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4.0 out of 5 stars
4.0 out of 5 stars

on 3 April 2012
This is a new volume of essays on the June 1967 Arab-Israeli War, each one written by a specialist in his/her field.

How much new is there to say about the June 1967 Arab-Israeli War? Well, judging by this collection of essays the answer is not a great deal about the war itself. The new and interesting stuff relates more to the impact on Arab politics.

Avi Shlaim deals with Israel. Shlaim is intent, perhaps too intent, to stress that, for Israel, the war was not a war of choice nor was there an Israeli plot to cause a war whereby they could grab territory. However, once war started, the Israelis took the opportunity to grab territory. Shlaim is less than convincing in some of the evidence he presents in that he can find no evidence for a plan to grab territory and seems to not consider the possibility that, in the minds of Israeli soldiers, especially, and politicians there was a `default understanding' of the naturally defensible borders of Israel.

Laura James surveys Egypt. She shows a state in confusion with competing power centres and powerful individuals leading to discordant decision making. This, as opposed to Nasser's famous brinkmanship, is what she sees as the key feature of Egypt leading to the war.

David Lesch looks at Syria with its neo-Ba'th regime and its quite reckless radicalism that was guaranteed to provoke Israel. Still, it's quite clear that Syria didn't want a war and it seems quite possible that the Syrian regime believed that the USSR would protect it.

Avi Shlaim examines Jordan. King Hussein had been backed into a corner by the Israeli raid on Samu and felt desperate enough to join the Arab Regional Command and put an Egyptian general in command of the Jordanian armed forces when Hussein had only recently been goading Nasser. The interesting thing here is how close the Jordanian regime came to collapse but then, ironically, became stronger as a result of the defeat.

Wendy Pearlman investigates the Palestinian movement. Before 1967, the Arab regimes had dominated the Palestinian movement and held it in check - with the partial exception of Syria - but the defeat of the regimes liberated the Palestinian movement who now, primarily through Fatah and the PLO, set the Palestinian agenda which the Arab regimes were obliged to support until Black September.

Thus far, I didn't find that I learned anything new. The more obscure issues were more interesting.

Eugene Rogan and Tewfik Aclimanados look at Egypt's war in Yemen and how this left Egypt weak economically and militarily. A third of the Egyptian army was in Yemen and the war created disunity in the Arab world.

Charles Smith examines the USA's role. Smith seems to accept a view that the US government believed that it was Israel that threatened stability in the Middle East and yet all the evidence he presents contradicts that. Smith shows that Johnson was keen to protect Israel. Smith does mention the Israeli desire to stymie an Egyptian diplomatic mission to the USA by launching war when they did.....something Shlaim neglects to cite.

Rami Ginat investigates the USSR. Ginat shows conclusively that the USSR was not trying to cause a war in the region - just the opposite, the USSR was seeking means to control its radical ally in Syria. Ginat confirms a view of the USSR as a conservative imperial power as opposed to a driver of radicalism and revolution.

Wm. Roger Louis looks at Britain. I was surprised to discover how intensely Zionist some leading UK politicians, like Tony Crossman and Harold Wilson, were. Britain's decline as an imperial power is illustrated neatly: at the start of the crisis, the British cabinet considers launching a re-run of Suez, moves to a position of doing nothing and finishes with Lord Caradon's deliberately vague wording in UN Resolution 242.

Jean-Pierre Filiu regards France. France continued to supply Israel with arms during the war but advocated a neutral position which Israel viewed as betrayal. De Gaulle seems to have been motivated by using French leverage to prevent a super-power confrontation. Filiu shows that France's so-called pro-Arab policy came later after the 1973 war.

The two most interesting articles are the last two which challenge received wisdom.

Rashid Khalidi challenges the notion that the 1967 defeat marked the end of Pan-Arab nationalism. He argues that it was in decline before this and demonstrates his case with evidence of Pan-Arabism being used as a nation-state nationalism by Egypt, Syria and the Palestinian movement before 1967. Khalidi points to the end of the UAR and the failed Egypt-Syria-Iraq union on 1963 as being far more important reasons for the demise of Pan-Arabism.

Fawaz Gerges follows this with an investigation into the rise of Islamism and the decline of Arabism and points out that the key factor in the change was not the 1967 defeat but the accession of Anwar Sadat to the Egyptian presidency, Sadat's turn to the right and his alliance with Islamists as he sought to build a new ideological alternative to Nasserism and allied himself with Saudi oil wealth. The radical Islamists who assassinated Sadat now regret their actions and regard Sadat as a martyr.

I suspect that there is now nothing new to say about 1967 and that the interesting stuff lies elsewhere. For example, for a book which examines the consequences of the 1967 war, I would have liked to see an examination of the so-called `Three Nos' of the Khartoum Resolution.
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