Predicting the unpredictable

Real-world, on-the-ground effort is one way Israel is able to showcase its unique abilities on the world stage.

Students visit a Tel Aviv start up 390 (photo credit: Courtesy Gil Lupo)
Students visit a Tel Aviv start up 390
(photo credit: Courtesy Gil Lupo)
Israel’s contributions in the hi-tech sector, innovative renewable energy projects, and breakthroughs in military technology are well known. What is less known are Israel’s achievements in strategic assessment, planning and predictive decision- making. One group that has made these achievements happen is the Program in Political Psychology and Decision Making [POP-DM].
The program, housed at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya has addressed pressing issues concerning strategic policy planning for the Israeli government and governments around the world.
Following the 2006 cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hezbollah, marking the end of the Second Lebanon War, a team comprised of prominent academics was assembled. The team was tasked with evaluating whether the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, would adhere to the terms of the cease-fire agreement.
Led by Professor Alex Mintz, an Israeli expert in political decision-making and currently dean of the Lauder School of Government at IDC, the team used techniques such as the Poliheuristic Theory of Decision Making (PH Theory) and the Applied Decision Analysis (ADA) technique to draw its conclusions. The major conclusion of the group was that “Nasrallah and Hezbollah would adhere to the critical terms of the agreement.” This conclusion diverged from the dominant opinion of most experts.
Another successful application of the ADA method of analysis occurred several days after the conclusion of the Pillar of Defense campaign in Gaza. Professor Mintz was interviewed on the Israeli Meet the Press TV program, and predicted, contrary to virtually all experts, that Hamas was more likely to adhere this time to the cease-fire brokered by Egypt, as events have proven since.
In a series of reports in Calcalist, Mintz and his team also made predictions about monthly interest rates in Israel and were more accurate in their forecasts than the major financial houses and banks.
The international reach of the program may be seen by the fact that its methodology is being used by prestigious institutions around the world, including Columbia University and Yale University. PH Theory and its accompanying decision-making techniques are also used by policy makers, military officials and intelligence personnel in many countries, including the Pentagon, Israeli business firms and the United Nations.
These methods have been used to analyze the key characteristics of the decision- making process, known as the “decision DNA” or “decision making calculus,” of suicide bombers and terrorist leaders from al-Qaida, Hamas and Hezbollah, to name a few.
One of the core tenets of the decision-making analysis of such individualsis is that “leaders avert from decisions and actions that will threaten their political survival.”
One of its most recent applications has been the design of a “Decision Support System” for President Barack Obama regarding the optimal strategy to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat.
“War games” and “simulations” are other strategic activities the group is involved in.
These activities create a plausible hypothetical situation in the international arena and use experts to play out these situations in order to gain insights relevant to policy planning and the formation strategy.
In 2010, POP-DM simulated the implications of a nuclear-armed Iran on the balance of power in the Middle East. Participants in the simulation included former US ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer; Maj.- Gen. (res.) Aharon Farkash, former commander of the IDF Intelligence Corp, who led the Iran team in the simulation; Harold Rhode, former senior adviser for Middle East Cultural Affairs at the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment; Boaz Ganor, director of the International Institute for Counter Terrorism; and Tzipi Livni, the head of the opposition.
The ensuing publication was distributed to Israeli and US policy-makers. Included were findings such as China’s ability to marginalize the impact of US sanctions on Iran and the possibility of Iran distributing “dirty material” to its proxy Hezbollah, situations that have either occurred or become likely since. The simulation was written up in the Iranian press.
“The Global War on Terror Reaches [the] Sinai Peninsula” simulation last October was also impactful – evaluating the response of Israel’s decision-makers to a Salafi Islamist terrorist attack on Israel from the Sinai. Some of the significant findings included the key role of Egypt in maintaining stability in the Middle East, and that the Arab countries were too tied up in their own internal issues to support Hamas. The importance of these findings is that they were borne out during the recent flare-up of violence between Hamas and Israel, a month after the simulation.
Finally, the POP-DM also trains diplomats, politicians and other government officials in decision-making through its “Program for Diplomats.”
Real-world, on-the-ground effort is one way Israel is able to showcase its unique abilities on the world stage.The writer is CEO of the an international consulting firm. He worked in the House of Commons Canada. His forthcoming book is entitled Multiple Modernities in the Contemporary Scene.