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David Hirst, a former Middle East correspondent of the Guardian, has written a superb history of Lebanon's involuntary role in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The first half of the book is mostly a detailed examination of Israeli-Lebanese relations from the early days of Zionist settlement in the 1920s until the 1982 Israeli invasion. For Hirst, force has been a cardinal principle in establishing the Zionist state, combined with ambitions to establish a friendly Christian-Lebanese dominated client state in Lebanon.

Israel's overt motive to invade in 1982 was to secure its northern settlements from Palestinian rocket attack. But, infuriatingly, the PLO's strict observance of a ceasefire, despite Israeli attempts to provoke a breach, and strenuous international efforts to mediate a resolution on the border, gave lie to this.

The war was an imperial venture, with stupendous ambitions: under the auspices of its then defence minister Ariel Sharon (`described `as a war looking for a place to happen') Israel sought to refashion Lebanon as a Christian-dominated client-state, destroy the PLO (and by extension break the will of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories to resist) and deport Palestinians en masse to Jordan, whereby it would become `the Republic of Palestine.' Thus the Palestinians would have their `state' and Israel's supremacy over the Occupied Territories be assured.

The plan ended in failure, but not before the grisly massacres at Sabra and Shatila, perpetuated by Israel's Christian allies, with Israeli connivance. The PLO was evicted from the country but replaced by an even more implacable foe: Hizbollah, a movement which went on to inflict on the Israel what no Arab army had ever been able to do: defeat.

The rest of the book mostly discusses the relationship of Shiite-dominated and Islamist Hizbollah to Lebanon's other principal groups (Christians, Druze and Sunni Muslims), its Iranian and Syrian sponsors, and, of course, its arch-adversary, Israel, right up to the present.

Hizbollah was founded on two pillars: first, as a Lebanese nationalist-resistance movement against Israeli occupation, second, as Jihadist movement, pledged to Israel's ultimate destruction (not just ending its occupation of the Palestinian Territories). Its first pillar has commanded widespread assent from Lebanese of all communal stripes but its second does not. Outside its core Shiite support, and its patron, Iran, broader Jihadist ambitions are not shared by Lebanon's Sunnis, still less its Christians. Both groups inclined to view Hizbollah's links with Iran and Syria with suspicion, and a fear of being caught in between the crossfire in a proxy war.

The movement was Iranian-inspired and sponsored but essentially home grown. Its rise mirrored the eclipse of secular, leftist nationalist ideologies and the emergence of radical, fundamental Islamist ideologies throughout the Middle East as challenges to the received order - compare Hamas' rise against an increasingly enfeebled PLO. Syria and Iran are in cahoots with it but with different aims: Syria's confined to realpolitik (getting the Golan back) while Iran's have been ideological and much more ambitious, of the Jihadist sort.

The narrative brings us to the 2006 Israel-Hizbollah war and the 2009 Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. The 2006 war is seen by Hirst as a failed proxy war against Iran: the next war, the seventh Arab-Israeli (or Arab/Persian-Israeli) war, is not a question of if, but when.

These complexities are laid bare with commensurate skill. Hirst sets out the perspectives of the Lebanese participants with forensic precision and clarity (the chapter on the expulsion of the Syrian army from Lebanon in 2005 and the country's Cedar Revolution is a brilliant exposition which sets out precisely the issues at stake for all parties).

The book does, however, have some limitations.

First, the book is less a history of Lebanon but more of an historical analysis of outside powers' (especially Israel's)interference. There is little space is allocated to the origins and course of the long civil war from 1976 to 1990. It doesn't tell you anything about the origins of the communal divisions that have so blighted the country and allowed outsiders to interfere.

Second, his access to Israeli documents allows him to build up a comprehensive picture of Israel's motivations and actions. But this is not the case for its opponents. So their motivations are not well-treated or exposed to the same level of forensic analysis as Israel's. While Israeli influence has been baleful, it does not follow that Iranian/Syrian/Hizbollah designs on the country are any more benign in intent than Israel's.

Third, he anticipates that the future history of the Middle East will be defined as a struggle between the US, Israel and its `moderate' Arab allies on the one hand and Islamic-nationalist movements like Hamas, Hizbollah and `radical' states like Syria and Iran on the other. This master-narrative is too schematic. The Arab Spring, affecting `radical' anti-Israeli and `moderate' pro-American regimes alike, shows that Israel-Palestine is not the only major fault line in the region.

