THE WEAPONS WIZARDS: HOW ISRAEL BECAME A HIGH TECH MILITARY SUPERPOWER by Yaacov Katz and Amir Bohbot

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(Iranian nuclear reactor)

On February 6, 2017 Israelis living in the south were once again reminded of the threat of Hamas rockets being launched from the Gaza Strip, when one landed in an uninhabited area.  During the summer of 2014 in its war against the Palestinian terrorist group Israel absorbed over 4000 rockets launched against its territory.  Since that time Hamas has been trying to replenish its stockpile and prepare itself for the next round of warfare against Israel which will surely come in the not too distant future. Along with Hezbollah’s stockpile of over 100,000 rockets provided by Iran and Syrian dictator, Bashir el-Assad the appearance of a new book entitled, THE WEAPONS WIZARDS: HOW ISRAEL BECAME A HIGH-TECH MILITARY SUPERPOWER by veteran Israeli military correspondence Yaakov Katz and Amir Bohbot is especially timely.  The authors provide a unique perspective on how threats and changes in the Middle East political and military landscape have impacted military research and development to try and bring about a degree of security for the Israeli public.  Katz and Bohbot discuss a number of weapons systems in detail and reflect how the dangerous neighborhood in which Israel lives influences policies and what had to be done to insure that the continued existence of the Jewish state.

We live in a world where technology continues to evolve at an amazing rate of speed.  This has impacted how wars have been fought recently and will continue to impact the battlefield in the future.  With the advent of satellites, drones, cyber warfare and other systems, Israel finds itself at the cutting edge of all of these new technologies because if it does not, it may not survive.  The question is how a small nation of 8 million people maintains its commitment and implementation of new military technologies on par with superpowers like the United States and Russia.  Today, Israel’s exports are electronics, software, and medical devices with weapon systems being 10% of all exports.  Israel invests 4.5% of its GDP in research and development, with 30% of that figure geared toward the military.

From its inception in 1948 Israel was forced to develop critical tools – the ability to improvise and adapt to changing realities to survive.  According to the authors, Israel is a country with an absence of structure and social hierarchy which spurs innovation.  This stems from mandatory service in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), an army dependent upon its reservist system.  The end result is that defense company employees meet soldiers during their reserve commitments where they can examine new weapons designs and other ideas. Israeli engineers have battlefield experience, and their training in the reserves assists them in understanding what the IDF requires in the next war, and how to develop it.  Further, the IDF is a melting pot that allows for social integration and the development of an élan that does not necessarily exist in other countries.

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(Israeli satellite)

The authors do a good job in offering insights into Israeli attitudes toward technology as they relate developments to past events.  The psychological impact of the 1973 Yom Kippur War in which Egyptian and Syrian armies launched a preemptive war against Israel was a major catalyst in the Israeli defense community’s change in its military approach, thinking, and training.  For Israel “solutions that cross bureaucratic borders and technological limits” are the keys to survival.  For Israel certain things are a given; they are always in a state of conflict, combat experience is used to satisfy immediate operational needs, and they are an innovative people who do not stand on ceremony.

The authors recount major events and crises in Israel’s history dating back to the pre-1948 landscape.  They recapitulate what has transpired, then focus on how military planners  pursued critical self-examination, lessons learned, and how the strategy moving forward prepared the military for the next crisis that would surely come.  The Israeli military doctrine was fostered by its first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion in 1948 in that to offset the demographic disadvantage, Israel must seek a qualitative military advantage.  Israel had to make sure it always has superior quality weapons, not necessarily more of them.

Katz and Bohbot focus in on a number of important figures in the development of Israel’s military technology.  Individuals such as former Defense and Prime Minister Shimon Peres who began his career in the early 1950s procuring weapons from France is one of the individuals most responsible for Israel’s defense establishment over a career that ended with his death late last year.  Each technological success was fostered by Israelis who had the foresight to carry through with their ideas and beliefs no matter what bureaucratic obstacles lay before them.  IDF Major Shabtai Brill of the Military Intelligence Directorate was a driving force in the development of drone technology.  Lt. Colonel Effie Defrin an armored brigade commander was intricately involved in the development and upgrading of the Merkava tank program.  Colonel Haim Eshel helped foster the creation of Israel’s satellite program, and Brigadier General Danny Gold was a prime mover in bringing on line the Iron Dome Missile Defense System.  In all cases these individuals realized that Israel could not rely on other countries for their weapons systems, as procurement was influenced by geo-political strategies and events worldwide.

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(Israeli soldier outside the entrance of a Hamas tunnel from Gaza on the Israeli side)

Israeli officials learned early on when to cooperate and develop joint programs with other nations and when to go it alone.  For example, the partnership with the United States in creating the Iron Dome Missile System dates back to the 1991 Gulf War when Iraq launched 39 Scud missiles into Israel.  Further impetus was provided as Hamas launched its first rocket attack against Israel in April, 2001, and the 2006 war with Hezbollah that witnessed over 4300 rocket attacks against the Jewish state.  This resulted in a joint effort with the United States, which provided most of the funding and some technology, as it used its financial support as a means of lessening Israeli security concerns by promoting the missile system in return for negotiations with the Palestinians.  This strategy was employed by the Obama administration early in its tenure in office, but since the Iron Dome went operational in March, 2011, with a 90% kill ratio, its peace strategy failed.

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(Iron Dome Missile on the way to shoot down Hamas rocket in 2014)

Recently cyber warfare has begun to dominate the news relating to Russian activity trying to influence the 2016 presidential election.  From Vladimir Putin’s perspective it has been very successful, and one wonders about the future of a full scale cyber war and what it portends.  The authors discuss one of the most successful cyber-attacks in recent years as Israel and the United States tried to derail Iran’s nuclear program.  Once the world learned of Iran’s Natanz facility that housed tens of thousands of centrifuges used to enrich uranium in August, 2002 Israel immediately began a program of killing Iranian scientists, sabotaging deliveries of important materials to Iran, and developing Stuxnet, a dangerous virus that would set back the Iranian nuclear program for about two years.  The Iranian threat fostered the reorganization of Israel’s cyber warfare capabilities creating Unit 8200, a military cyber command and resulted in the creation of over 100 high tech companies and startups as the military and the private sector allied to face the cyber threat.   The authors also explore how Israel destroyed the Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007, and the implications of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu constant threats to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities.

