Arab-Israeli Conflict -- Israel and Syria: Peace and Security on the Golan by Aryeh Shalev

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Israel and Syria: Peace and Security on the Golan, by Aryeh Shalev. Oxford, San Francisco, and Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1994. 207 pages. Notes to p. 227. About the Author to p. 228. Appends. to p. 260. $32.50 paper.

General Aryeh Shalev's long career in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) included service on the Israel-Syria Mixed Armistice Commission, of 1949-52, and as chief intelligence officer for the IDF's Northern Command, 1957-59. It is disappointing to find that his book on security issues in the current Israeli-Syrian negotiations is such a slight, sloppily compiled volume. The book has one unintended virtue: it provides a valuable case-study of why military-technical analysis, taken alone, is an insufficient discipline with which to address issues of war and peace.

Shalev's account is studded with chunks of military analysis. One 15-page chapter provides a hillock-by-hillock description of the Golan Heights' topography. There are maps galore, and tables charting force structures and the security 'value' of this and that. But Shalev's ignorance of, and inattention to, Syria is truly mind-boggling.

In the weeks after Syrian president Hafiz al-Asad decided that Syria would participate in the 1991 Madrid negotiations, think-tanks everywhere were crammed with Israelis asking whether this move represented a 'strategic' or merely a 'tactical' shift in Asad's thinking. In the years since then, several Israelis have come up with answers marked by some familiarity with Syrian political life. Not Shalev] He states the question clearly, on page 12, and then quotes the view of only one supposed authority to back up his own simplistic judgment that the Syrian shift "does not seem to be" strategic. The 'expert' in question? The perennially pessimistic, anti-Arab Eli Kedourie.

On one of the pitifully few other occasions where Shalev admits of the importance of Syrian politics, he offers a glib judgment on which groups inside Syria might oppose any concessions in the peace negotiations: "The Ba'th Party and nationalist groups would almost certainly object to concessions" (p. 62). Has he even glanced at changes in Syrian politics since the 1950s? There is no indication in the footnotes that he has paid more than passing heed to the works of experts like Patrick Seale, Raymond Hinnebusch, or Moshe Ma'oz. …

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