Embattled Neighbors -- Syria, Israel and Lebanon, by Robert G. Rabil

Article excerpt

Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner, 2003. 307 pp. $58.50.

This book deals with the fabric of relations between Israel, Syria, and Lebanon, three neighboring countries whose destiny has been combined ever since they emerged as independent states and even before that. Their joint history is a history of conflict and struggle. The book focuses on this conflict, its roots and its development along the years. At the same time, it gives special emphasis to the futile efforts during the 1990s to bring this conflict to an end. The last part of the book thus raises the question of why the three states failed to overcome the difficulties and bridge the wide gap of hostility and animosity that separated them.

The book starts with a quote from a book written in 1905 by one of the founders and the first thinkers of the Arab national movement, Najib Azory. The quote deals with the unavoidable conflict, according to the writer, between Jews and Arabs in Palestine that might even spread all over the entire region. In his book Le Reveil de la Nation Arabe dans l'Asie Turque, which should be considered as a prophecy, Azory writes: "Two important phenomena, of the same nature but opposed, are emerging at this moment in Asiatic Turkey. They are the awakening of the Arab nation and the latent effort of the Jews to reconstitute on a very large scale the ancient kingdom of Israel. These two movements are destined to confront each other continuously, until one prevails over the other. The final outcome of this struggle, between two peoples that represent two contradictory principles, may shape the destiny of the whole world."

Rabil's decision to start his book with this quote is not accidental and does reflect one of the main and central arguments of his research. Indeed, according to Rabil the Israeli-Syrian-Lebanese conflict should be looked at as a deep and ideological conflict with historical background that should not be ignored. It is not merely a conflict between two states, but one between two ideological concepts. After all, Syria emerged from Arabism and still considered itself Arab before being Syrian. This is an important and significant argument especially against the background of the arguments that were heard often after the collapse of the Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations in early 2000, according to which this collapse was a result of a disagreement about a small piece of land of about ten meters along the northern part of the shore of the Sea of Galilee. In Rabil's eyes this is to ignore the essence of the conflict and its deep roots and diversity of dimensions. …