Academic: Algorithm shows Nasrallah will lay low

IDC Herzliya professor says new formula can predict terrorists' actions.

November 1, 2006 00:30
3 minute read.
victory rally w poster of 3 evil guys

nasrallah poster 298 88. (photo credit: AP)


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Imagine that we had a mathematical formula that could be applied to Israel's enemies to predict their course of action? Prof. Alex Mintz of Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya claims to have created just that. Mintz has developed a formula to map how terrorist organizations make their decisions. His theory can be applied to any leader in the world, whether heads of state or terror masterminds. Is the next round of fighting between Israel and Hizbullah unavoidable, as many experts predict? Mintz, an expert on political and computerized decision-making, political marketing and research methodology, has put the Islamist organization and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, under the microscope in an attempt to decipher his next move. How does this formula work? It mimics the decision-making process of a terror organization, involving thousands of minute details. The process is twofold: first the leader rules out the options that his group cannot carry out, and then the organization maximizes "specific dimensions on the remaining alternatives." This is all plugged into his custom-designed computer program, which takes into account funds, weapons, opposition, elections and the most heavily weighed factor, politics. The algorithms do the rest. What separates Mintz's calculations from those of other experts in the field? In the world of game and decision theory there are two basic camps: the rational approach, with roots in economics, and the cognitive approach, which is rooted in psychology. Mintz's theory is one of the first that "combines elements of both in an attempt to bridge the gap between the rational and cognitive in decision-making." The question on many Israelis' minds after this summer's Lebanon war is what Hizbullah will do next. Mintz and coauthor Claudio Samban of Tel Aviv University have tried to come up with the answer. According to Mintz, Hizbullah is of no immediate threat to Israel because Hizbullah has been in a "domain of gain since the end of the war. They will re-arm and focus on Lebanese politics via democratic elections as did Hamas is the territories." The Arab world interpreted the "war as Nasrallah's victory," so therefore "there is no reason for Nasrallah do anything drastic against Israel in the short term," he said. In the long term, Mintz said, it seems Nasrallah was waiting "patiently for the negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians over the release of [kidnapped IDF Cpl.] Gilad Shalit to be over, [so he can] demand a heavy price from Israel. Among other options, he may use the issue of the captured soldiers to assure his physical survival." When Mintz put Nasrallah into his program, he had a detailed picture of what factors are most prevalent in the man's mind. This includes threats to the survival of Hizbullah as an organization and as a political party, Hizbullah's military capabilities, the domestic political situation in Lebanon, and the opinions of Iran; Syria; and Hizbullah's allies in Lebanon. Among these, the strength and survival of Hizbullah as an organization were of prime importance. "Any alternative which will endanger Hizbullah's standing in the Lebanese and Arab world is being discarded outright" from his choices. Mintz also applied his theory to other groups hostile to Israel, and he foresees danger. "While Israel focuses mainly on the Iranian nuclear threat, global terrorist organizations will try to smuggle weapons of mass destruction, including a dirty bomb, to use in Israel once they get the capability to do so." He sees real incentives for international jihadist organizations to attack Israel. According to his analysis, the Palestinian, Lebanese and Iranian players would have too much to lose at this point in sparking hostilities, while organizations such as al-Qaida have much to gain. What do other experts think of Mintz's theory? Prof. Ami Pedhazur of the University of Texas at Austin, an expert on terrorism and international relations, believes Mintz is "the best" in the field of decision analysis. Others disagree. Prof. Reuven Hazan of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem said we shouldn't rely on being able to predict choices of terrorists. According to Hazan, "there are too many variables" in such studies and he in particular is "not a fan" of them. Mintz is the 2005 recipient of the Distinguished Scholar Award from the International Studies Association for the most important world contribution to the field of Foreign Policy Analysis. He is to present his full analysis on Nasrallah at Wednesday's IDC Herzliya symposium entitled, "Decision-Making in the Second War in Lebanon: Lessons and Implications." Scheduled speakers at the symposium include former IDF chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, former Air Force commander Maj.-Gen. (res.) David Ivry and Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev.

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