I just finished two of the most extraordinary books I’ve read in a long time. Michael Oren wrote both.
The newly named Israeli ambassador to the U.S. – a real renaissance man – is both a scholar and former officer in the Israel Defense Forces. The two works I am reviewing this week, “Six Days of War,” and “Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present,” are absolutely must-haves for pro-Israel Christians in particular.
Although Oren’s agenda isn’t to point out the supernatural miracle of modern Israel, the reader will easily be able to discern God’s hand at work.
In “Six Days of War,” Oren provides a riveting account of the 1967 Six-Day War, including the escalation leading up to the conflict, its scintillating action and far-reaching conclusion.
For example, Oren shows how Arab intransigence – particularly that of Nasser of Egypt – propelled them into a tragicomedy of strategic errors. Time and again, the Israelis signaled to the West (and to the Soviets) that war was not a foregone conclusion.
As Nasser’s genocidal threats grew louder, Egypt’s defense minister, Shams Badran, uttered an inanity that could have come from the lips of “Baghdad Bob,” Saddam Hussein’s clueless spokesman, a generation later:
“If the [U.S.] Sixth Fleet intervenes in our struggle with Israel,” Badran boasted, “our bombers together with our missile boats can destroy its largest carriers.”
Oren notes that Badran was “convinced that Egypt was now invincible.”
This theme occurs throughout the book. Truly, had the Arabs not adopted hubris as a war policy, the Middle East today would look very different.
Just one of the many fascinating facets of this important work is the American reaction to, and handling of the conflict between, Israel and Egypt.
President Lyndon Johnson, for example, a man who seemed to have some genuine fondness for the young Jewish state, would not give much public warning to the Arabs prior to June 5, 1967.
In fact, during a conversation with Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban, the tall Texan said: “You won’t be alone, unless you go it alone.”
Of course, it’s possible Johnson meant it, but had the Israelis placed their safety in Western hands, we might be lamenting the late, great Israel.
As it was, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, not exactly a decisive fellow, fretted about international opinion. After Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli ships – an act of war – Eshkol dithered for a time. Then, as the Arab forces’ irrationality and international cowardice further solidified, Israel’s “men of war,” the military echelon, stepped forward with a bold plan: an initial assault on Egyptian airfields that could give Israel a major advantage in the war’s genesis.
In fact, that’s exactly what happened. And this is just one of many instances in Oren’s book that points to the intervention of help beyond this world.
As Israel’s fighter jets headed out over the Mediterranean, just before turning sharply west and to the enemy’s airfields, the pilots realized there was little wind and perfect visibility. This combination allowed Israel to destroy half the Egyptian air force within 30 minutes.
Pinpoint planning had also carried the day: Air Force chief Ezer Weizman had been refining a plan codenamed “Focus” for several years. A key element of this plan involved the turnaround time for refueling and rearming after a sortie. Israeli pared its turnaround time to eight minutes. Egypt’s, by contrast, was eight hours. Amazing.
The war’s conclusion, which saw Israel now controlling the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank and the Golan Heights, left a diplomatic mushroom cloud around the globe. No one quite knew what to “do” with a suddenly strong Israel.
As Oren points out, the subsequent negotiations, featuring a still-stubborn, prideful Arab League, laid a firm foundation for the ongoing conflict. For students of this era, “Six Days of War” is the ultimate guide to Israel’s lightning victory.
“Power, Faith, and Fantasy,” Oren’s study of U.S. involvement in the region, details America’s diplomatic efforts in the Middle East from the time of the American Revolution until our time. For people who think they know a lot about the subject, Oren’s page-turner provides context and detail for a rich period of American history. One can see clearly that the world’s current superpower has been vexed and perplexed by radical Islam for much longer than eight years.
Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both dealt with the draconian Muslim stance toward “infidels.” One of the first clashes came when Algerian pirates took captive 21 American sailors. The Muslim ruler, upon seeing the hostages paraded before him, declared: “Now I have you, you Christian dogs, you shall eat stones.”
As early as the 1770s, North African pirates were calling themselves mujahideen, Islamic holy warriors, and attacking American ships. Lacking gunboats, America initially paid ransom to free cargo and crews, but eventually resolve stiffened and the U.S. settled into a period of real influence in the area.
In fact, as Oren’s research points out, it was American missionaries to the Middle East that not only played a large role in 19th century policy, but also laid the groundwork for policy today. Frustrated by their inability to convert Muslim populations to Christianity, missionaries like Maine’s Cyrus Hamlin established colleges in Arab lands and slowly became enamored of their hosts. Jettisoning the need to exclusively preach the gospel, these missionaries began to foster Arab nationalism, a major source of unrest in our world today.
In fact, as Oren points out, those 19th century missionaries are the ancestors of many Washington diplomats today, which explains the State Department’s mendacity as regards the Jewish state. Career “Arabists” in the diplomatic corps have little use for Israel.
A particularly useful line of research in “Power, Faith, and Fantasy” involves Oren’s look into the personal views of American presidents. While Adams, U.S. Grant, Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Truman (“His Bible reading had led him to accept the notion of Jewish restoration in the Holy Land,” Oren writes) all contributed to warm relations with the Jewish effort to settle Palestine, others, such as Jimmy Carter, saw things differently. Even Richard Nixon, who ordered his Air Force chiefs to send “everything that will fly” to help rearm a desperate Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, was soaked in anti-Semitism.
Michael Oren has provided Middle East aficionados with two remarkable volumes that chronicle seismic political and cultural events in that volatile area of the world. These two books are so good, I wouldn’t sell you my heavily underlined copies for any amount of Saudi oil, which, by the way, directly impacts all our lives in ways we can scarcely comprehend.
For example … well, on second thought, get the books and find out for yourself!