26th August 2005, 01:02
Israel's Wars- A History Since 1947 (Ahron Bregman)
That the book's author is Jewish was a fact that did not go past me. Virtually any book written by the conflict's main protagonists takes an absolutist stand. I tend to choose carefully where the Israeli-Palestinian topic is discussed.
Ahron Bregman doesn't disappoint. I've always been a nut for military history, and Bregman delivers on all the specifics of the brush-ups that Israel has had with her neighbors. From the size of the infantry brigades, to the types of tanks used; from the range of artillery pieces, to the rifles used. The author's detailed plotting is breathtaking and eye-popping.
Because technical details are dealt with here, the David vs Goliath myth that Israel tries to project on its confrontation with six Arab armies in 1948 is quickly dispelled.
The root of this popular, though utterly erroneous, notion lay in the Israeli practice of referring to the potential of the Arabs rather than to the actual number of troops they put into the field. 
The Arabs had roughly 23,500 troops at the beginning of the war, while Israel had 29,677. But then, with the progressive mobilization of Israeli society and the steep influx of new immigrants, Israel had a standing army of 108,300 troops by December of that year.
Bregman follows a chronological order of events, with intervals of intelligent analysis of the political agendas of the superpowers (USA and Soviet Union), and more personally, the thoughts of the protoganists themselves. Because of his work in a BBC/PBS documentary The Fifty Years War: Israel and the Arabs, Bregman had unprecedanted access to the the intimate memoirs of Israeli leaders like Ben Gurion, Moshe Dayan and Golda Meir.
He traces a society besieged by memories of the European Holocaust- in which 6 million Jews lost their lives- and how strength and tenacity were drawn from it. The motto never again became the battle-cry of the infant nation, and made it possible for a society drawn from many nationalities in the world, to unite and even support the high cost of building up the military at the expense of other public works.
Bregman does not forget the Palestinians. He sheds light on how in the early days, the typical Israeli response to the Palestinians was "they don't exist". Israel's occupation of Gaza, which Defence Minister Moshe Dayan once prophetically described as a "wasp's nest" was the beginning of a profound change within Israeli society. For the first time, Israeli policies on a displaced people were fully-observable.
Interestingly, Bregman's account eventually coalesces around the three sides that would drag the conflict into the new millenia; Ariel Sharon, Yasser Arafat and the militants.
Their achievements and mistakes are assidiously recorded, often blowing off the dust of heroism that would ultimately settle on them. Not many know, for example, that Hamas was once sponsored by Israel as a counterweight to what they saw as the more insidious threat of Arafat's Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), or that Ariel Sharon lied to the Knesset (Israeli Parliment) on the scope of his invasion plans on Lebanon.
What probably seals this book's place as a classic is its startling revelations. It exposes hitherto unknown facts, including Soviet involvement in the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel's deliberate bombing of an American warship USS Liberty, and that President Anwar Sadat's right-hand man was a top agent of the Mossad who played a dangerous double-game.
Israel's Wars should be compulsory reading for all those who seek genuine solutions to the perennial blood-letting in Palestine.
---- from my blog.