Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Six Days in June...well yes, I'm posting this in June-- but that's the book's title

I have a back-log of books I've read and still want to blog about. Hmmm...back-log of books. Is that what blog stands for? 

Before Anthony Weiner stole the headlines, the most important and inflammable recent event was President Obama's remarks about Israel and its borders. Obama wants Israel to return land to re-establish the borders that existed prior to the Six Day War in 1967. This is interesting in many lights: 

1.) Why does Obama (or American politicians in general) feel the need to influence an issue like this, especially when it's halfway across the world? 
2.) Why would Obama pressure another country to give back land acquired in a recent war in which it was attacked? Can you imagine the U.S. giving back land acquired through wartime? 
3.) Why would Obama pressure another country to give back land that was important to their defense, especially in a context where it was still facing a number of related threats?

All of this became more accessible to me by reading Six Days of June by Eric Hammel. The book is a relatively lengthy (400+ pages) but easy read. Along the way, Hammel provides brief bios on many of the region's key players during that time period and afterwards: Arafat, Nasser, Dayan, Sharon, Rabin, Peres, King Hussein, Uri Ben-Ari, etc.

Hammel documents how the Israeli air power and its surprise attack were devastating and instrumental to winning the war so quickly and completely. Along the way, he describes the wars in 1948 and especially 1956-- and their impact on preparation for what would become the war in 1967.

Hummel also credits the vision with which the Israeli armed forces were constructed, emphasizing a "leadership throughout the ranks" approach that encouraged initiative and critical/creative thinking, while avoiding many of the top-down problems in a central command approach (chapters 6-8). In essence, he described a "production" model that reduced transaction costs and allowed quicker movements with fewer "timeouts" (awaiting instructions).

A number of miscellaneous things: 

1.) Unintended consequences: I enjoyed the brief vignette on Israeli spy Eli Cohen and the escapades of Egypt's President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Cohen was caught in Syria and even the controlled revelations of his efforts led to a military coup (p. 7). Nasser's bravado-laden bluffs (p. 29-31) and his desire to lead the "Arab Nation" (p. 8's competition with the Syrians) led to all sorts of problems-- by Hammel's accounts, one of the chief catalysts for the timing of the war (earlier than ideal for Israel's enemies). 

2.) Attempts at collusion and the free rider problem: Israel benefited to some extent from having multiple enemies that could not coordinate well-- both in a technological sense and in terms of the Prisoner's Dilemmas inherent in group behavior. On the latter, each of their enemies were trying to avoid or instigate action-- what was in their own interests, but detrimental to the overall goal of sacking Israel. 

3.) A great example of propaganda gone wrong: Radio Amman reported the death of the Israeli Air Force and uncontested penetration by Egypt into Israel-- all while they were getting their butts kicked.

4.) The many examples of meddling and passivity by the United Nations. It's ironic that they would commit both sins of omission and commission. 

5.) Big surprise: The French were far more helpful to the Israelis than the Americans in terms of providing materiel and technology.


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