat brought crossing equipment and tanks close to the Suez Canal, Zeira and his staff still believed Sadat was bluffing – that it was all part of Egyptian military exercises. As late as October 3rd, Zeira continued to insist that war was unlikely. Officers in the field who sent in reports of enemy buildups along the Suez Canal and the Golan Heights in the weeks and days prior to the commencement of hostilities were either rebuked or ignored.7 Only too late did Zeira realize that he had made a terrible misjudgment. The surprise attacks across the Suez Canal and in the Golan Heights by Egyptian and Syrian forces in the early morning hours of October 6, 1973 almost led to the destruction of Israel. The cemeteries of Israel are filled with rows upon rows of soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for this false “conception”.

And the 1993 Oslo Accords were no different in that respect. The Accords were based upon Prime Minister Rabin’s “concept” of Palestinian intentions. The assumptions were that the PLO was not hostile and could be a potential peace partner; that Israel could preserve security without the use of deterrent force; that Israel could end terror by “removing its root causes”; and that the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel could be solved through full and honest negotiation.

Based upon this “concept”, Rabin was convinced that the true existential threat to Israel emanated not from the Palestinians, but from Iraq (under Saddam Hussein) and the ayatollahs in Iran. Rabin’s “concept” told him that Arafat was desirous of making peace with Israel under the right circumstances. “The Palestinians are not our enemies,” he repeatedly told his Cabinet. But Rabin grossly misjudged Palestinian intentions.

He did not view the Palestinians as an existential threat as much as a “tactical problem” that could be resolved between “friends”, provided that Israel was prepared to make “significant territorial concessions” – the same territorial concessions that Prime Minister Sharon is now considering as he prepares to “jump start” the Roadmap to Peace before the Palestinian Authority has destroyed the Gaza and West Bank terrorist infrastructure. So Rabin bankrolled the Palestinian Authority, trained and armed the Palestinian police, rehabilitated his enemy from his Tunisian exile, and believed that he had laid the foundations for a lasting peace with his mortal foe. His “concept” of Palestinian motives would lead to disaster. Even as Arafat returned triumphantly to Ramallah, he had already made his preparations for carrying on the terror war. Despite repeated warnings from Israeli Military Intelligence officials that a “Lebanon-like situation” was developing in the territories, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres replied to them – “You are destroying my peace.”8 In the end, more Israelis lost their lives in Palestinian terrorist attacks in the first three years following the Oslo Accords than in the previous decade.

As early as September 8, 1993, five days before signing the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles (DOP), Arafat told an Israeli journalist who came to interview him in his Tunis headquarters: “In the future, Israel and Palestine will be one united state in which Israelis and Palestinians will live together” – that is, Israel would no longer exist. Even as he shook Yitzhak Rabin’s hand on the White House lawn under President Clinton’s outstretched hands, Arafat was assuring the Palestinians in a pre-recorded Arabic-language message broadcast by Jordanian TV that the DOP was merely an implementation of the PLO’s June 1974 “Strategy of Phases” (an approach supported to this day by his successor). The “Strategy” stipulated that the Palestinians should seize “whatever territory Israel was prepared or compelled to cede and use it as a springboard for further territorial gains until achieving the complete liberation of Palestine.”9

As the former Chief Justice of the Israeli Supreme Court (Moshe Landau) commented in 2000:

I believe that we face adversaries who are much cleverer than we, adversaries who know that they have to proceed in stages. As far as they are concerned, things are entirely clear – they don’t want us here, but in the meantime, they are prepared to make do with whatever they can get at each stage that moves them closer to their ultimate objective.10

But the strongest indication that Sharon has fallen captive to a false security concept comes from the Palestinians themselves. In the wake of the Knesset approval of the Sharon Plan, Nabil Sha`ath (Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister) expressed his ultimate hope: “May this be only one step in the liberation of all of Palestine”, and Ahmed al-Bahar, a top Hamas leader in Gaza left no doubt that the Israeli withdrawal represented a major and strategic victory for the Palestinians: “The painful and qualitative blows which the Palestinian resistance dealt to the Jews and their soldiers over the past four-and-a-half years led to the decision to withdraw from the Gaza Strip,” he said. “The withdrawal marks the end of the Zionist dream and is a sign of the moral and psychological decline of the Jewish state.”

Having witnessed the death and destruction wrought by a society that continues to extol the “martyrdom” of its own children, that continues to hang posters of “martyred heroes” in its restaurants and marketplaces, and that continues to preach hatred of the “Zionist enemy” in its schools, from its pulpits, through its media and throughout its culture, it is difficult to believe that the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and the northern West Bank (under current geo-political circumstances) will bring forth anything but further tragedy to the Israeli people.

*Prior to the announcement of the disengagement plan, 75% of the Palestinian public believed that the intifada had failed, but a few months after the planned withdrawal was announced, 74% agreed that the plan is “a victory for the armed struggle”. The initial poll results appeared in October 2003 in the official PA daily al-Hayat al-Jadida, while the more recent poll was conducted in September 2004 by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research directed by Khalil Shikaki.


1. Ambassador Richard Parker, “Prisoners of a Concept”, Air University (ATC), September 6, 2001.

2. Roberta Wohlstetter, Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision, Stanford, CA: Press, 1962.

3. Joel Fishman, “Failure of Perception and Self-Deception”, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, March 15, 2001.

4. Erik J. Dahl, “Smarter Intelligence”, The Boston Globe, November 23, 2004.

5. DEBKA file, “Terrorists Shatter Phony Calm in Tel Aviv, Shop for Heavy Weapons”, February 26, 2005.

6. Margot Dudkevitch, “Freed Prisoner Killed on Terror Mission”, Jerusalem Post Online, February 21, 2005.

7. Major Rodney C. Richardson, “Yom Kippur War: Grand Deception or Intelligence Blunder”, www.GlobalSecurity.org, 1991; see also Ambassador Richard B. Parker, op. cit. and his earlier article in the Air University Review, January-February, 1981.

8. Joel Fishman, op.cit.

9. Efraim Karsh, “Arafat Lives”, Commentary, January 2005.

10. Justice Moshe Landau, Ha’aretz Magazine (English Edition), October 6, 2000.

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