Decisions in Crisis

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 15)

Decisions in Crisis is a sociological analysis of two Israeli crises: the Six Day War (1967) and the Yom Kippur War (1973). The book attempts to answer certain questions. How did Israeli leaders make decisions under the stress induced by these crises? Does the way they made these decisions have a pattern? Does the pattern conform to what is already known about the behavior of national leaders in times of crisis? The book’s intent holds that a study of crises will lead to “more effective crisis-management in the future,” although it is fair to ask: for whom? The pro-Israeli bias of the book makes it clear that Israel is meant to learn these lessons at the expense of the Arab states.

In an introductory section, a national crisis is said to occur when key officials perceive an external threat to the lifeblood of their country. This threat is accompanied by the high probability of war. Moreover, key officials perceive that decisions during this crisis must be made under severe time pressures. Crises are divided into three periods: a pre-crisis, the crisis itself, and a post-crisis. The authors are interested in the reactions of national leaders to such crises: the relationships between the stress they experience, the way they cope, and the kinds of choices they make.

After establishing their analytic tools, the authors focus initially on the pre-crisis periods of the two wars. In the case of the Six Day War, the pre-crisis lasted from April 17 to May 16, 1967; in the case of the Yom Kippur War, the period lasted from September 13 to October 4, 1973. Both pre-crises are characterized “by the presence of a qualitative change in one perceptual condition—namely, threat.” In the case of the Six Day War, this threat was clearly evident to Levi Eshkol, the Prime Minister, to Moshe Dayan, later Minister of Defense, and to Abba Eban, the Minister for Foreign Affairs. So threatening did the Israelis find the situation, that the option to strike preemptively could not be ruled out. In the pre-crisis period of the Yom Kippur War, on the other hand, the Israelis—so decisively victorious during the Six Day War—nourished notions of invincibility and did not regard the Arab military threat as credible. Because of this myth, the Israelis had difficulty interpreting correctly “the abundant signals between September 26 and October 4 indicating the concerted Arab intent and growing capability to launch an attack.”

The crisis periods engage the authors’ attention next. These are initially characterized by the threat of imminent hostilities. In the Six Day War, the crisis lasted from May 17 to...

(The entire section is 1076 words.)