ISRAEL'S LEBANON WAR by Ze'ev & Ehud Ya'ari Sehiff
Kirkus Star


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Schiff, military correspondent for the newspaper Haaretz, and Ya'ari, Arab affairs correspondent for Israeli television, won plaudits for their Lebanon coverage; and the present work, detailing how defense minister Sharon hoodwinked the Cabinet, made news when it appeared in Israel earlier this year. It's certainly the fullest, most precise account of who said what to whom; nothing it relates is inconsistent with what we know of the personalities or circumstances; and it's highly readable--crisp, dramatic, incisive. But it's a reconstruction, with fictional first-handedness (""the setting was comfortable, the reception gracious, and the repartee brisk"") and without sources: nothing is substantiated. Moreover, by beginning with the arrival of a Maronite Christian emissary, in early 1976, seeking Israeli aid against the Palestinians and Muslims (and shortly the Syrians), it sets up the Maronites--the rival Chamouns and Gemayels--as more than accomplices, instigators (who, in succeeding years, press Israel to intervene actively, and find Begin receptive to their genocide plaint). It also makes of Sharon an outright villain (""cynical, headstrong,"" power-hungry, devious), gives him four confederates (Begin, foreign minister Shamir, chief of staff Eitan, ambassador to the US Arens), shows him trumpeting his all-out/anti-Syrian war intentions to ""party hacks"" and ""military personnel"". . . and yet protests (a recurrent strain) that Gemayel was ""privy to information that the Israeli Cabinet did not suspect !"" The reader can only wonder if they were deaf and blind--or self-deluded. As for Begin, he'd ""been assured, or somehow convinced himself,"" that only a limited ground action was planned. (More solidly, the authors stress Begin's, and the Cabinet's, unusual-for-Israel lack of military knowledge--so they didn't perceive, at each escalation, where the war was going.) All this matters just because the book sounds authoritative, and tells much of moment: Haig's tacit support and connivance; Palestinian hopes, plans, performance; Syria's extraordinary efforts to avoid hostilities; Israeli generals' skepticism of Cabinet approval--and awareness that they were headed for Beirut; Gemayel non-assistance at the outset--and ""do-nothing policy"" at Beirut. ""The oddest part of the linkup . . . was that Menachem Begin was as astonished as his ministers to discover that Israeli troops were in Beirut."" Or was he dissembling? Then, far surpassing previous reports: the negotiations for Palestinian withdrawal; disputes over an assault; IDF rifts; ""strong language"" between Washington and Jerusalem; the ""black Thursday"" bombing, and Cabinet leashing of Sharon; Arafat's evacuation, uncrushed. ""The political situation,"" then, ""was not quite as neat as the Israelis believed""; and still to come was the slaughter at Sabra and Satilla--the story that Schiff first got onto, that's pursued here to the equivocal end. The book winds up, indeed, with sharp, stiff policy judgments--and less recourse to personalizing and scenic effects. One way or other, it's the single book on Lebanon, of the several that have already appeared, that most people will most want to read.

Pub Date: Sept. 27th, 1984
Publisher: Simon & Schuster