Israel Since the Six-Day War
By Leslie Stein
Polity, 441 pp.
The recent Hamas-initiated spate of violence in Gaza coupled with the gruesome murder-kidnapping of three Israeli teens by Hamas terrorists in the Judea district has once again brought the Arab-Israeli conflict to the forefront and served to further underscore the violent and nefarious nature of Palestinian rejectionism. One thing that all parties to the Arab-Israeli conflict would agree upon is that there is no shortage of experts willing to express their views on the subject and no shortage of books covering the topic. Many of these books lack any meaningful insight or context or are marked by shoddy scholarship while others are so laced with bias that they read more like banal apparatchik propaganda and impart little if any understanding of the subject.
This, fortunately, is not the case for Leslie Stein’s scholarly work, Israel Since the Six-Day War. This meticulously sourced book represents the last and final chapter of a trilogy of books he authored, the first covering Israel’s formative pre-state years and the second, encompassing the period from Israel’s War of Independence until shortly after the Six-Day War. His latest book does not disappoint and should be mandatory reading for university students, academics, politicians or anyone wishing to gain an insightful understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict and its political machinations and military dimensions.
For those not privy to his previous books, Stein provides the reader with a brief but detailed history of the conflict up to and including the Six-Day War. In addition to providing excellent analysis of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the book also offers analysis and insight into Israel’s political system, its economic growth and successful efforts at integrating various disparate groups, including Russians, Ethiopians and Israeli Arabs, into Israeli society.
Stein offers a comprehensive review of Israel’s wars and major military engagements since 1967, up to and including Israel’s naval interception of the Mavi Marmara in 2010. Inexplicably however, there is no mention of Operation Orchard, Israel’s successful 2007 strike against a Syrian nuclear bomb-making facility in the Deir ez-Zor region. The strike takes on added significance in light of Assad’s liberal use of WMDs against his own people and the emergence of ISIS and other extremist Islamist groups wishing to inflict mass casualties.
Of particular interest is Stein’s exceptional analysis of the Oslo Accords and its ultimate demise. In 1993, Israel and the PLO, with much pomp and ceremony, signed the Declaration of Principles on the White House lawn. The agreement was designed to be a blueprint for placing the respective parties on the path toward peaceful resolution of all outstanding issues and Arafat was to make a speech in front of numerous world dignitaries where he was to forswear terrorism and wanton acts of violence. The speech, however, was disappointingly devoid of any such reference.
Moreover, Stein sardonically notes that the very day that Arafat “was performing his role as peace-maker and basking in the adoration of politicians and the world media” he issued a prerecorded message in Jordan informing his Arab audience that he had “just accomplished the first step in the PLO’s 1974 plan of dismantling Israel by stages.” Arafat repeated this pernicious theme a few months later when during an off-the-record talk at a Johannesburg mosque, he compared the PLO’s agreement with Israel to Mohammed’s 10-year treaty with the Quraish tribe. Two years later, after achieving military parity, Mohammed abrogated the treaty and vanquished the Quraish.
Stein characterizes Arafat as duplicitous, conniving and malevolent and places the collapse of the Oslo Accords and the conflagration that followed largely on his shoulders. His successor, Mahmoud Abbas, whom Stein describes as a man “who unjustifiably acquired the reputation of being a moderate” does not fare much better.
In meticulous fashion, Stein spells out the repeated and egregious PLO violations of the Accords. For example the agreement specified that the PLO was to have a force no larger than 9,000 troops and its weapons were limited to automatic rifles. However, the force swelled to 30,000 and then 50,000. PLO apparatchiks took advantage of their VIP status to smuggle weapons outlawed under Oslo, such as Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs), anti-tank missiles and anti-aircraft guns.
Moreover, the agreement stipulated that the PLO was required to amend its charter and remove portions calling for Israel’s destruction, curb anti-Israel and often times, anti-Semitic incitement and institute measures to suppress terrorism. Needless to say, the PLO failed to live up to its obligations.