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Katz and Bohbot provide an excellent chapter dealing with the integration of Israeli military technology and diplomacy.  Since its inception defense ties and arms sales played a significant role in bringing billions of dollars into the Israeli economy.  Not only did weapons sales bring in enormous profits for the Israeli defense industry, it also furthered diplomatic ties with certain countries.  The authors detail arms diplomacy with China, India, and Singapore reflecting on its successes and failures.

The authors repeatedly reiterate that the key to Israel’s survival is its ability to innovate and solve problems during military conflict that was unexpected.  The most recent cases deal with Gaza and Russia.  During the 2014 war with Hamas, the major new problem was tunnels that were used to attack Israeli Kibbutzim.  Israel was aware of the tunnel problem, but not the sophistication and interlocking pathways underground.  It took Israel over 50 days and the death of dozens of Israeli soldiers and hundreds of Palestinians to solve the problem and shut down over 30 tunnels.   As new technology was applied to resolve the threat it showed “that Israel’s experience during the Gaza War showed the IDF that as prepared as it might think it is for war, it can always be surprised.”  Another situation evolved with Russia in applying the leverage of drone sales to Moscow to block the sale of sophisticated missiles to Iran that could protect their nuclear facilities.  Israel thought it had the situation in hand when more sophisticated missiles turned up in Syria as Putin did his best to retain Assad in power.  Once again showing that arms diplomacy and war cannot be totally predicted.

For Israel, the neighborhood they live in is not some virtual threat, but it’s a daily reality that the authors constantly focus upon as each official, scientist, or engineer are constantly concerned about what crisis is right around the corner.  Katz and Bohbot detail how Israel has achieved their preeminent position in the techno-warfare world, but also scenarios for the future, that are out right scary.

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(Iranian nuclear facility)

THE RESISTIBLE RISE OF BENJAMIN NETANYAHU by Neill Lochery

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(Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu)

A few days ago the United States withheld its veto of a resolution in the United Nations Security Council demanding that Israel end its settlement expansion in occupied Palestinian territory.  Reflecting the Obama administration’s frustration with Israeli settlement policy it broke with the long tradition of Washington shielding Israel from UN condemnation.  It further points to President Obama’s final “shot” at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a man that the administration has been at “diplomatic war” the last few years be it over the Iranian Treaty or settlement policy.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has let it be known that he is looking forward to the inauguration of Donald Trump and smoother relations with the United States.  The situation in the Middle East has put Netanyahu in the news a great of late and it is propitious that Neill Lochery, a Professor of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean Studies at University College London has published his new book, THE RESISTIBLE RISE OF BENJAMIN NETANYAHU at this time.  The work is not a traditional biography, though the most salient aspects of his family background and the course of his life is presented.  Instead of a chronological approach Lochery presents his subject by a series of nine of the most decisive moments in Netanyahu’s career to tell his life’s story.

The key theme that Lochery develops is that Netanyahu has been “more American” and “less Israeli” throughout his life.  Lochery points out that Netanyahu did not fit “into the notorious closed and business elites in Israel,” a country that remains wary of outsiders, and many see the current Prime Minister as a stranger, even after all of these years.  It is difficult in assessing Netanyahu’s career because I wonder what the man stands for other than his own political survival.  Lochery understands this dilemma and does his best to deal with it as Netanyahu places numerous roadblocks in the path of diplomacy, doing his best to retain the status quo.  However, if Netanyahu survives the next two years in office he will become Israel’s longest serving Prime Minister, even surpassing, David Ben-Gurion, with his negative attitude toward the rest of the Middle East, the Palestinians, and at times, the United States.

The arrival of Netanyahu on the Israeli political scene in 1990 was part of a wider cultural revolution in Israel that ushered in the “Americanization” of Israeli politics, media, and business.  The key to Netanyahu’s rapid rise was his telegenic face and oratory style.  As the Persian Gulf War of 1990-1 was ushered into our living rooms on CNN with its 24 hour news cycle, Netanyahu began to appear regularly as Israel’s chief spokesperson during the war.  As his popularity rose outside of Israel, the elites in the Jewish state did not take him seriously which contributed to his rapid rise.  Lochery points out that the Bush administration was growing tired of the hawkish Shamir government in Israel, so Netanyahu’s arrival came at a critical time as the war made him a political star, particularly after the 1991 Madrid Conference.

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(Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barak Obama in May, 2009)

Netanyahu’s rise was assisted by changes in the Israeli political process which began to mimick that of the United States.  The institution of primary elections allowed the “Likud Princes,” (young Likud politicians like Netanyahu who had links to Revisionist Zionism) to leap ahead of others on Likud political lists and move toward party leadership quickly.  Another change was the move toward the direct election of the Prime Minister which would greatly assist in Netanyahu’s victory and assumption of the Prime Ministership in 1996.  In part Netanyahu modeled himself after President Clinton in 1992 when he publicly admitted an affair and placed his wife Sara out front in his political campaign.  Further, in what was known as “Bibigate,” (Netanyahu’s nickname was Bibi) which he viewed it as a conspiracy against him.

The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin was a political disaster for Netanyahu.  Lochery correctly points out that Netanyahu’s virulent public opposition and bombastic accusations against Rabin’s Oslo Accords Agreement with Yasir Arafat had in part been responsible for the assassination.  Netanyahu’s rhetoric had energized right wing extremists who opposed Oslo and one of them, an Israeli student, Yigal Amir shot Rabin.  Netanyahu had compared Rabin’s actions to Neville Chamberlain’s Munich Agreement with Hitler and opponents to Oslo carried signs accusing Rabin of being a “Nazi devil.”

Lochery does an excellent job explaining the factionalism that existed and still exists in Israeli politics that was based on forming coalition governments as ruling parties never seem to be able to gain a direct ruling majority.  This leads to deal making with lesser parties, particularly religious and immigrant factions that the ruling party is then beholden to.  The internal schisms within the party are also developed with an excellent example being the rivalry between Netanyahu who at times appears as an ideologue, and Ariel Sharon’s development into a pragmatic politician.

