The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World 1948-1998
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- Item Weight : 1.05 pounds
- Paperback : 704 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0140288708
- ISBN-13 : 978-0140288704
- Product Dimensions : 5.08 x 1.18 x 7.8 inches
- Publisher : Penguin Books, Limited (UK) (February 12, 2004)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #4,099,733 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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People may unfarily brandish Avi Shlaim as a revionist historian in a negative sense: I would argue the opposite. Yes he is a revionist historian but in a positive sense. His writings are neither ideological or partial towards the Arabs and emotional. This book is the work of a realist who is fair, concise and factual. He adresses longstanding propagandised facts by adhering to the use of largely primary sources. He dispels the notion of "There is no one for Israel to talk to on the Arab side", "Israel is a david state while the Arabs are goliath" and "Israel best serves its security interests in the contemparary geo-political situation by using raw power as its basis for negotians". Revisionism is often far more reliable then historians from the time: They do not have the emotional and political connection to politics of the period rendering them more so impartial and factual then others.
Israel has a long history of creating facts on the ground to best suit the national interests of the Greater Israel ideolouge, however, Shlaim delves into the complezities of these factoids and discusses the power relationship between the Arabs and Israel in an inquisitive manner. He constantly brings up Israeli-American relations basing them on reality. American support for Israel is not 100%, as some will have you believe.
Unfortunately the book didn't delve into the political situation between Israel and Clintons America to an extenet which was necassary. It would have been a good use of an aditional 6-7 pagse if he adressed Clintons extentsion of domestic politics to foregin policy, which allowe AIAPAC to infaltrate congress and his government increassing the support for Israeli policy towards Palestine and the Arabs.
Altogether however it is one of the more interesting recollections and revisions of Israel history you will read- while at all time making good use of largely Israeli sources and primary sources.
It reaffirmed some of the conclusions I had come hold, while at the same time challenging others. This is the importance of this book. It doesn't take sides, and the author spreads the blame for the current (and the past) impasse on all sides. The fact is that there is more than enough blame to go around, but what was interesting was how so much of this conflict was due to nothing more than misunderstandings and each side's inability to view the situation from the other's perspective. So much of this conflict was perpetuated by nothing more than the ruling elites being forced into political and military blunders by domestic political situations. Whether it is Nasser's gross miscalculation in militarizing and closing off the Straits of Tiran to shore up his reputation in Egypt and the larger Arab world, or whether it was Peres' assassination of Yahya Ayyash to toughen up his reputation before Israeli elections, much of this conflict has its roots in bad decisions made by political elites in the hopes of retaining power.
Another reason this book struck me was the inherent weakness when it comes to Democratic states and diplomacy. For the two main democratic states in this story, Israel and the U.S., their policies varied wildly from one election to the next. This is very well illustrated by the Carter to Reagan to Bush administrations in the U.S., and is equally illustrated by the Rabin to Peres to Netanyahu in Israel. This schizophrenic diplomacy pursued by the democracies contrasts amazingly with the consistency of the regimes of Jordan and Syria, and magnifies the problems in dealing consistently with states whose foreign policy can change so dramatically every few years. I found this contrast to be enlightening and very informative of how and why this conflict has seen so many ups and downs over the years.
This is a very complex and convoluted issue, and any work that attempts to take an honest look at the issues and the history will be a help to any reader in making sense of this conflict. This book is that honest attempt, and that is why it is so important.
Top reviews from other countries
To start with, The Iron Wall is well written and engaging. While thorough, Shlaim never gets so bogged down in details he forgets to tell the story. And what a story it is! The Iron Wall covers the first 50 years of Israel's existance. From the ideological Zionist underpinnings of Ze'ev Jabotinsky and Theodor Herzl up to the fall of the Likud government in 1999, Shlaim is both thoroughly entertaining and informative in his unique way. Shlaim's approach for The Iron Wall - as stated explicitly by him in the Preface - is to employ an evaluative, as opposed to chronological, approach in writing about Israel's history. Compared to other history books I have read with hundreds of footnotes for each chapter, Shlaim uses relatively few secondary sources. So what we're left with is a highly judgemental work where we have to trust the author's judgment.
Fortunately for the reader, Shlaim's judgement is impeccable and consistently gives the impression of massive amounts of research underpinning his arguments. Like another reviewer, I throughly appreciate his use of primary sources in constructing this book. Most of the interviews were conducted in 1982 between various major political players of the time such as King Hussein of Jordan and the foreign ministers of various Arab countries. One of the interesting things about Israeli politics is the re-appearance of political actors after prolonged absences. Many of the people interviewed by Shlaim in 1982 make appearances both earlier and later in his book.
If there is any weakness in The Iron Wall, it would have to stem from its greatest strength - Shlaim's evaluative approach to history. There were times when I disagreed with his conclusions and wanted further information in order to make up my own mind on a given subject. In particular, I wanted to understand why the right wing coalition governments of the Likud acted as they did in specific circumstances. Shlaim presents most of the Likud prime ministers as ideological and dogmatic, and he provides convincing quotes and other supporting evidence to reinforce his opinions. Nevertheless, it would have been nice to see alternative points of view presented here that might have shown their actions in a more favorable light.
Like many an external observer, I find it frustrating to read about failed peace efforts between Israel and its neighbours. The Camp David Accords, the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty, Oslo and Oslo II are all-too-rare moments when the proponents of peace triumph over their opponents. War, instability, and hostility without mutual understanding, are far more common than peace in the Middle East. While at times difficult to read due to its subject matter, overall The Iron Wall stands tall: A fascinating work of scholarship on its own, The Iron Wall has only increased my desire to learn more about Israel and its Arab neighbours. 4/5