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  • Adrian J. Boas

On Deception


Amber Mountain National Park Panther Chameleon. Photograph by Fanomezantsoa Andrianirina [Wikipedia Creative Commons]

The traffic on the northern section of Route 6 was heavy and I turned off and took the road that continues via Megiddo. I had not passed this way for over a decade and decided to take advantage of the opportunity to visit the tel. Pulling onto the narrow road leading up to the park, I was driving slowly; otherwise I would never have noticed him. I stopped the car and turned off the engine, and there he was just in front, a tiny Marcel Marceau, mime-walking ever so slowly across the asphalt, his leg timorously reaching forward, hovering in the air, then pulled back again as if he had had second thoughts, then forward again, still uncertain, still undecided, the body swaying dementedly back and forth. He was a brilliant green and stood out boldly on the black asphalt. Like me he must have expected to be alone, so he had not bothered to switch on a colour-change. On the grass I never would have seen him, and he must have regretted having left its sanctuary. He hesitantly raised his leg once again, then once more pulled it back. Would something terrible happen if he placed it on the ground? Finally, in a moment of determination, that strange two-toed foot touched the asphalt. I searched frantically for my camera, quietly opened the door and walked quickly to where he had been... but he had vanished. He was not on the road, not under the car. I could not see him on the grass. Only seconds had passed. How could it be? I am well aware of the adroit camouflaging capabilities of chameleons, but did not realise that they had an even more brilliant trick up their sleeves; the ability to lull us into thinking of them as lethargic, plodding creatures, not capable of in any way accelerating from a languorous loiter into anything approaching velocity. How well he had deceived me!


Deception has always been a basic tenet of warfare. The Art of War the ancient military treatise attributed to the Chinese general, strategist and philosopher Sun Tzu (c. 544-596 B.C.), greatly emphasized the importance of deception as a military tactic and it has been used effectively throughout history, among the many notable examples, Operation Fortitude, the successful effort to outwit Hitler as to the date and place where the seaborne invasion troops would land on the European Atlantic coast in 1944.


There are several examples of tactical deception in the crusader period, particularly in the form of feigned retreat, a tactic effectively employed on occasion by both sides. In 1105 at the Battle of Artah, Tancred with a force numbering 1,000 mounted soldiers and 9,000 foot soldiers laid siege to the Seljuk-held castle northeast of Antioch. He was opposed by Ridwan, the ruler of Aleppo and a force of comparable strength. Tancred successfully deceived the Muslims by feigning a retreat. The Muslims entered the crusader camp and were surprised by the hidden crusaders who killed most of them. In 1125 Baldwin II used the same method with success near Ascalon. William of Tyre describes how the king placed his troops in an ambush and then sent out some light cavalry "to rove here and there over the country in order to irritate the people of Ascalon and draw them out in pursuit."* Baybars made very effective use of deceptive tactics. On several occasions he employed deception to overcome exceptionally strong towns and fortresses: In 1266, in order to lull the large Templar garrison at Safed Castle into a state on unpreparedness, no easy task as they were well aware of his presence in the region and of his recent successes at Arsuf and Caesarea, the Mamluk sultan simultaneously attacked a number of places including Tyre, Sidon and Montfort. He apparently hoped that the Templars would believe him to be involved in other pursuits and that their time had not yet come, and it would seem that the deception worked, for when he suddenly dropped all other activities and appeared before the walls of Safed they were caught off guard. It nonetheless took him six weeks to bring the garrison to their knees, but this was still a remarkable achievement considering the size and complexity of Safed's fortifications. In 1268 he used the same tactic to take the well-defended city of Antioch, raiding Tripoli to the south and then cutting of aid and supplies to the city by attacking the Templar fortress of Darbsac (Trapasek) to the north and Saint Symeon on the coast. No less remarkable was his successful siege of Crac des Chevaliers, a fortress Saladin had shied away from in 1187 because of its size. By 1271 when Baybars arrived it was a far stronger castle with greatly augmented defences. Aware of this Baybars again made use of deceptive tactics. He made certain a forged letter, purportedly from the Hospitaller Grand Master, would fall into the hands of the besieged knights, ordering them to surrender. They took the bait and surrendered. At least they were spared the fate of the Templar garrison at Safed of whom nearly all had been slaughtered. In the same year the sultan sent a fleet to raid Cyprus just prior to commencing his successful siege of Montfort. Once again, as Christopher Marshall has pointed out, this was most likely done as a diversionary tactic and not in order to take the island.**


My chameleon friend's retreat was no diversionary tactic. It was very real. But perhaps the extremely slow movement that preceded his ignominious dash from the scene was a similar deceptive stratagem.



* William of Tyre, Chronicon, 13.17; Emily A. Babcock and A.C. Krey, trans., A History of Deeds Done Beyond the Sea, New York, 1943, vol. 2, p. 29.

** Christopher Marshall, Warfare in the Latin East, 1192-1291, Cambridge, 1992, pp. 203-4.

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