More Books on Lebanon

by Miguel de Icaza

The book on Asad that I was recommended is awesome, it gives a different perspective on the Lebanon war from the Syrian point of view.

As I was reading the book, Amazon introduced a new feature that allows customers to see a list of books referenced by a given book. I used this to get myself a couple of other books: "Israel's Lebanon War" and Abu Nidal: A Gun For Hire.

In "Israel's Lebanon War" has an excellent introductory chapter on the Lebanese civil war as witnessed from Israel. The book relies on interviews and de-classified documents from the Israel government to recreate the Israeli involvement in Lebanon.

I have not finished this book, but it is a good complement for Robert Fisk's "Pity the Nation" narrating the gradual involvement of Israel with the Phalange party. The book begins in the early years of the Lebanese Civil war (1977) and describes the rise of Bashir Gemayel from the low ranks of the Phalange Militia to its control of the other Christian militias through the assassination of his opponents to the presidency.

On the other side Menachem Begin starts to empathize with Bashir's struggle and conceives a plan to make Bashir Lebanon's president. He relies on Ariel Sharon, his secretary of defense, to put together a plan to destroy the PLO, reach Beirut and install this new government.

Such a plan would have been rejected by the Israeli Cabinet, so they have to prepare and operate in secret and only give as little information as possible to the Israeli Cabinet. To make their case they have to withhold negative information and intelligence assessments from the Cabinet and paint a rosy picture of the invasion.

To get the cabinet to approve the plans, they present them with a limited plan: a military invasion of southern Lebanon of about forty kilometers. The real plan is to reach Beirut, but this will not be disclosed to the rest of the Cabinet until the invasion starts.

The invasion plans faced a problem. There was a cease-fire in place between Israel and the PLO on the border and as long as the palestinians did not attack there would be little reason for an invasion. Arafat had managed to curb its guerrillas from responding to provocation (which included bombing and shelling of their cities and positions).

Patrick Seale's "Abu Nidal: A Gun For Hire" is addictive and non-stop reading. A book tracing the inner working and operations of Abu Nidal's terrorist organization. Abu Nidal started a resistance group which splintered from the mainstream palestinian opinion in the 70's. Abu Nidal's would transform his group from an extreme palestinian group into a work-for-hire organization that would carry out terrorist attacks against the enemies of his sponsor of the day. Most importantly Abu Nidal broke early on with the PLO and did everything he could to destroy the moderate palestinian voices.

The book recreates Abu Nidal's operations, its mode of operation and some missions it carried out by interviewing collaborators, defectors and opponents. The book starts by tracing the steps of a new recruit in the group, and then exploring the claim from a senior PLO officer: that either Abu Nidal's Organization was infiltrated by the Mossad or Abu Nidal himself was working for the Mossad. The exploration of this claim takes the rest of the book as Patrick Seale reconstructs the various terrorist strikes carried out by Abu Nidal. In this book, Lebanon appears only as a backdrop to the mainline story.

In any case, Abu Nidal's strikes consistently undermined the efforts of the PLO and the palestinian cause which he claimed to be assisting. Attacks would set back any attempts from the PLO to become a political force to represent the interests of the Palestinians in the exile and on the occupied territories.

Abu Nidal's group carried out an attempt to assassinate the Israeli ambassador in London in 1982. This was taken as a violation of the cease-fire and the invasion of Lebanon begun.

A light side of Lebanon today

A lebanese makes fun at the current state of affairs in Lebanon.

Another one: How-To for a Lebanese Cabinet.

Speaking of Books

A few months ago, I was also recommended `From Beirut to Jerusalem' from Thomas Friedman. I never quite liked his articles on globalization in the past and I was skeptical about his book, but I gave it a shot.

I could barely read one third of the book, as it felt mostly like a shrine that Thomas Friedman had written about himself, it felt very much like a `me, me, me book'.

I mention this now because I found two interesting articles: Write Your Own Thomas Friedman Article which captures more elegantly what I disliked about the book.

