His bearded face had a weather-beaten look. His one good eye stared in scrutiny beside an aquiline nose. A man in his 60s, he still looked strong and unbowed–for a ghost. He was the shield of Carthage, the avatar of Hercules, the symbol of the one-eyed Celtic war god, the counselor of kings, the idol of the Army, and the terror of Rome–Hannibal.
“Son of Hamilcar,” I said, “I am honored to meet you.”
“An old man like me with a string of failures and a poor grasp of your language has little to offer,” he said.
“On the contrary, Judge of Carthage, you have one of history’s greatest strategic minds.” And, I added to myself, one of its most cunning.
“I was nothing more than the servant of my Republic.”
“Maybe so, Grace of Baal, but no city knew the highs and lows of war as Carthage did, and no citizen of Carthage made war more brilliantly than you. So I would like you to comment on today’s history in the making. Can you tell us, oh, scourge of Saguntum, whether you think Iran and Israel will go to war?”
“They already are at war. The only question is what the next stage of the conflict looks like.
“Iran has called for the annihilation of Israel and has armed its allies in Lebanon to the teeth with missiles and other weapons to make good on its goal. Iran claims its pursuit of nuclear energy is peaceful but few believe that. Israel, meanwhile, muses publicly about attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities, as it did those of Iraq and Syria. Most observers believe that Israel is behind the sabotage of Iranian facilities that has already taken place, including assassinations of Iranian scientists.”
“Some Israeli and American officials say that Israel is getting ready to attack Iran while others deny it. I’m confused.”
“You should be! The purpose of those contradictory statements is to sow confusion. War is deception. The public sees only the product of deceit but not behind the curtain. We don’t know the reality.”
“Can you predict what happens next?”
“Only that, if the two sides are any good, it is unpredictable. Those who keep the enemy guessing win wars. Those who behave as expected march to defeat, like the Romans at Cannae.”
“Do you have any advice?”
“Yes: don’t listen to advisers.”
“So, only trust yourself?”
“No, never trust yourself.”
“Isn’t that a contradiction?”
“War is paradox.”
“No wonder the Romans found you slippery, oh, wise one.”
“Like children, the Romans saw only the elephants charging their front lines. They never noticed the common soldiers sneaking up on their rear.”
“Is that what victory will take in the war between Iran and Israel — superior deception?”
“You are seeing elephants again. War is never a matter of just one thing.”
“So, victory is multifaceted?”
“Now you sound like a cut rate lecture circuit salesman.”
Hannibal’s personality, sharp in every sense of the word, was beginning to take shape. I tried to draw him out: “Student of strategy,” I said, “Enlighten us! Teach us! We need your wisdom, oh matchless one!”
“Maybe later,” he said. “Now I must go and sacrifice a calf to the god Melqart.”
And with that, Hannibal turned briskly and left.
TO BE CONTINUED