When the Yom Kippur War Broke Out, Two Psychologists Rushed to the Frontlines

In 1969, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky—both professors of psychology at Hebrew University—began an enduring collaboration (and close friendship) that would lead them to do pioneering research in understanding how people process information to make decisions. Kahneman eventually won a Nobel Prize for his work, which Tversky probably would have shared had he not died a few years beforehand. When the Yom Kippur War began in 1973, the pair immediately made their way from California to Israel, where they reported for duty at the IDF’s “psychology field unit.” Not content to sit in an office devising questionnaires, the pair grabbed rifles, jumped on a jeep, and set off for the Sinai Peninsula. Michael Lewis describes some of what they did there:

Danny [Kahneman] . . . had a gift for finding solutions to problems where others failed even to notice that there was a problem to solve. As they sped toward the front lines, Danny noticed the huge piles of garbage on the roadsides: the leftovers from the canned meals supplied by the U.S. Army. He examined what the soldiers had eaten and what they had thrown out. (They liked the canned grapefruit.) His subsequent recommendation that the Israeli army analyze the garbage and supply the soldiers with what they actually wanted made newspaper headlines. . . .

He also somehow found his way to the Israeli Air Force. Fighter pilots were also dying in unprecedented numbers because of Egypt’s use of new and improved surface-to-air missiles provided by the Soviet Union. One squadron had suffered especially horrific losses. The general in charge wanted to investigate, and possibly punish, the unit. . . .

Danny explained to the general that he had a sample-size problem: the losses experienced by the supposedly inept fighter squadron could have occurred by random chance alone. If he investigated the unit, he would no doubt find patterns in behavior that might serve as an explanation. Perhaps the pilots in that squadron had paid more visits to their families, or maybe they wore funny-colored underpants. Whatever he found would be a meaningless illusion, however. There weren’t enough pilots in the squadron to achieve statistical significance. On top of it, an investigation, implying blame, would be horrible for morale. The only point of an inquiry would be to preserve the general’s feelings of omnipotence. The general listened to Danny and stopped the inquiry. “I have considered that my only contribution to the war effort,” said Danny.

Read more at Vanity Fair

More about: IDF, Israel & Zionism, Psychology, Science, Yom Kippur War

Would an American-Backed UN Resolution Calling for a Temporary Ceasefire Undermine Israel?

Yesterday morning, the U.S. vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution, sponsored by Algeria, that demanded an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. As an alternative, the American delegation has been circulating a draft resolution calling for a “temporary ceasefire in Gaza as soon as practicable, based on the formula of all hostages being released.” Benny Avni comments:

While the Israel Defense Force may be able to maintain its Gaza operations under that provision, the U.S.-proposed resolution also warns the military against proceeding with its plan to enter the southern Gaza town of Rafah. Israel says that a critical number of Hamas fighters are hiding inside tunnels and in civilian buildings at Rafah, surrounded by a number of the remaining 134 hostages.

In one paragraph, the text of the new American resolution says that the council “determines that under current circumstances a major ground offensive into Rafah would result in further harm to civilians and their further displacement including potentially into neighboring countries, which would have serious implications for regional peace and security, and therefore underscores that such a major ground offensive should not proceed under current circumstances.”

In addition to the paragraph about Rafah, the American-proposed resolution is admonishing Israel not to create a buffer zone inside Gaza. Such a narrow zone, as wide as two miles, is seen by many Israelis as a future protection against infiltration from Gaza.

Perhaps, as Robert Satloff argues, the resolution isn’t intended to forestall an IDF operation in Rafah, but only—consistent with prior statements from the Biden administration—to demand that Israel come up with a plan to move civilians out of harms way before advancing on the city.

If that is so, the resolution wouldn’t change much if passed. But why is the U.S. proposing an alternative ceasefire resolution at all? Strategically, Washington has nothing to gain from stopping Israel, its ally, from achieving a complete victory over Hamas. Why not instead pass a resolution condemning Hamas (something the Security Council has not done), calling for the release of hostages, and demanding that Qatar and Iran stop providing the group with arms and funds? Better yet, demand that these two countries—along with Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon—arrest Hamas leaders on their territory.

Surely Russia would veto such a resolution, but still, why not go on the offensive, rather than trying to come up with another UN resolution aimed at restraining Israel?

Read more at New York Sun

More about: Gaza War 2023, U.S.-Israel relationship, United Nations