General Brom offers insight into why Israeli intelligence agencies miscalculated Saddam Hussein's actions. Israeli intelligence agents were convinced that Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat because they held "a one-dimensional perception" of Saddam Hussein as an evil man "possessed by a compulsion to develop weapons of mass destruction in order to strike Israel and others." General Brom criticizes the Israeli intelligence agency's failure to identify Saddam's primary motive as that of survival. He argues that after 1991, Saddam Hussein must have realized that "activities in the realm of weapons of mass destruction became a factor that threatened his survival rather than ensured it."
Brom posits that Saddam's desire for survival obviates both theses developed by Israeli intelligence agencies as explanations of why Iraq might attack Israel with non-conventional weapons. The first thesis predicted that "when Saddam's "back was against the wall"… he would strive for a dramatic conclusion to his regime - one that 'would take Israel with him.'" The second theory argues that Saddam would try to hamper American military operations by preemptively striking Israel before the war.
"Both [theses] disregarded the unequivocal indications in Saddam's behavior prior to the war that he was focused on strengthening his chances of survival. This was manifested first in his attempt to prevent the war, and then in his search for a way to survive even if war erupted. However, no intelligence efforts were made to assess whether or not an attack on Israel would contribute to his survival… All signs indicated that on the eve of the war, Saddam was trying to convince the international community that he did not possess weapons of mass destruction and that there was therefore no reason to go to war. Had he initiated a preemptive strike, he would have given the United States the ultimate excuse for war….The back-to-the-wall thesis [similarly]… disregards the fact that a survivor like Saddam would strive to resurface even after defeat, especially given the not infrequent phenomenon among Arab dictators of surviving severe losses and bitter defeats. … Furthermore, this thesis ignores the difficulty people have - especially people of Saddam Hussein's type - to acknowledge that they are "done for" until the very last moment. Thus, the dogmatic, one-dimensional conception of Saddam tainted all pieces of information and prevented the emergence of any alternative interpretation."
Worse-Case Scenario Assessments
General Brom attributes the Israeli intelligence community's adoption of the worst-case scenario to a desire to evade culpability for under-preparedness. According to Brom, the intelligence lapse prior to the Yom Kippur War created a culture of "assigning culpability and punishing those responsible as a primary purpose in assessing events." The Israeli media is particularly responsible for encouraging this tendency. As a result, Brom argues, intelligence estimates tend to be dire.
"If investigating the truth, that is, aiming to uncover the facts and learn lessons to prevent the recurrence of similar mistakes, does not lie at the heart of the investigation of an event, rather it is driven by finding and punishing the responsible party, even for inadvertent mistakes, then every decision-maker will tend to make decisions completely devoid of risk, even if it is not done consciously. This has created an unworkable situation in the intelligence community, since generating intelligence means creating a picture of reality in a state of uncertainty. ..Intelligence analysts feel that by giving bleak assessments they decrease the threat to themselves: if the assessment ends up being correct they will be heroes, and if it ends up being untrue, no one will give them any trouble because everyone will be pleased that their bleak prophecies did not materialize."
Costs of Inflated Intelligence Assessments
General Brom warns that making faulty and overblown intelligence assessments can exact a heavy price. It erodes the public's trust in the intelligence community and in decision makers. It can seriously harm international relations, rendering foreign services wary of accepting Israeli intelligence. The psychological impact and the propensity to panic amongst the population, as witnessed prior to the war, reduces the "public's fortitude." It may also be detrimental to Israel's security concerns because it propagates an image of weakness and vulnerability. "Israel's potential enemies might conclude in retrospect that if Israel was so frightened by what was apparently such a negligible threat, it clearly has good reason to be." Investigating Israel's intelligence failure in the war in Iraq, he says, is crucial for ensuring Israel can evade these costs in the future.
- "The War in Iraq: An Intelligence Failure," by Brigadier General (ret.) Shlomo Brom, Strategic Assessment, November 2003
- "Israel Shares Blame on Iraq Intelligence, Report Says," Washington Post, 5 December 2003