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(Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin)

With the increase in terror attacks in Israel after Rabin’s assassination, Netanyahu was able to base his campaigns on fear to increase support.  With the first suicide bombing on October 19, 1994 at a bus station that killed 22 and injured well over 100, Netanyahu’s support was energized beyond his right wing base.  Netanyahu was first elected Prime Minister very narrowly (50.4% to 49.5%) over Shimon Peres on May 29, 1996.  Netanyahu’s election campaign was run by Arthur J. Finkelstein, an American political consultant and was funded by a number of rich American contributors, a pattern that would dominate future elections.  Netanyahu outspent Peres on television ads, campaign paraphernalia, and pursued the JFK v. Nixon strategy in their own television debate.  Apart from his media strategy Netanyahu zeroed in on the religious and Russian immigrant vote to win.

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(Yonatan Netanyahu, Benjamin’s older brother killed at Entebbe)

Lochery does a good job developing Netanyahu’s family background and his relationship with his brother.  If there is a criticism to be made, the author does not provide a detailed history of Netanyahu’s family background, particularly his father’s bitterness against Israel and the United States, the impact of his views on Benjamin, and the role he played in early Israeli politics until half way through the narrative.   Benzion was a scholar of Jewish history and the Zionist political movement, and he and Yonatan, his older brother one of Israel’s most decorated soldiers had a profound influence on Benjamin, especially their hawkish views concerning the Arabs. In growing up in the United States Benjamin was greatly influenced by the American political culture.  Unlike his father who was an ideologue, Benjamin saw how pragmatism worked in the American political process and pursued that strategy throughout his political career.  Central to Benzion’s scholarly work was the traditional Zionist ideology of Ze’ev Jabotinsky which rested on the belief that Jews faced racial discrimination and any attempts to reach a compromise with the Arabs was futile.  Yonatan Netanyahu was being groomed as the star of the family.  First, a career in the Israel Defense Force, reach the rank of general, retire to assume a career in politics and eventually become Prime Minister.  Yonatan a hero in the 1973 Yom Kippur War stationed in the Golan Heights was well on his way to fulfilling his father’s dreams when he was the only Israeli soldier killed in the successful Entebbe Raid in Uganda.  Yonatan death was a life changing event for Netanyahu.  His brother had believed that it was better to continuously live by the sword, then lose the state of Israel.  Netanyahu vowed he would achieve everything his brother had hoped to, protect his brother’s legacy, in addition to ingratiating himself with his hard to please father, a man who never showed any emotion.

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(Benjamin and Yonatan Netanyahu)

Another area that Lochery should develop more was Netanyahu’s life in the United States.  He continuously points to America’s influence, but other than a few lines about his business education, connections in America, serving as the Diplomatic Head of Mission to the United States, and Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations between 1982 and 1988, he offers little.

Lochery does a much better job narrating and analyzing Netanyahu’s performance as Prime Minister in dealing with Yasir Arafat and negotiations on the Interim Agreements fostered by Oslo under Rabin.  Netanyahu is a cagy politician who brings in Ariel Sharon as Foreign Minister in order to deal with Likud members who oppose any further negotiations.  Netanyahu realized that President Clinton facing impeachment and the Lewinsky scandal needed a deal at the Wye River Conference resulting in a diplomatic framework that only cost Israel an eight month hold on settlements and the release of 750 Palestinian prisoners.  Lochery’s coverage of the 1999 election is perceptive and he points out that his loss to Ehud Barak and his subsequent resignation of his Likud held seat in the Knesset was a grave error because it allowed Sharon to reorient the party in a direction away from Netanyahu’s approach to governing.  It would take him six years to recover and almost made himself politically irrelevant.

Most of Netanyahu’s problems center on his ego and his belief that only he could effectively rule Israel and that the public trusted him more than any other Israeli politician.  Lochery is correct in arguing that Netanyahu would later unseat Sharon as leader of the Likud coalition by moving further to the right on the Israeli political spectrum as the former war hero had moved to the center.  The campaign began with Netanyahu’s withdrawal from Sharon’s cabinet in 2005 in opposition to complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.  Sharon’s response was to withdraw from Likud and create a new political party, Kadima.  Once Sharon had a stroke, Ehud Olmert replaced him and was elected Prime Minister in 2006, leaving Netanyahu the task of rebuilding a Likud Party that won only 12 seats in the Knesset. Netanyahu’s machinations behind the scene in opposition in the Knesset, the scandals that engulfed Olmert, and other events resulted in new elections in 2009.

Lochery’s analysis of the Israeli electorate throughout the narrative allows the reader to experience the ebb and flow of Israeli politics with great understanding, particularly in 2009, the election that returned Netanyahu to power.  The election coincided with the assumption of Barak Obama as president of the United States, thus beginning their eight year testy and sometimes controversial relationship.  Once in power Netanyahu focused on remaking the Middle East which brought him into conflict with Obama, especially in relation to Iran and its nuclear program.  One of Netanyahu’s defining moments came when he accepted a Republican Party invitation to address Congress on March 3, 2015, a speech that angered many supporters of Israel.  Lochery examines the speech in detail and correctly points out that it was vintage Netanyahu as he presents a problem, emphasizes the historical nature of the problem, and then does not offer any viable alternatives in solving the problem.  This was Netanyahu’s modus operandi throughout his career whether dealing with Israeli domestic issues or its foreign policy.  Whether it was Iran or the Palestinian peace process, Lochery is dead on, the Israeli Prime Minister would obfuscate, stall, and in the end the status quo would remain essentially the same, a strategy defined by conflict management, not conflict resolution.  The arrival of the Arab Spring in 2010 further solidified Netanyahu’s power in Israel and heightened tension with Obama.  The Israeli public saw the Arab Spring as a threat, so it leaned further toward the right thereby increasing Netanyahu’s political support.  Obama saw it as an opportunity, but the two sides could never bridge that gap.  Lochery is accurate in his conclusions concerning the distaste that each had for the other, to the point that he wonders if Netanyahu would have made a better candidate for Republicans in 2012 than Mitt Romney in opposing Obama.