Stein is also critical of Israel’s elder statesman, Shimon Peres, hailed as the architect of Oslo, as well as those on the far left for failing to recognize and take action against blatant PLO violations of executed agreements. He also takes them to task for stubbornly clinging to preconceived notions about the peace process and foolishly engaging in wishful thinking. A sort of cognitive dissonance took hold, with Peres and co. unable to countenance any doubts about the wisdom of the entire process. Arafat’s Oslo indiscretions, both major and minor, were routinely overlooked and ignored while Israeli authorities, hoping that goodwill gestures would be met by the same, continued making unilateral concessions while failing to enforce reciprocity. So delusional was Peres that even when confronted with documented proof of Arafat’s involvement with terror, he was largely dismissive of the accusation.
Stein likens Israel’s ostrich-like stance during the Oslo years to its stubbornly held beliefs in connection with the Arab ability and willingness to wage war just prior to the outbreak of hostilities in October 1973. There to, despite the obvious signs of impending war, Israeli leaders stubbornly clung to preconceived notions which led to the army’s woeful unpreparedness when a two-front war finally erupted. While Israel won that war, many lives would have been saved had Israel been more prudent and taken proactive measures in response to the obvious writing on the wall. Similarly, by the time Israel finally put Oslo to rest and initiated a concerted and successful effort against Palestinian terrorism, Arafat’s war had claimed the lives of 1009 Israelis, 78% of whom were civilians.
Stein also takes a swipe at the United Nations, which he regards as today’s modern day purveyor of anti-Israelism and astutely characterizes the body of being co-opted by Muslim nations and their allies. He accuses the body of exercising hypocrisy in the extreme when it comes to Israel, providing ample examples of the damning charge. He also puts the lie to the spurious and malevolent claim leveled by Israel’s shrillest and often times anti-Semitic critics that Israel is an “Apartheid state.” Drawing on a multitude of examples, he dispatches with the canard piecemeal and nothing underscores the point better than the criminal case of Israel’s former disgraced president, Moshe Katzav, who is currently serving a seven-year sentence for sexual assault.
Katzav’s case wound its way before Israel’s High Court of Justice (the equivalent of the United States Supreme Court) where a three-judge panel found him guilty. Salim Joubran, an Israeli Arab, was one of the court’s panel members. It would have been unthinkable for there to have been a judge of color sitting on the highest court during Apartheid-era South Africa let alone one capable of sentencing South Africa’s Afrikaner president to a lengthy prison term.
Stein concludes his book by taking a dim view of the prospects for peace with the Palestinians. Palestinian intransigence and the Palestinian Authority’s inability to countenance two states – Jewish and Arab – for two peoples remains the primary stumbling block. Adding to the complication is the extremist ISIS-like group Hamas, which commands a wide following among Palestinians in Gaza and Judea and Samaria. As for Abbas, even if he was willing, his ability to conclude a deal remains remote given his weak stature and lack of a mandate.
Stein takes an equally stoic view of Iran and its nuclear ambitions. He notes that by now it should be clear that the Obama administration is unwilling to take the decisive steps necessary to thwart the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions and an Israeli strike is unlikely to set back the clock in any meaningful way. Stein therefore concludes that in the absence of a credible American threat, a nuclear Iran is a foregone conclusion.
On Israel itself, Stein remains upbeat and optimistic. He notes that while the world experienced economic malaise during the global economic crisis of 2009-12, Israel’s GDP exceeded that of all other OECD nations. By every metric gauging economic growth – GDP, employment statistics and personal incomes – Israel continues to be among the Western world’s leaders. It maintains excellent educational and healthcare systems with modern and up-to-date infrastructure and has “all the trimmings of an affluent society.”
Socially too, Stein concludes that the outlook appears rosy. Despite the disparate nature of its population, nearly 93% of Israeli Jews noted that they were proud of their Israeli nationality and a Gallup poll ranked Israel 7th in terms of happiness. Israel’s enemies tend to dwell on claims of sagging Israeli morale and general sense of malaise. The hard empirical data suggests that nothing could be further from the truth. In point of fact, while Israel’s enemies continue their precipitous descent into blackness and medieval backwardness, Israel continues to grow stronger militarily, economically and socially.
Stein’s masterful account of Israel’s history since the Six-Day War is well worth reading. Novices wishing to get a firmer understanding of the complexities of the Arab-Israeli conflict as well as those well versed in the subject stand to gain immeasurably by adding this well-researched, scholarly text to their collections.
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