On a minor point, Hirst also refrains from offering any anecdotes relating to his own fifty-year residence in the country (including surviving a kidnap attempt) which is a shame, for surely this would add extra human interest to the book. But neither the book's narrative pace nor readability suffer on account of this omission.

These qualifications aside, I can still wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of the modern Middle East and the Arab-Israeli conflict. If you are remotely interested in these subjects, then get hold of this book.
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VINE VOICEon 22 August 2011
A wide-ranging, balanced and thoughtful account of modern Lebanon with its focus squarely on the wider regional conflicts that have interacted in such complex and often violent ways with the country's own competing sectarian identities.

David Hirst's style is dispassionate and understated. He is an old school journalist light years away from pumped-up personal anecdotes and overegged "scoops", a humble and even quiet man whose reports in the Guardian have contained genuine insight and sure-grounded analysis.

It is unsettling, therefore, that such a distinguished journalist, who has covered the region for half a century should end his book with pessimism that the regional conflict, centred on Israel and the Palestinians, can be resolved peacefully.
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on 6 August 2012
The Guardians former Middle East correspondent and long term resident of Beirut (kidnapped twice) has penned a fine book telling the story of Lebanons role (putting the occupied territories to one side) as the main battleground of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The book begins with an overview of the period from 1860 to 1923, from the Ottoman period to the point where an enlarged Lebanon was carved out of Greater Syria by the French, this after the Arab provinces of the now deceased Ottoman Empire had been divided between the French and the British, with Palestine being simultaneously pledged to the Arabs and the Zionists. This was a crucial point in the regions history that set the context within which conflict was to flourish for the rest of the century and beyond.

Hirst paints a picture of Lebanon, its social-economic and ethnic-religious divisions and its sectarian democracy, before inevitably having to cross borders and examine events in neighbouring states: the rise of Arab Nationalism, the Zionist projects endevours in Mandatory Palestine and the Arab resistance to this (culminating in the Arab Revolt of 1936-39), the breakdown of British rule in Palestine and the subsequent conflict between the Zionists and the Arabs that brought Israel into existance, and a large number of Palestinian refugees into Lebanon upsetting the finely balanced ethnic and religious demography. This is followed by war after war after war including the decade and a half of civil war within Lebanon itself which its two neighbours, Syria and Israel extensively participated in, the former "invited" the latter invading first in the 1970's, then catastrophically in 1982 after which they occupied areas of the country until finally driven out by Hizbullah in 2000.

This is all competently done, written clearly and marshalling the facts in a comprehensible manner. Despite this I couldn't help thinking that this had been done before and done better in Robert Fisks monumental Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War. It wasnt until its last third, the period taking the reader from the end of the Civil War 1990 to the point of publication in 2010, that "Beware of Small States" really impressed me.

The focus is then turned on Hizbullah (The Party of God). Hirst covers its development from an offshoot of the broadly secular but Shiite Amal movement to being the largest militia (and political party) in Lebanon. Its links with the Iranians and Syrians are also examined, though Hirst (along with many other commentators) regards them as being essentially indigenous to Lebanon, particularly the amongst poor Shiite of the rural South and Beruit. Both areas and their inhabitants have been on the recieving end of the violence Israel continually dispenses in order to attain its political goals (aka Terrorism).

Hirst's acccount of Hizbullahs growing ability to resist the Israeli occupation of 1982-2000 is excellent, and one is hard pressed not to feel a degree of admiration for the fighters of Hizbullah who eventually drove the Israelis out. After the freeing South Lebanon the story branches out to deal with Hizbullahs post-liberation dilemas and developments, Syrias increasingly contested role in Lebanon including the assassination of Rafiq Hariri and the so-called "Cedar" Revolution, the presence of outside powers (never really absent throughout the story) including Iran, France and the United States further complicate matters. All this culminates in the brutal Israeli attack on Lebanon (after a Hizbullah raid over the border into Israel resulted in the deaths of Israeli soldiers and the capture of two others) in 2006 which Hirst ably deals with, accounting for the actions of the various participants, directly and indirectly, in order to render a full and comprehensible account.

