A Limited View: Itamar Rabinovich's the View from Damascus

Article excerpt

The protests that erupted in Daraa in March 2011 catapulted the Syrian Arab Republic into the global spotlight, but the policies of the al-Assad regime have captured the world's attention for decades. Both Bashar al-Assad and his father I la fez have autocratically presided over a state antagonistic toward its neighbors and at times brutally repressive of its citizens.

Itamar Rabinoviclvs The View from Damascus aims to explain modern Syria with careful attention toward its rich annuounced history. The text is a collection of essays written by Rabinovich over the course of his career covering the state's colonial origins, the dynamics of its rule by a minority sect, and its foreign relations over nearly eight decades. With its incorporation of a wide variety of sources including colonial-era newspapers, party manifestos, and Israeli academics, the book's greatest, strength is its highly detailed coverage of certain issues in Syria's colonial past. Rabinoviclvs research illuminates often underappreciated points of Syrian history. For example, it delves deeply into the French priorities in the making of modern Syria and the dynamic roles of Christians and Druze.

Rabinovich is not merely an academic. As Israel's Chief Negotiator with Syria from 1992 to 1995, he is poised to offer the reader an insider's account of the negotiation process and an informed and lauanched analysis of the mechanics of Syria's last two decades. These are disappointingly absent from the book. One of the final chapters, for example, is entitled How to Talk and How Not to Talk to Syria," yet: it primarily offers a description of past events and culminates in single substantial policy suggestion: trilateral negotiations between Israel, Syria, and the United States. The analysis accompanying the suggestion mostly argues for its in feasibility; Rabinovich observes that trilateral talks are not particularly favorable to any party and require a radical reorientation of Syria's foreign policy. This relatively unambitious policy suggestion does not ultimately satisfy the expectations created by the author's experience and unique position--especially as these are emphasized in the book itself.

The final chapter, written to update the book in its second edition reprint, covers the events of the "Arab Spring" in Syria. While Rabinovich humbly observes that "it is impossible to know how this crisis will develop," the reader expecting any analysis of the current uprising will find little more than a summary of current events. The book elsewhere offers rich coverage of Syria's minority situation in its historical context, yet the author gives little commentary on the role of sectarianism in the modern uprising beyond the fundamental observation that many Sunnis view the 'Alawites as illegitimate. …