Update: the link above no longer works, but I transcribe it here

1. Choose your title to intrigue the reader through its internal conflict:

a. War and Peas
b. Osama, Boulevardier
c. Big Problems, Little Women

2. Include a dateline from a remote location, preferably dangerous, unmistakably Muslim:

a. Mecca, Saudi Arabia
b. Islamabad, Pakistan
c. Mohammedville, Trinidad

3. Begin your first paragraph with a grandiose sentence and end with a terse, startlingly unexpected contradiction:

a. The future of civilization depends upon open communication between Yasir Arafat and Ariel Sharon. If the two don't speak to each other, the world edges closer to the precipice of total war. If, on the other hand, they manage to engage in open conversation and resolve their differences, Israelis could soon be celebrating Seders in Saudi Arabia. But for now, the two men can't speak. Why? You can't make a collect call from Bethlehem.

4. Use the next few paragraphs to further define the contradiction stated above, peppered with little questions making it look like you're having a conversation with the reader. Feel free to use the first person:

a. My first thought was to ask: Why no collect calls from Bethlehem? It's easy to call collect from Bosnia, Kosovo, even Uzbekistan. Am I sure? Of course I'm sure. I was in each of those places just a few weeks ago, making collect calls all over the world. No problem. So why can't Arafat call collect from Bethlehem?

5. Remember: Thomas Friedman is the Carrie Bradshaw of current events. Think Sex and the City, write "Sects and Tikriti":

a. How can Islam get to its future, if its past is its present?

b. Later that day I got to thinking about global civilizational warfare. There are wars that open you up to something new and exotic, those that are old and familiar, those that bring up lots of questions, those that bring you somewhere unexpected, those that take you far from where you started, and those that bring you back. But the most exciting, challenging and significant clash of all is the one you have with your own civilization. And if you can find a civilization to love the you that you love, well, that's just fabulous.

c. Maybe Arabs and Israelis aren't from different planets, as pop culture would have us believe. Maybe we live a lot closer to each other. Perhaps, dare I even say it, in the same ZIP code.

6. Name-drop heavily, particularly describing intimate situations involving hard-to-reach people:

a. The Jacuzzi was nearly full when Ayman al-Zawahiri, former surgeon and now Al Qaeda's head of operations, slid in.

b. It was Thomas Pynchon on the phone. "Tommy," he said, probably aware we share that name ..

c. Despite the bumpy flight, I felt comfortable in the hands of a pilot as experienced as Amelia Earhart.

7. Include unknowns from hostile places who have come to espouse rational Western thought and culture:

a. I visited Mohammed bin Faisal Al-Hijazi, former top aide to Ayatollah Khomeini, now a reformer and graduate of the Wharton Business School.

b. Last year Nura bin Saleh Al-Fulani worked in Gaza sewing C4 plastic explosives into suicide bombers' vests. I caught up with Nura last week in Paw Paw, Mich., where she sews activity patches on the uniforms of Cub Scout Pack 34.

8. Make use of homey anecdotes about your daughters, Natalie and Orly, enrolled in Eastern Middle School, Silver Spring, Md.:

a. My daughter Natalie, a student at Eastern Middle School, a public school in Silver Spring, Md., asked me at breakfast: "Daddy, if my school has students who are Muslims and Jews and Christians and Buddhists all working together, why can't the rest of the world be that way?" There was something in the innocence of her question that made me stop and think: Maybe she has a point.

9. Quote a little-known Middle East authority at least once in every column:

a. Stephen P. Cohen
b. Stephen P. Cohen
c. Stephen P. Cohen

10. Conclude your column with a suggestion referring back to the opening contradiction, but with an ironic twist. Make sure the suggestion you proffer sounds plausible, but in fact has no chance of happening:

a. Driving into Bethlehem in the back of a pickup, I wonder: What if Yasir Arafat and Ariel Sharon sit down and play a game of poker? And what if the stakes are these: If Sharon wins, the Intifada is over. If Arafat wins, Palestine gains statehood. One game of no-limit Texas hold 'em, and the Middle East crisis is resolved. Just like that. Yasir and Ariel, deal 'em out.

And a very funny review of his new book.

Posted on 24 Apr 2005