The Nakba and Anticipatory Intelligence – Lessons of Our Time

One glaring deficiency lay in the failure of intelligence agencies to effectively share crucial information, a critical aspect of the unpreparedness for the 9/11 attacks.

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On May 15, 1968, Palestinians marked 69 years since the ethnic cleansing of Palestine [Reuters]

When the battle broke out, our public diplomacy began to speak of our imaginary victories, to put the Arab public to sleep and talk of the ability to overcome and win easily – until the Nakba happened…We must admit our mistakes…and recognize the extent of our responsibility for the disaster that is our lot” …Constantin Zureiq, The Meaning of Disaster,  August 5 1948

The word “Nakba”, Noa Tishby recalls in her excellent book Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth, is Arabic for “catastrophe” or “disaster” as translated by her Arabic friends.  Professor Zureiq’ s statement above, made in 1948 in the context of the 1947 – 1948 war waged by Arab States against Israel,  where he implied that the Arab’s brought disaster upon themselves during the  war, has reflected much broader connotations and lessons over the following  75 years where every now and then there have been catastrophic happenings brought about by our own non feasance or misfeasance through lack of vision.  In modern  parlance this can be called a lack of “anticipatory intelligence” or “predictive intelligence”.

Josh Kerbel, in his essay “ Coming to Terms with Anticipatory Intelligence” says: “ [F]undamentally, anticipatory intelligence is about the anticipation of emergence. As clear and compelling as the case for anticipatory intelligence is, it remains poorly understood. A primary reason for this goes back to the aforementioned tendency to take hasty action before understanding…It is a relatively new type of intelligence that is distinct from the “strategic intelligence” that the intelligence community has traditionally focused on. It was born from recognition that the spiking global complexity (interconnectivity and interdependence, both virtual and physical) that characterizes the post–Cold War security environment, with its proclivity to generate emergent (nonadditive or nonlinear) phenomena, is essentially new. And as such, it demands new approaches.

More precisely, this new strategic environment means that it is no longer enough for the intelligence community to just do traditional strategic intelligence: locking onto, drilling down on, and — less frequently — forecasting the future of issues once they’ve emerged. While still important, such an approach will increasingly be too late. Rather, the intelligence community should also learn to practice foresight (which is not the same as forecasting) and imagine or envision possibilities before they emerge. In other words, it should learn to anticipate”.

October 2023

It was just the other day that we learned that the head of Israel’s military intelligence has stepped down due to the shortcomings in handling Hamas’s unprecedented attack on October 7. This marks the first resignation of a senior official in connection with Israel’s deadliest assault in history.

Major General Aharon Haliva’s resignation indicates potential repercussions for Israel’s top security leadership regarding Hamas’ attack. During the attack, terrorists breached Israel’s border and wreaked havoc on kibbutzim without resistance, resulting in the deaths of around 1,200 people, primarily civilians. Additionally, approximately 250 individuals were taken hostage into Gaza. This incident prompted Israel to initiate a war against Hamas in Gaza, which has been ongoing for seven months and has resulted in over 34,000 casualties, according to Hamas.

Haliva expressed regret in his resignation letter, acknowledging the failure of his intelligence directorate to fulfill its responsibilities. He admitted to carrying the weight of that fateful day with him continuously, vowing to bear the burden indefinitely.

February 2022

The above is only the most recent example of the paucity of predictive intelligence from high grade military intelligence. In February 2022 when Russia invaded Ukraine the same flaw was seen. According to a statement a week before the invasion,  Dmitry Polyansky, Russia’s First Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, is reported to have said the assertions made by Western media outlets about Russia planning to invade Ukraine on February 16 hold no merit. Polyansky dismissed these claims during an interview with the United Kingdom’s Channel 4.

When questioned about the alleged invasion starting on Wednesday, Polyansky responded by stating, “To my understanding, there are no such plans, and I fail to see any justification for such actions.” He further commented, describing the rumors as “utterly absurd and perplexing.” Although the United States and its allies warned Ukraine of the impending invasion, President Zelenski strategically downplayed the impending Russian invasion to prevent a financial panic that he says would have resulted in his country swiftly falling to the Kremlin.

Zelensky had received comprehensive intelligence from the United States regarding Russia’s intended invasion early on. Despite this, he urged Western nations not to induce panic amidst the increased presence of Russian troops along Ukraine’s borders. During a press conference in Kyiv, he expressed concern over the spreading fear fueled by statements even from respected world leaders hinting at an imminent war. Zelensky criticized such actions as exacerbating panic and questioned the toll it takes on the stability of their nation. He emphasized that the primary danger to Ukraine lies in the internal destabilization of the country.


