HERE IS another Jewish joke: A hungry young Jew sees an announcement outside a local circus: anyone who climbs to the top of a 50 meter pole and jumps onto a tarpaulin below will win a prize of a thousand rubles.
Out of desperation he goes in, climbs the pole and shudders looking down.
"Jump! Jump!" the ringmaster shouts.
"Jumping is out of the question!" the Jew shouts back. "But how do I get down again?"
That's how Barack Obama was feeling, a moment before the Russians provided the means.
THE TROUBLE with war is that it has two sides.
You prepare a war meticulously. You have a perfect plan. Future generals will study it in their academies. But once you make the first move, everything goes awry. Because the other side has a mind of its own and does not behave the way you expect.
A good example was provided exactly 40 years ago today (by the Hebrew calendar) with the Egyptian and Syrian attack on Israel. According to our planning, they shouldn't and they couldn't have done so. No way. They knew that our forces were superior and their defeat inevitable.
The chief of army intelligence, the man responsible for the overall evaluation of all intelligence gathered, coined the famous phrase: "low probability." So, while hundreds of items indicated that an attack was imminent, the government of Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan still managed to be surprised when the Egyptians crossed the Suez Canal and the Syrians advanced down to the Sea of Galilee.
Some time before, I had warned the Knesset that the Egyptians were going to start a war. No one took any notice. I was no prophet. I had just returned from a peace conference with Arab delegates, and a very highly-placed Egyptian former colonel told me that Anwar al-Sadat would attack, if Israel did not accept his secret peace proposals and withdraw from Sinai. "But you can't win!" I protested, "He won't attack in order to win, but in order to get the frozen situation moving again," he responded.
SINCE THEN, the phrase "low probability" has had an ominous ring in Israeli ears. No one ever used it. But during the last two weeks, it has made a sudden comeback.
Incredible as it sounds, it was given new life by our army command. Eager to have the Americans attack Syria, and faced with a run on gas masks in Israel, they announced that there was a very low probability that Bashar al-Assad would retaliate by attacking Israel.
He wouldn't dare, of course. How could he? His army is bogged down in fighting with the rebels. It is inferior to our army anyhow, and after two years of civil war it is even weaker than usual. So it would be madness on his part to provoke us. Absolutely. Very, very low probability.
Or is it?
It certainly would be, if Assad's mind worked like that of an Israeli general. But Assad is not an Israeli general. He is the Syrian dictator, and his mind might work quite differently.
What about the following scenario: