At the conclusion of its October 1973 war with Egypt and Syria, Israel's forces stood on the west bank of the Suez with very little opposition between them and Cairo; and Israeli artillery in the north could reach Damascus. In reaction, the Egyptians were frantically calling for American political intercession and the Syrians for Soviet military intervention. It was, as one of the authors of this anthology observed, a war the Israelis should have remembered with "satisfaction and pride." Why then does Kumaraswamy depict this war as "the most traumatic phase in Israel's history," or Efraim Karsh write in the preface that "Israel was profoundly humbled"?

Here lies the central question that Kumaraswamy and nine contributors seek to answer. They candidly explain why easy victories are almost as deadly to national psyche as shattering defeats. The overwhelming Israeli victory of 1967 had created a euphoria that lasted too long and hindered a pragmatic re-evaluation. It spawned Israeli expectations of another short and not-bloody war, something that could not be realized against the revitalized and heavily armed Egyptian and Syrian forces. Israeli over-reliance on the air force led to operational planning and doctrine problems., Excessive faith in the rapid mobilization of "citizen-soldier" reserves hid what were "administrative shambles." Their technological superiority meant a failure to maintain the regular army foot soldiers and artillery. A preconceived version of Egyptian capabilities (low) and intentions (cautious), founded more on hubris and broad brush stereotyping than reality, led to intelligence failure: what did not fit the acceptable mold was disregarded, to the point that even a warning by King Husayn to Golda Meir had no appreciable effect.

Simcha Dinitz, then Israeli ambassador to the United States, relates the bureaucratic struggles within the Nixon administration to initiate the massive American airlift of war materiel to the Israelis, an undertaking Israelis have been reluctant to include as critical in their success. Galia Golan notes that the USSR confined itself to threats and political bluster and was not, as conventional wisdom held, ready to intervene with military forces.

In the decisive phase of the war, as a paralyzed Israeli leadership pleaded for American aid and the top military command issued contradictory and confusing orders, it was the Israeli junior officers and field commanders on their own initiative who took the war to the rigidly structured and centrally directed Arab forces—once again illustrating a democratic society's weaknesses and compensating strengths.