When reading Lochery’s narrative one can get the feeling that he concentrates mostly on foreign policy and internal political issues.  To his credit he does explore Netanyahu’s role in turning Israel away from what he calls the “inefficient Zionist model” to a market driven economy.  He presents Netanyahu as a “Thatcherite” and credits Netanyahu’s reforms as Finance Minister as laying the foundation of bringing the Israeli economy into line with other Western capitalist ones.  Netanyahu moved in this direction according to Lochery because he saw no alternative in securing Israel’s future, but it created tremendous political problems as the poor and lower classes suffered the most from these reforms, but at the same time, he needed their political support to be reelected.

No matter what area of Netayahu’s life or policy Lochery delves into the reader will gain an interesting perspective of what drives the man.  This is important as we pick up the newspaper each day and we learn the latest machinations of the Israeli government, i.e., this morning we learn that Israel is about to defy the United Nations and build more settlements.  A direct strike against President Obama, and a belief in Tel Aviv that Donald Trump will view this action more favorably.

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IKE’S GAMBLE: AMERICA’S RISE TO DOMINANCE IN THE MIDDLE EAST by Michael Doran

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(President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser)

Today we witness a Middle East in crisis.  In Iraq, ISIS remains a power though the current operation to reconquer Mosul could be the beginning of the end of the supposed caliphate.  Syria is a humanitarian disaster as Russia and Iran continue to prop up Bashir Assad and keep him in power.  As the Syrian Civil War continues, war in Yemen involving Saudi Arabia, an American strategic ally evolves further.  The seeming winner in this juxtaposition of events is Iran which has taken advantage of the American invasion of Iraq, and how the region has since unraveled.  Once ISIS is removed from Iraq it will be interesting to see how Kurdish, Shiite, and Sunni factions “might” try to reconstitute their country.  It seems an afterthought to this untenable situation that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict featuring Hamas, an intransigent Israeli government, and Hezbollah in the north has somewhat faded into the background.  As we contemplate the morass that is the current Middle East it is interesting to return to the by gone days of the region in the 1950s when Arab nationalism/Pan Arabism was in vogue as opposed to the religious ideological road blocks of today.  In IKE”S GAMBLE: AMERICA’S RISE TO DOMINANCE IN THE MIDDLE EAST, senior director of the National Security Council under George W. Bush, Michael Doran has revisited an American strategy to deal with the myriad of problems then in the region, that laid the foundation for America’s role in the area that we continue to grapple with today.

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(President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles)

According to Doran when President Dwight D. Eisenhower assumed the presidency, he and his Secretary of State John Foster Dulles decided to offer the president as “an honest broker” in the Middle East to try and settle intra-Arab, and the Arab-Israeli conflict.  The term “honest broker” is an interesting one unless you think of it as a realpolitik based on power politics designed to drive the British from the region and replace it with American influence and control.  In 1952, Egypt had undergone a revolution and replaced King Farouk’s government with one based on a “Free Officers Movement” dominated by Colonel Gamal Abdul Nasser, an Egyptian nationalist and believer in uniting the Arab world under Egyptian leadership.  The British position in the region was tenuous, despite the presence of 100,000 troops at their Suez Canal base.  Their Hashemite allies in Jordan and Iraq feared what was termed as “Nasserism,” the Arab-Israeli conflict was punctuated with “Fedayeen” attacks against Israel, and retaliation by the Jewish state all served to make the region a powder keg.  For incoming President Eisenhower he was concerned with dealing with a region that was ripe for communist expansion in the guise of anti-colonialism.  Dulles learned firsthand about these tensions when he visited the region in May, 1953 and upon his return he and the president decided on a strategy to remove the British from their Suez base by brokering a treaty that was accomplished by October, 1954, and trying to settle issues between Egypt and Israel that were getting out of hand.  For the British it was a series of frustrations with the Eisenhower administration that dominated.  Prime Minister Winston Churchill refused to pass leadership of the Conservative party to Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden despite a stroke that left him partially paralyzed on his left side as he would not give in to Egyptian demands and sacrifice the last remaining bulwark of the British Empire.  For the United States their ties to British and French imperialism and the closeness of American-Israeli relations were seen as preventing any progress in the Middle East toward peace.  This resulted in a policy which set as its goal supporting Nasser in the belief he would cooperate with the United States once a treaty with Israel was arrived at, the end result of which for the Eisenhower administration would be his leadership and gaining the support of the Arab states for a Middle East Defense Organization designed to block Soviet penetration of the region.  The United States would woo Nasser with economic aid and promises of military largesse for over four years, a policy that would fail as the Egyptian president was able to dupe his American counterparts.

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(British Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden)

With the above as background, Doran begins to unravel events that resulted in the 1956 Suez War that he describes as Eisenhower’s gamble, a gamble which ended in failure.  Doran takes us through the intricacies of Anglo-Egyptian negotiations over the Suez Canal base and the American role in pressuring London to give in to most of Nasser’s demands.  He follows that up with a rather long discussion of the “Northern Tier,” an American policy of developing an alternative to a Middle East Defense Organization.  The “tier” involved Pakistan and Turkey and theoretically other nations would be added.  Doran argues that Nasser’s opposition to the pact and his hatred of Iraqi leader Nuri al-Said, his goal of receiving Soviet arms, and deceiving the United States were all tied together reflecting how Nasser manipulated Washington.  Relying on one secondary source to bind all of this together Doran believes that he has gone where no other historian has gone.  This is part of his rather condescending approach to historians who have previously studied this topic.  On more than one occasion Doran starts out by stating, “most historians have failed to understand how significant….,” or “failed to realize,” in this case the importance of the Turco-Iraqi Pact, or in presenting the role of Eisenhower and Dulles in the Heads of Agreement negotiations dealing with the Suez Canal base, and the role of Jordan in Nasser’s plan to seize the leadership in the Arab world.  I would point out that instead of repeated self-serving comments, the author should reflect some objectivity for those who have written previously on the background to the Suez crisis.

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(Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion)

Doran also has a habit of twisting facts to suit his arguments.  A case in point is a memo prepared by Dulles in 1958 looking back on issues that led to Suez.  In the memo that Doran uses to support his narrative the Secretary of State argues there was little the United States could do to move Israel from its entrenched positions because of the influence of Jews domestically and internationally.  If this was so, how come Eisenhower pressured Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion with threats in March, 1957 to gain Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai?  Further he claims that the Soviet Union, “while consistently hinting to the Arab states that it will agree to dismember Israel, has never actually come out with a statement of support.”  If that is correct what do we make of Soviet threats concerning the use of nuclear weapons after Israel, France, and Britain implemented the Sevres conspiracy and attacked Egypt at the end of October, 1956?

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I do agree with Doran that Washington’s “blind pursuit of an illusionary Arab-Israeli peace” strengthened Nasser’s position in the Arab world, at the same time he was trying to undermine the western position in the region.  Nasser deceived the State Department, raising the hopes for peace through the secret Alpha Plan.  The Egyptian leaders stalling tactics and disingenuousness would continue until the Eisenhower administration would call Nasser’s bluff following the Anderson peace mission in early 1956, a mission that would lead to the Omega plan designed to pressure Nasser to be more accommodating.  Doran points out that the new plan was designed to deal with Nasser and achieve behavioral change, not regime change.  I would point out that the document also alluded to strong action particularly if a soft covert approach did not work as Dulles’ March 28, 1956 memo stated that “planning should be undertaken at once with a view to possibly more drastic action in the event that the above courses of action do not have the desired effect.”*   For Eisenhower, whose frustration with Nasser finally took effect there were suggestions that a strong move against the Egyptian president would have to wait until after the American presidential election in November.

Doran continues his narrative by taking the reader through the immediate causes of the Suez War, the machinations that occurred after the Israeli invasion, and the final withdrawal of Israeli, French, and British troops from Sinai.  The author then goes on to discuss the anti-colonial purity of the Eisenhower administration which was short lived with the announcement of the Eisenhower Doctrine in January, 1957, designed to protect Arab states from communist encroachment.  The reality was total failure of American policy with the overthrow of the Iraqi government and the dispatch of American marines to Lebanon.  In addition, the goal of turning the Saudi monarchy into a substitute for Nasser as an Arab leader that would bring about a coalescing of Arab states in support of U.S. policy in the region never transpired.  In the end I would agree with Doran that Ike’s gamble did more harm than good and by 1958 resulted in the president questioning his policies that led to the 1956 war and beyond.  These musings by Eisenhower and the counterfactual scenarios presented by the author are interesting, but it does not change the fact that the team of Eisenhower and Dulles did create a popular Arab leader who was able to create strong Pan Arabist sentiment in the Middle East and left the United States with two weak allies in Jordan and Lebanon.  Further, they created a “doctrine” for the Middle East that was viewed in the Arab world as the same type of colonialism that had been previously practiced by England and France.  Doran completes his narrative by admonishing American policy makers that we should be careful not to make the same errors today that we made in the height of the Cold War.

*Steven Z. Freiberger. DAWN OVER SUEZ: THE RISE OF AMERICAN POWER IN THE MIDDLE EAST 1953-1957 (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1992), p. 149.

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(President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser)

THE ANGEL: THE EGYPTIAN SPY WHO SAVED ISRAEL by Uri Bar-Joseph

October, 1973 was a traumatic period for the Arab-Israeli conflict which greatly affected the American economy.  On October 6th, Arab armies attacked Israel on Yom Kippur morning and the ensuing war resulted in an Arab oil embargo against the United States that brought long lines at gas stations, a spike in prices, and rationing.  The situation for Israel grew dire at the outset of the conflict, but after 21 days of fighting the Israeli Defense Forces proved victorious on the battlefield, though it can be argued the war resulted in a psychological defeat. No matter how the outcome is evaluated the situation for Israel could have been a lot worse had it not been for Ashraf Marwan, an Egyptian who spied for the Mossad who happened to be Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser’s son-in-law, and following Nasser’s death a close aide to his successor Anwar Sadat, which provided him with access to his country’s deepest secrets.  The story of how Marwan provided the Mossad information that should have allowed Israel to be on greater alert when the war came is effectively told by Uri Bar-Joseph, an Israeli academic with expertise in Israeli intelligence, in his new book, THE ANGEL: THE EGYPTIAN SPY WHO SAVED ISRAEL.

(President Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt, Mona, his daughter, and his son-in-law, Ashraf Marwan)

Bar-Joseph’s narrative follows Marwan from his rise to a position of power within the Egyptian government to his untimely death in 2007 when he was probably pushed over a terrace and fell to his death.  Marwan was a corrupt egoist who felt he deserved a powerful position in government.  His marriage to Nasser’s daughter was a step in achieving his goals.  The impediment was the fact that his father-in-law held a very low opinion of his son-in-law.  Intelligence sources made Nasser aware of Marwan’s avaricious lifestyle and he tried to get his daughter to divorce him.  When she refused Nasser allowed Marwan to work at a low level position in his office that he greatly resented, which in large part provided a rationale for him to turn to espionage to acquire wealth.

Bar-Joseph traces how Marwan gained access to Egyptian state secrets and analyzes why he chose to spy for Israel’s greatest enemy.  In assessing Marwan, Bar-Joseph concludes that his subject engaged in espionage for two reasons.  First, was financial.  Marwan needed money, but despite his contacts he was limited in influence because of Nasser’s Spartan approach toward his family.  If he was going to achieve the lifestyle he craved he would have to find a source of income that Nasser’s intelligence people could not uncover.  The second motive was Marwan’s ego.  Marwan craved power, but realized he was blocked by his father-in-law.  In his own mind he would show Nasser by turning to his father-in-law’s greatest enemy.  Disloyalty to Nasser was the solution for his financial and psychological crisis.

(Egyptian troops establish a beachhead in the Sinai on October 7, 1973)

Bar-Joseph does an excellent job explaining the marriage of Marwan and Israeli intelligence.  He describes in detail how Marwan offered his services and the vetting done by the Mossad.  The author takes the reader inside the Israeli intelligence community as they evaluate Marwan the person and as the relationship flourished, as well as the information that he made available.  Bar-Joseph discusses a number of important personalities, the positions they occupied, and their reactions to each other.  The key for the Israelis was to determine whether Marwan was a double agent.  Almost immediately the valuable material he provided trumped the idea he could have been playing them.  Though Bar-Joseph has a somewhat trenchant writing style, the picture he paints and many of the details he shares have never been published before and makes the book a very important work.

