Ophir Falk
Ophir Falk

Back to Crisis Management 101

The first patient enrolled in Pfizer's COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine clinical trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, on May 4, 2020. (Courtesy of University of Maryland School of Medicine via AP, File)
The first patient enrolled in Pfizer's COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine clinical trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, on May 4, 2020. (Courtesy of University of Maryland School of Medicine via AP, File)

Thousands of decisions were taken since the onset of COVID-19 in January 2020. Hundreds of those decisions were wrong. Lack or flawed information and deficient data, coupled with the need for urgent lifesaving decisions, generally increase incorrect decisions during crisis situations. Three key decisions differentiated Israel from the rest of the world and helped it come out of the pandemic’s first and most challenging waves before all others:

  1. Israel identified the crisis as such as soon as possible and acted accordingly. Depicting a situation as a crisis when it is not can wreak social and economic havoc, while unwarranted dismissal can bring about worse economic ramifications and a painful death toll.

The coronavirus crisis was initially derisively dismissed as a mild flu by many in the media and political opposition. “The situation is being grossly exaggerated as a global crisis,” the commentators said, “by a Prime Minister trying to divert public attention from his legal predicament”.

Today, most understand that COVID-19, especially its first wave, was one of the most challenging pandemics in modern history.

Numerous countries failed to identify the crisis in time to prevent overwhelming of their health systems. Italy, France, Germany, Spain and Britain faced widespread infection and tens of thousands of fatalities.

Israel was fortunately one of the first countries to stop incoming flights from China on January 26, 2020. Stopping all inbound air traffic followed. This was perhaps the most important decision made during the crisis. It saved thousands of lives.

The current government did not identify the COVID variant crisis until it was too late and has yet to stop any incoming flights, costing many lives.

  1. Israel chose the best possible countermeasure to confront the crisis. It assertively pursued and secured vaccines for its entire population before anyone else. Few leaders understood the urgency of the vaccines at the time, trying to negotiate better deals with pharmaceutical companies. Others disregarded the vaccines’ importance altogether. Israel’s previous government saw the big picture and put its citizens’ lives above all other considerations. The opposition leader at the time dismissed the achievement as fake news saying that other countries will receive the vaccines before Israel and that no more than a “box of five” vaccines would actually arrive in the Jewish state. Other politicians warned of vaccine side-effects or questioned its significance. None of these “leaders”, including the current Foreign Minister, Finance Minister and the six-seated Prime Minister, made any effort to convince the public to get vaccinated. The current government reluctantly adopted the vaccines solution but waited 7 costly weeks to do so. This delay has cost many lives.
  2. Israel effectively vaccinated the lion’s share of its population at record speed.   Over 4.5 million people, about 75% of Israel’s adult population, were vaccinated before any other country. Widespread public trust enabled such an achievement. When it came to life or death, even the black-flagged protestors who took to the bridges and swept through the streets during the height of the pandemic, put their trust in the previous government and got vaccinated after seeing their long-serving Prime Minister do so first. The public got vaccinated despite the ridicule raised by opposition leaders who questioned the wisdom and effectiveness of vaccination, and by doing so prevented thousands of potentially lost lives in subsequent waves.

The current Prime Minister enjoys less than 5% of the popular vote lacks legitimacy and influence. That may explain the much lower rate of vaccination during the current wave.

When the new government in Israel was formed on June 13, 2021, there were virtually no listed COVID 19 cases in Israel. Today there are over 10,000 new cases. Daily.

449 Israelis have died from Covid-19 this month.

The abundance of COVID-19 information makes the new government’s colossal failure in the three key categories mentioned above even more appalling. Despite a banal booklet written for Bennett, on “how to beat a plague” (which peculiarly omits mention of vaccines), the sitting Prime Minister seems lost. He ignored early warning and failed to identify the COVID-19 variant in time, enabling thousands of Delta carriers to enter Israel. He failed to provide the vaccine in a timely manner, waiting seven costly weeks for bureaucratic approval. Above all, his failure to secure public confidence in his leadership or candor is most telling. These failures have cost hundreds of lives.

Despite Bennett’s failures, Israel is fortunate to be the most vaccinated country in the world and will hopefully be saved from a more catastrophic number of fatalities compared to unvaccinated countries.

Three months ago, Israel was a guiding light onto the nations. Leaders from across the globe consulted with its Prime Minister on how to save their people. Israel was at the top of all leading international crisis management ranking indices. Today, Israel is twenty times worse than Italy on the same indices and is asking the Palestinian Authority for firetrucks to help put out forest fires on the hills of Jerusalem.

A cardinal principle of navigation and crisis management is: when lost – identify the last point of orientation. That point was when Israel had a legitimate Prime Minister and a responsible government.

* The writer is a research fellow at ICT, taught Crisis Management at the Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya and is the Founder of Acumen Risk Ltd. The opinions expressed here are his own.

About the Author
Ophir Falk is the author of Targeted Killings, Law and Counter-Terrorism Effectiveness, a research fellow at the International Counterterrorism Institute (ICT), and a founder of Acumen Risk, Ltd.
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