Scales and yardsticks

Scales are essential to our situational awareness and serve as a reference for decision making, from the personal to the national level.

rulers and measuring tools 370 (photo credit: Reuven Ben-Shalom)
rulers and measuring tools 370
(photo credit: Reuven Ben-Shalom)
As I listen to Iranian and Hezbollah leaders deliver their dark and dismal speeches, I often wonder: Do “bad guys” know they are bad? In our value system, terrorism is immoral and despicable. But we face enemies who seem to adhere to no moral scale or code.
Different peoples and cultures possess different scales by which they conduct various aspects of their lives. If you try to evaluate a situation with the wrong yardstick, you are bound to make mistakes.
An example of this is the Western assumption that all humans desire “peace and prosperity,” when in fact most Middle Easterners follow a very different calling.
Palestinians seek the establishment of a state on the ruins of Israel, and their horizon is generations, not years.
Israel is similarly misunderstood. Our goal is not peace and prosperity either, for if it were, we would have moved to Canada by now. Our historic mission is sustaining the homeland of the Jewish people, and our perspective is millennia.
This is true on a national and religious level, but unfortunately not always implemented on a regular basis. Politicians think and act in timelines that mostly influence their terms in office, so we suffer from lack of long-term planning and are led to judge short- instead of long-term achievements.
These are scales of values, national aspirations and time. But there are other scales, in almost every aspect of our lives.
We are curious beings. We need to know how things are lined up, where we stand, and how we fit in. We construct tangible and cognitive scales and by drawing comparisons to others, we better understand ourselves.
We have the same drive and passion that led Galileo Galilei to observe, conclude and challenge contemporary thinking in the 17th century.
During the course of history, we discover over and over again how narrow our spectrum has been and we recalibrate our entire scale system.
A good example is the visible zone within the electromagnetic spectrum.
The scales we construct shape reality and not only reflect it. You can become poor overnight if the “poverty line” is raised by a notch. We progressively pay our taxes according to defined “tax brackets.”
I believe that many of our scales are inappropriate and distorted. Some things are immeasurable and sometimes we don’t use the right tools. Occasionally we lack perspective, are not on the same plane or even in the same dimension to correctly assess the situation.
In public diplomacy, we naively attempt to show the world our real position, while countering those who would have us on the bottom margin of the moral scale. How can we be so misunderstood, so misrepresented? The answer is that we are not evaluated by the same standards, and are usually not evaluated at all, but rather deliberately portrayed in a distorted manner.
In every cultural and religious clash I examine, I find that the problem is not positions on the scale, but disagreement on what scale to use.
In Israel, the stress scale is a challenging one to calibrate. Things are quite stressful as it is, but there are those who make a point of keeping us always at the peak. Over-dramatization of events by the media is intended to make us consume more commercials. Too many Israelis relate to the news as an objective source of information, instead of what it really is – a manipulative business.
Unmanned aircrafts (drones) are a popular theme for distortion.
For the past decade, Iran and Hezbollah have been developing drones capable of reaching Israel. This is a natural development of modern warfare, and we know that we have the upper hand, both in developing and deploying our own, and in intercepting those of the enemy.
I believe this issue has been blown out of proportion.
We shouldn’t over-glorify successful intercepts or feel contrition when an enemy drone gets through our defenses. They are more a propaganda tool than an operational capability. Iran can get better imagery of Israel using Google Earth.
With our array of sophisticated drones, it’s natural to have occasional malfunctions. Amazingly, not only is every incident reported, but the headlines usually attach dramatic, mysterious and even conspiratorial causes (such as claiming that a drone was cyber-jacked by Iran).
Sorry to ruin all the fun, but the truth is usually simple and boring.
Understanding spectrum and magnitude is especially critical in dealing with national security.
Lesson No. 1 at the Israel National Defense College is that the military is only a segment in the spectrum of a country’s national security. It is also understood now that in modern warfare, military power alone cannot suffice and only an interagency approach can prevail.
In national security, misunderstanding scales can lead to grave consequences.
A dynamic field of military thinking is the conceptualization and redefinition of the spectrum of warfare. We no longer have a simple spectrum between “routine” and “war.” Our newly coined “the campaign between the campaigns,” indicates the constant state of flux between changing levels of conflict.
In the US military, the range of military operations has been revised and expanded to blend all forms of warfare and reflect multilayer challenges.
New ideas and doctrine now include terms such as “hybrid warfare” and “antiaccess/ area denial.”
The gravest mistake we made in the Second Lebanon War in 2006 was calling it a war only after it ended. As events unfolded, we failed to identify or define where we stood on the warfare scale, and this led to erroneous operational decisions. We made the same mistake before, fully recognizing the War of Attrition with Egypt only in 2003, 32 years after it ended.
Scales are everywhere. They are essential to our situational awareness and serve as a reference for decision making, from the personal to the national level.
We must constantly evaluate and calibrate the scales we use, and carefully assess our position on them. We should also remember that many scales are non-linear and require terminology that is not deterministic or dichotomous.
The writer is a former pilot in the IAF, founder of Cross-Cultural Strategies Ltd. and International Project Manager at [email protected]