One of the keys to Marwan’s success was the Sadat-Marwan relationship as each needed the other.  Once Sadat assumed the Egyptian presidency he needed a link to Nasser’s family which did not think a great deal of him.  For Marwan, Sadat was a vehicle to improve his overall position in government to allow him to gain access to state secrets and new sources of wealth.  Marwan’s success was his ability to provide the Mossad Egypt’s most closely guarded secrets concerning plans to attack Israel.  For example, plans to cross the Suez Canal and establish a bridgehead in the Sinai, which came to fruition in October, 1973.  Further he provided notes of Egyptian meetings with the Soviet Union that showed that Moscow did not think Egypt was ready for war as well as the minutes of a Sadat-Brezhnev meeting in 1971 that was later shared with the United States.  Because of Marwan Israeli leaders developed a very accurate picture of Egypt’s intentions regarding war and peace, particularly that if Egypt attacked it would not be a comprehensive move to reconquer the Sinai.  Israeli military intelligence firmly believed, much to their detriment in October, 1973 that Egypt would never attack until they solved the problem of Israeli military superiority.

(Egyptian President, Anwar Sadat with senior military commanders during the Yom Kippur War)

Bar-Joseph traces the development of Sadat’s strategic thinking as he pressured the Russians to provide the necessary long rang planes, missiles, and air defense to allow an attack on Israel since he did not see a way to recover the Sinai through diplomatic means.  By August, 1973, the Russians would provide most of the necessary weaponry, leaving out SCUD missiles, a key item because Israeli military intelligence believed that Sadat would never launch an attack until he received the SCUDS.  As early as June, 1973 Marwan warned the Israelis that Sadat was changing his approach to war and decided he could attack Israel even if his forces were inferior.  The problem for Israel was that the head of its Military Intelligence branch, General Eli Zeira refused to revise his thinking and could not accept that Egypt possessed the where with all to launch an attack.  Further, Zeira refused to accept the fact that Marwan was not a double agent.  When the decision for war was made and Sadat asked the Russians to leave Egypt, Zeira believed that Sadat would now take a more defensive approach toward war, but for Sadat he had removed a major impediment to launching an attack.

The author provides the details of all the warnings that Marwan provided the Israelis as early as April 11, 1973 that Sadat had altered his thinking and an attack would come in the late spring or early summer.  Israeli military intelligence continued to mistakenly believe that Egypt would not launch an attack until it received SCUD missiles from the Soviets.  Marwan provided information of Egypt’s preparations for war as well as the developing alliance with Syria.  Throughout Marwan’s intelligence was dead on, but the Israelis did not analyze it correctly.  For Bar-Joseph his most important theme that he reiterates throughout the book is that as war finally approached by September, 1973 “Israel’s military intelligence was under the command of a group of officers whose commitment to a specific intelligence paradigm was unwavering, almost religious, even though it had been obviated by events almost a year earlier.”

What is fascinating about Bar-Joseph’s account is the detail he provides, particularly, an almost hour by hour account of the two days leading up to the war.  For example, the Israeli reaction to Marwan’s warning of October 4th that war was imminent, but the bureaucratic structure of Israel’s intelligence operations did not allow for the proper response and warnings to Golda Meir’s government.  The author does a credible job following the actions and views of all the major historical figures who were involved in the decision making on the eve of the fighting.  Even though Eli Zeira and those he influenced were unwilling to take Marwan’s warnings seriously which resulted in a spectacular intelligence failure, his information did speed up Israel’s reserve call up and other crucial decisions that saved them from an even greater military disaster than what occurred.

Once the war ended Marwan assumed a greater diplomatic role working directly with Sadat.  He became the liaison with Libya, Saudi Arabia and Syria, but also with Henry Kissinger as the United States tried to achieve a lasting ceasefire.  Even as Marwan worked to bring unity to the Arab world he was reporting to the Mossad.  Marwan’s influence then began to wane and he was forced to leave the government on March 1, 1976, but remained in the background working on a weapons consortium.  After Sadat’s assassination in 1981 he began a new chapter in his life moving to London.  Throughout he maintained his contacts with the Mossad, but after the Camp David Accords in 1979 he became a low priority for Tel Aviv.

(Israeli Defense Minister, Moshe Dayan and Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meir during the Yom Kippur War)

Bar-Joseph spends the latter part of his study conjecturing on who outed Marwan as an Israeli spy, and how he died in 2007.  His speculations do not reach concrete conclusions on either score, but Marwan dies shortly after he was outed, leading to all kinds of conspiracy theories that the author addresses.  Overall, Bar-Joseph describes an amazing life integrating all the major players in Marwan’s career as a spy.  Though, at times the book becomes bogged down in detail and is overly wordy, it is worth exploring because it is an important story that deals with a very sensitive topic.

(Ashraf Marwan)

KILLING THE KING: THE ASSASSINATION OF YITZCHAK RABIN AND THE REMAKING OF ISRAEL by Dan Ephron

rabin

The past few weeks has witnessed an increase in violence between Palestinians and Israelis.  Palestinians have resorted to lone wolf knife attacks against innocent Israeli citizens and the Israeli response has been to kill the perpetrators on the spot.  The lack of any progress toward negotiations is part of the reason for the uptick in violence that has led to the current situation.  The current climate of violence and extremism in the region also has contributed to the lack of any progress between the two sides.  The failure of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians since the heady days of 1993 when the Oslo Accords were signed are long gone.  It was at that time under the leadership of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin that the hope that the conflict might finally be settled was spreading among Israelis and Palestinians, but the assassination of Rabin on November 4, 1995 put an end to the process and led to a spiraling of events that bring us to the current impasse and violence.  Understanding the mindset that led to Rabin’s death is important in trying to make sense of the tragedy.  For the first time in Israeli history a political assassination occurred whereby an Israeli killed an Israeli.  Dan Ephron’s new book, KILLING THE KING: THE ASSASSINATION OF YITZCHAK RABIN AND THE REMAKING OF ISRAEL provides an intimate picture of the fissures that exist in Israeli society and politics.  The book would be considered a political thriller if it were fiction, the problem is that the narrative is true.

(The handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasir Arafat that sealed the Oslo Accords on September 13, 1993)

Ephron’s premise that the assassination of Rabin put an end to any realistic peace process following his death is accurate and shifted the Israeli approach to negotiations from the pragmatists like Shimon Peres and Rabin to the ideologues like Benjamin Netanyahu.  Critics of the peace process argue that Yasir Arafat would not have delivered on his promises after the signing of Oslo II that gave the Palestinians control of seven cities in the West Bank, including Hebron, in the same way he turned down the deal offered by Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton in 2000.  It appeared that a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza was very possible in November, 1995, but because of the actions of Yigal Amir, a religious extremist and ideologue, who assassinated Rabin we will never know.  Ephron a Newsweek bureau chief in Jerusalem has written an important book that describes the two years that led up to Rabin’s death and the implications for the period that followed.  A period that saw the peace process stymied by violence and intransigence from both sides of the conflict.

Ephron describes in detail the right wing reaction in Israel to the secret negotiations that resulted in the Oslo Accords of 1993 between the Israeli government and the Palestinians.  He further describes the violence that was initiated by extremists on both sides whether Hamas suicide attacks and Israeli settler actions like that of Baruch Goldstein.  The treaty signing itself is evidence how difficult future negotiations would be as Rabin was very wary of Arafat and the agreement had numerous holes in it that had to be dealt with in future negotiations.  But as talks progressed the Israeli settler movement saw it as a threat to their future existence.  It would take a long time for the people around the Israeli Prime Minister to realize that he faced extreme danger because of his authorship of the peace process with the Palestinians, once they did Rabin himself did not want to cooperate with increased protection.  One thing is clear that as soon as Oslo was made public, Yigal Amir believed that Rabin’s actions were treason.

(Yigal Amir in October, 2010, seventeen years into his life sentence for assassinating Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin)

Amir whose family had immigrated to Israel from Yemen, grew up in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish home and attended strictly orthodox schools.  Upon graduating from high school he turned down a religious deferment and joined the Israeli Defense Force, spending his time in Gaza during the Intifada of 1988 were his belief that Arabs would kill Jews at every opportunity, was reaffirmed and that only ruthless reprisals would deter them.  Ephron does a nice job tracing the evolution of Amir’s beliefs.  He came to the conclusion in a broader theological doctrine, “one that empowered him to judge for himself – to “fathom God’s Will” – whether political leaders were honoring the Bible or violating it.” (39)  Amir believed that Jews had an obligation to settle the West Bank and Gaza rather than wait for God to secure their sovereignty over the territory and any politician who blocked this went against the will of God.  Amir would set up a group of students called, “Students for Security,” and actively worked to create a militia to defend the rights of settlers.  As rabbis began to preach that soldiers did not have to obey orders by the government to dismantle settlements arguing, “Even if the king orders you to violate the laws of the Torah, it is forbidden to obey,” fostered an already volatile situation.

Amir’s anger was also fueled by the social schisms that existed in Israeli society.  Ephron is quite accurate when he describes the resentments that existed between the Ashkenazi, Eastern European ethnicity of Israel’s ruling class up until 1977, of which Rabin was an example, with Sephardim, Jews who had emigrated from Arab countries when Israel was created who suffered many years of discrimination.  The fact that Amir’s family was from Yemen just exacerbated his feelings.  The core of Amir’s belief rests on the Talmudic argument that would justify his assassination of Rabin.  The Talmudic concept of “rodef” referred to a person who pursues another person with the intent to kill them, “rodef” means the pursuer.  “The law of   the pursuer, or “din rodef” permitted a bystander to kill the aggressor in order to save innocent victims.”  Amir rationalized that Rabin fit the definition of “rodef” as his policies were a threat to the safety of settlers in the West Bank and Gaza.  Amir also decided that Rabin “was a  ‘moser’, a person who handed Jews over to a hostile power, in this case the newly formed Palestinian Authority.” (94-5)  Amir argued that he had the right to kill Rabin on order to save the settlers.  This argument was already surfacing in the extreme religious press and among certain rabbis thereby reaffirming Amir’s beliefs.

Ephron presents a detailed narrative in how Amir stalked Rabin for three years and how he had missed at least three opportunities to kill him.  Ephron will take the reader inside the Israeli intelligence community as it belatedly came to realize the threat the religious right presented as they demonstrated and constantly referred to Rabin as a Nazi, a traitor, and murderer at rallies and sit in at his residence and the Knesset (Israeli parliament).  Ephron walks the reader through the murder in real time and once it takes place it is difficult for Israelis to accept the fact that one of their own killed the Prime Minister.  What is most disturbing about the assassination is Amir’s attitude after he is captured.  He is euphoric and proud of himself and firmly believes that he has saved Israel from its own government.  Amir details to interrogators his beliefs and exactly how he went about murdering Rabin and shows no remorse.  For Amir and his followers “Rabin had defied biblical injunctions and undermined the redemption process that messianists believed had been underway since 1967.” (161)  Following the assassination Ephron analyzes the investigations and recriminations that resulted from Rabin’s murder.  He also delves into the politics that pitted Peres against Netanyahu that saw the Likud candidate victorious in the next election thereby ending any possibility that peace talks would be successful in the future.

The book is very disturbing when one thinks about the future of peace in the region.  The current government of Benjamin Netanyahu is dependent upon the right wing settler movement for his coalition government, as was evidenced by his racial appeal during the last election.  Netanyahu was a leader of the Likud Party in 1995 and many argue assisted in stirring the pot against Rabin that resulted in his assassination.  I cannot imagine that the current Israeli government will take part in any meaningful negotiations, as if it does its coalition would likely collapse.  Ephron’s book may read like a political thriller, but it is a description of the reality of Israeli politics and society which seems split down the middle in its attitude toward peace.

(The aftermath of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin on November 4, 1995)

ONE MAN AGAINST THE WORLD: THE TRAGEDY OF RICHARD NIXON by Tim Weiner

In 1972, Bruce Mazlish wrote a psychohistorical inquiry into the life of Richard Nixon, entitled, IN SEARCH OF NIXON.  Mazlish analyzed Nixon and concluded that “he project[ed] unacceptable impulses onto others.  He identified his personal interest with the national interest.  He exalt[ed] strength and fears of passivity.” (143)  These conclusions were based on a detailed exploration of Nixon’s upbringing, relationship with his parents, and his actions as an adult.  The book was written before the emergence of Watergate, and was prescient as Mazlish concluded that Nixon’s self-destructive nature would come to the fore, but he was not sure how that would manifest itself.  Historians have concluded that Richard Nixon was probably one of the most complex political figures in American history and his career has produced a myriad of books, some praiseworthy, particularly dealing with his opening with China, and detente with the Soviet Union in 1972.  However, the majority have been mostly negative in the light of events surrounding his election to the House of Representatives and the Senate, his pursuit of Alger Hiss, and the actions that brought down his presidency.  Following Nixon’s resignation from the presidency he devoted his time to resurrect his personal legacy presenting himself as a foreign policy sage and authoring a number of books on American foreign policy.  As time has receded, some revisionist accounts of his policies have been written arguing that domestically he pursued a liberal social agenda and that his foreign policy was expertly conducted.  As a result, his reputation seemed to be on the upswing.  Recently, however, a number of books have appeared reevaluating this trend, and the “old Nixon” has reemerged.  One of the books in this genre is Tim Weiner’s ONE MAN AGAINST THE WORLD: THE TRAGEDY OF RICHARD NIXON.

Weiner’s book is not a comprehensive biography but a history of Nixon’s anguished presidency that “concentrates on the intertwined issues of war and national security.”  The author’s approach to his narrative is best summarized as he writes from the outset in referring to his subject that “his gravest decisions undermined allies abroad.  His grandest delusions armed his enemies at home.” “I gave them a sword,” he said after his downfall, “and they stuck it in.”  According to Weiner his book is based mostly on recently declassified documents that were released between 2007 and 2014. Though that may be true there is very little that is new in what is presented as the author provides the reader the usual litany of crimes and near crimes that Nixon engaged in almost on a daily basis.  Weiner is selective in his coverage of the Nixon administration as he is most concerned with the abuses of power and crimes related to the war in Vietnam, and the domestic espionage conducted against what Nixon perceived to be his political enemies that culminated in Watergate.

(Illegal bombing of Cambodia, 1973)

From the outset Weiner presents a man who is obsessed with being elected to the presidency in 1968.  Nixon firmly believed that the Kennedy machine had stolen the 1960 presidential election and he would not allow that to happen again.  As the 1968 campaign began to come to a close President Lyndon Johnson, concerned with his own legacy, announced a bombing halt for Vietnam.  From July, 1968 Nixon had communicated with President Nguyen Van Thieu of South Vietnam that whatever peace deal the Democrats were offering, South Vietnam would be better served if Nixon was in the White House.  As the campaign was coming to a close Johnson was aware of the Nixon campaign’s clandestine approaches to Thieu and how he was undermining any possible political deal.  Weiner presents irrefutable evidence that Nixon was involved in treasonous activity that has been available previously, and explores the reasons that Johnson did not go public with this information.  Weiner will spend a major part of his narrative exploring Nixon’s conduct of the war, detailing the illegal bombing of Cambodia from March, 1969 through August, 1973; the illegal wiretaps designed to stop the leaking of information from the National Security Council, Pentagon, and State Department all in the name of national security; covert operations against United States Senators who opposed his conduct of the war which would result in the passage of the War Powers Act in 1973; the machinations that led to the overthrow of the democratically elected president of Chile, Salvatore Allende; the incursion into Cambodia in April, 1970 that resulted in events at Kent State University; the creation of the “plumbers” to plug leaks that would lead to the break in of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office, and of course Watergate.

(The iconic photo of Mary Ann Vecchio leaning over a dead student at Kent State University after shootings by the National Guard, May 4, 1970)

The details of other abuses of power presented including the selling of ambassadorships, extorting funds from foreign governments in return for favorable American policy decisions, the employment of the IRS to deal with domestic enemies, and the use of the FBI and CIA to deal with political opposition.  Weiner covers it all, but, again nothing really new is presented.  Even in the case of Watergate the reader is exposed to familiar territory as we are taken into the White House as the plans for domestic espionage are laid out.  The familiar names of John Dean, H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, John Mitchell, Charles Colson, Alexander Butterfield, Jeb Magruder, and on and on all make their appearance.  The reader is exposed to Henry Kissinger and his role in Vietnam policy formulation and domestic espionage.  The former Secretary of State is as complicit in many of the crimes propagated in the conduct of the war in Southeast Asia and domestic spying, but aside from a few lawsuits has gotten away scot free and today is seen by many as the eminence grist of American foreign policy.

(Construction workers from the World Trade Center accosting people as they march up Broadway on May 8, 1970)

On a personal level, in May, 1970 I witnessed one of Nixon’s plans to weaken the antiwar movement that was burgeoning in response to his actions in Vietnam and Cambodia.  On May 8, 1972, a few days after the shootings at Kent State, according to Weiner, Charles Colson, one of the Nixon officials in charge of “dirty tricks,” communicated with the New York City construction union council led by Peter J. Brennan to arrange a march up Broadway of construction workers, then building the World Trade Center.  As hundreds of these workers marched they assaulted anyone that seemed to be opposed to the war.  I was a student at Pace University on that day and was chased and attacked by two workers as New York City’s “finest” stood idly by.  Little did I know the culpability of the Nixon administration in these attacks.  The irony was that the next day, as a member of the United States Army Reserves I was activated to control student unrest at St. John’s University in Queens, NY.  Later, interestingly, Peter J. Brennan was appointed Secretary of Labor in the Nixon administration.

(Watergate Hotel)

To Weiner’s credit he has written a breezy and well written catalogue of Nixon’s crimes that summarizes a period of American history whose remnants of which we are still dealing with today.  In evaluating Nixon we must recognize the psychological flaws that lent themselves to limiting a self-destructive personality, who because of his abuse of power overshadowed remarkable accomplishments in diplomacy in negotiating with China and the Soviet Union.  But, as Bruce Mazlish predicted in 1972, his presidency would not end well.