"Beware of Small States" is a welcome addition to an already crowded field. Within its 400 pages it provides a well written and straightforward account of the Arab-Israeli conflict as it effected Lebanon. Developments in the Middle East as a whole (particularly occupied Palestine, Syria and Israel) and beyond are never absent, and keep the reader informed, far more than ought to be practical in a book focussed on Lebanon, of the conflict in its entirety. Other books that might be of interest are Hirsts own The Gun and the Olive Branch which is a general history of the conflict up until its last revision in 2003; and Robert Fisks exemplary work Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War that details Lebanons ordeal up to the end of the Civil War in 1990, with additional chapters in the 2001 edition bringing the story up to the Israeli withdrawl of 2000.
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on 24 September 2015
For readability, I would give it a five out of ten; for balance, a three. I always pictured myself on the opposite side of the debate to Israel, given the hopeless mess they made of both the Palestinian question and their relationship with Lebanon, from the mid fifties onwards; but Hirst's account is so hopelessly slanted against the old enemy that you do sometimes feel that you are listening to a beautifully constructed, impassioned sixth form debate, and little more. If you are looking for a piece of polemic, read it. If you adore the Guardian, you will adore it (see the reviewers below). But if you want to glean the history of Lebanon (and Beirut), you would be better of reading "Levant", "A House of Many Mansions" and "A Line In The Sand". You will finish all three together before you manage to wade through Hirst's book.
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on 19 November 2012
A brave and brilliant attempt to explain one of the most socially and historically complicated nations and it's many conflicts and invasions over the past 150 years.

Despite being extremely well written, there is no dumbing down or over simplification here just an amazing complex story which verges from farce to nightmare and back again. It's also an immensely sad tale of several groups of people attempting to share a small state whilst bigger much more powerful states interfere at will. If you're a fan of France, Syria or Israel there is much for you to explain and excuse here!

I can't recommend this book highly enough - or adequately express my admiration for the author - the truly Herculean task of writing a good general history of the Lebanon for the general reader has been accomplished!
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on 12 January 2012
This is one of the best books ever written about the Middle East, along with Hirst's previous book, The gun and the olive branch: the roots of violence in the Middle East, (Faber and Faber, 3rd edition, 2003).

The US state is trying to impose a new order on the Middle East. The USA, allied with the Israeli state, is scheming to defeat, break up and weaken Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Iran. This is in line with Norman Podhoretz's advice urging Israel and the USA to wage `World War Four' against `militant Islam'.

Frontal assaults by the USA on Iraq and by Israel on Lebanon (1982 and 2006) failed, so the USA and Israel have turned to using subversion against Libya and Syria, hiring fundamentalists to attack these relatively secular states. Israel is also using terrorism against Iran.

In October 2008, General Eisenkot, commander of Israel's northern front, called for the army to use `disproportionate power' for `harming the population', openly proclaiming the intent to commit war crimes. On 4 November 2008, Israeli forces carried out a raid on Gaza, killing six people, provoking a Hamas response. Israel then attacked Gaza, killing 1,330 people, including 410 children, for the loss of only 13 Israeli soldiers.

Peace Now, including Amos Oz, backed Israel's wars against Lebanon and Gaza. The Knesset voted to ban Israel's three Arab parties from general elections.

All the Middle East's problems are linked to Palestine. Only the two-state solution will bring peace to the Middle East. Palestine means peace.
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on 26 October 2013
this is my tenth book about middle east. i am really obliged to send my gratitude to the author who portrayed the vivid picture of the atrocities in Lebanon.
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on 28 September 2014
Great book for anyone who wants to find out more about the Lebanon, Palestine and the Arab World. The first 100 pages are a bit heavy going (Isreali foreign policy) but this book is a great read.
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on 1 October 2012
I'm a huge fan of David Hirst. I believe he is, quite simply, the best journalist writing in English on the Middle East. His earlier book on the Palestinian struggle, 'The Gun and the Olive Branch', is my personal favourite among the many books I have read on Middle East history.

This book is also highly recommended. It is beautifully written, and despite the often depressing nature of the subject under discussion, it's a real page turner. Anyone who wants to understand Lebanon - how it got to where it is today, and where it is likely to go in the future - needs to read this book. It is indispensable.
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on 13 September 2014
excellent condition thanks!!
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