December book digest

With Hamas again making recent headlines in the Israeli press, it does little harm to conduct some more substantial background reading on them, and three particularly useful books on this subject  are Rules for Rebels: The Science of Victory in Militant History by Max Abrahms, Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present by Max Boot, and Palestine: A Four Thousand Year History by Nur Masalha. 

Abrahms’s book seeks to analyse the tactical and strategic intelligence of a number of insurgent organisations (including Palestinian groups active during the Second Intifada), and establish the factors which either led to their ultimate success, or failure. Using significant amounts of quantative data, Abrahms’s ultimate thesis is that conducting attacks against civilians ultimately significantly undermines a group’s potential for success, thus explaining Islamic State’s failures in Iraq and Syria. This has obvious but interesting implications for Hamas’s post-Second Intifada change in tactics, but how this will impact the group remains to be seen.

In his work, Boot offers an overview of history’s most signficant insurgent and guerrilla groups, with case studies ranging from anti-Roman Jewish rebels in ancient Judea, through to Al Qaeda in Iraq up to 2008. He also includes chapters on the “Terrorism of the 1970s” which examines the Raid on Entebbe, Yasser Arafat, and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. While not an academic work in the same way that Abrahams’s is, Boot’s book makes for excellent reading, and is a very good comparative work, which partially examines how Palestinian insurgents fit into a longer history of guerrilla warfare.

Masalha’s book seeks to argue that “Palestine, contrary to accepted belief, is not a modern invention or one constructed in opposition to Israel, but rooted firmly in ancient past”. A fairly hefty tome, it tells the story of  Palestinian history from the classical antiquity, before ending in the aftermath of the Six Day War in 1967. While a valuable contribution to Palestinian historiography, Masalha’s book isn’t particularly easy to read. Often heavy, it is likely best appreciated by a serious academic reader, and less than appropriate for a casual reader.


About the Author
Daniel J. Levy is a graduate of the University of Leeds and Oxford, where his academic research primarily focused on Iranian proxies in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine. He is the Founding Director and Lead Consultant of the Ortakoy Security Group, and has contributed editorial pieces to The Times of Israel, Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, and Israel Policy Exchange. In his free time, he enjoys reading, running, and cooking. He can be followed on Twitter @danielhalevy.
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