Rewind to 2001 and the attacks on the United States. The events of September 11, 2001, left an indelible mark on American history, reshaping the nation’s trajectory in profound ways. The coordinated terrorist assaults on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, inflicted unprecedented devastation and loss of life. In the aftermath, doubts surfaced regarding the United States’ readiness to thwart such an assault, implying lack of anticipation. The following reasoning  delves into the nation’s lack of preparedness, drawing insights from credible sources and historical inquiry.

One glaring deficiency lay in the failure of intelligence agencies to effectively share crucial information, a critical aspect of the unpreparedness for the 9/11 attacks. The 9/11 Commission Report underscored numerous instances where vital details about the hijackers and their activities failed to traverse agency lines, particularly between the FBI and the CIA. These systemic breakdowns in information dissemination and coordination crippled efforts to pre-empt the onslaught.

Additionally, the inadequacy of aviation security measures emerged as another pressing concern. The hijackers exploited vulnerabilities in airport security protocols, easily circumventing screening procedures. The 9/11 Commission Report unearthed deficiencies in passenger screening and training inadequacies among airport security personnel, allowing the hijackers to board planes armed with lethal weapons. Such oversights directly facilitated the hijackings that unfolded on that fateful day.

The Compelling Need for Anticipatory Intelligence

The devastation associated with  the three examples cited above reeks of what lawyers call “negligence” which is defined, in legal terms, as a failure to meet the standard of care expected from a reasonably prudent individual in comparable circumstances. It involves breaching a duty owed to another entity, thereby resulting in harm or injury. To ground an action in negligence it has to be shown, on a balance of probabilities, that the person guilty of negligence either knew or ought to have known (my emphasis) of potential damage to the person aggrieved. This is the essence of anticipatory intelligence.

In July of 2014 when Flight MH 17 was blasted from the skies over Ukraine by a ground launched missile, numerous prominent airlines, such as British Airways, Qantas, and Cathay Pacific, had been steering clear of Ukrainian airspace for safety reasons long before the tragic incident involving flight MH17. This avoidance stemmed from concerns about potential hazards in the region.

As aviation authorities prohibited all flights from traversing the eastern Ukrainian airspace, a move likely to raise flight expenses and prolong journey durations, it was revealed that several airlines had already opted to bypass this area. For instance, Qantas, Australia’s national carrier, had refrained from using this route for an extended period. Similarly, Cathay Pacific, headquartered in Hong Kong, had been following an alternate path for a considerable duration. Other airlines, including British Airways, Korean Air Lines, Air Berlin, Asiana Airlines, and Taiwan’s China Airlines, had also been shunning the eastern Ukraine route, which typically serves as a crucial corridor between Europe and Asia, for quite some time.


In many areas of human evolution and development, anticipatory intelligence becomes compelling, particularly with expanded use by  applications of predictive (anticipatory) intelligence where AI, big data and machine learning could anticipate an issue and resolve it before the fact, thus offering distinctive value in the product.

In the realm of scientific advancement and technological progress, space exploration stands out as an area experiencing exponential growth, demanding proactive foresight. A managerial principle relevant to the legality of rocket launches into space revolves around predictive or anticipatory intelligence. This principle underscores the necessity for space-faring entities to be thoroughly informed and prepared for potential threats to Earth’s surface while emphasizing their accountability for any resulting damage. Though to date, there have been no recorded fatalities on the ground due to space debris, the possibility cannot be dismissed for the future.

Renowned theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, as reported by Newsweek on May 7, 2021, issued a caution to the United States regarding the impending re-entry of a rocket stage into the atmosphere. Kaku’s warning, delivered during an appearance on CNN’s New Day program, urged the nation to be deeply concerned about the uncontrolled descent of the Chinese Long March 5B rocket. Weighing 20 tons and tumbling out of control, the rocket stage poses a potential hazard with the potential to impact locations ranging from New York City to New Zealand.

In contemplating Oscar Wilde’s statement, “Nothing that occurs is of the slightest consequence,” one is prompted to ponder its meaning. Wilde’s assertion suggests a philosophical perspective on the significance, or rather the lack thereof, of events and occurrences in the grand scheme of existence. It invites reflection on the transient nature of human experiences and the relative importance attributed to them in the vastness of cosmic reality.

Ruwantissa Abeyratne

Dr. Abeyratne teaches aerospace law at McGill University. Among the numerous books he has published are Air Navigation Law (2012) and Aviation Safety Law and Regulation (to be published in 2023). He is a former Senior Legal Counsel at the International Civil Aviation Organization.

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