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The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  517 Ratings  ·  35 Reviews
As it celebrated its fiftieth anniversary, the State of Israel could count many important successes, but its conflict with the Palestinians and the Arab world at large casts a long shadow over its history. What was promulgated as an "iron-wall" strategy—dealing with the Arabs from a position of unassailable strength—was meant to yield to a further stage where Israel would ...more
Paperback, 704 pages
Published January 17th 2001 by W. W. Norton Company (first published December 1st 1999)
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I'm a bit hesitant to write anything on the Israel-Palestine conflict - it's not really my field of study, and I feel as though I'm stepping in a minefield.

There are few areas within the field of history so politicized as the history of Israel and its relations with the Palestinians and the Arab world. Shlaim contributes to this historical debate with this openly revisionist work (his word) which challenges traditional Israel narratives about its foundation and history with the Arab World.

Igor Ljubuncic
Jul 04, 2017 rated it liked it
A Game of Throne with a side plate of Hummus.

A very good if extremely annoying book.

Let's start with the good parts:

Fascinating detail, lots of personal stories and memoirs by Israeli politicians, a whirlwind of backstabbing, manipulation, ideology, pragmatism, and culture all over the place. As hectic as one might expect. The first half of the book covers mostly the 1948-1967 period, with strong focus on Ben Gurion, Sharett and Eshkol. Really neat. Another little-known piece that fascinated me:
Feb 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Barring the outstanding quality of this book and the depth of information presented within it, the fact that it took me ten months to finish The Iron Wall is in itself a reason to take a few seconds of my time to comment on it.

This book is a mammoth, especially for someone like me who wouldn’t term themselves a ‘fast reader’ by any means. It is so long, and so dense with facts, dates and events that I started off only reading about 10 pages a day before I had put it down in exhaustion. But the
Oct 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
Avi Shlaim is in the school of what are called "The New Historians" on the Arab-Israeli conflict, along with Benny Morris who broke new ground in historical analysis with the Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem. This text by Shlaim is a great single volume overview of the history of the conflict, from 1948 and the war of independence leading all the way up to 1999. The thesis of his book is that the Zionist movement eventually adopted the political philosophy of Ze'ev Jabotinksy with his id ...more
Mar 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A great read. Very well documented and detailed. Not only a guide through the convoluted history of Arab-Israeli relations, but also a good source for insight into the relation between domestic politics and ideology on the one hand and international affairs on the other, with quite a few detours into personalities of leaders and diplomats who shaped this history.
It is also the history of an idea - the doctrine of the Iron Wall, developed by the founders of Zionism, by which Israel had to assert
Aug 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: political-stuff
It took me a long time to slog through this book, but I'm so glad I did. Detailed primary source accounts of policy debates in the Israeli government was fascinating. It convinced me that Israel has blown it continuously in its policy towards Arabs in Palestine and elsewhere. At every turn, where there was an opportunity to make a positive decision, the Israel government went the wrong way.

These days, when people point to Hamas and their professed commitment to the destruction of Israel as an ob
Apr 25, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bibliocase
The whole world stands polarised on the seemingly intractable conflict between Israel and Palestine/Arab world. While one section of the population attribute this raging disquiet to Israeli obduracy, the remaining section remains firmly entrenched in placing the blame squarely on Palestinian/Arab obstinacy. This tome by Avi Shlaim endeavours to clear the cobwebs and strike at the very heart of the matter.

Subsequent to the de-classification of many documents and archives by the Israeli Government
Derek Martin
Aug 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
This detailed and objective history of Israel from the UN Resolution of 1947 onward completely dismantles any notion that Israel began as a peace-loving nation only seeking to find harmony between migrant Jews and indigenous Palestinians. I want to stress, once again, what I find to be a fairly "objective" assessment of this rather polemical topic. Shlaim deals with the facts the way you expect a historian to do so. Reviews that consider this book biased are basing that opinion on the conclusion ...more
Jun 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2012
Outstanding tome on the history of modern Israel and The Arab world. Packed with information - old and new. Author has done tireless research. Worth reading...hard to read as a reference book.
Ahmed Uzair
Jul 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
It is a fair book on a subject that is plagued with misinformation and propaganda. The narrative is easy to understand and is well presented.
Jan 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful book
Dec 22, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, palestine
An interesting fairly impartial analysis of Israel's 'Iron Wall' approach towards it's Arab neighbours. While it deserves credit for not falling into the trap of repeating endless state-sponsored political rhetoric, it lets itself down by running through the entire history of the conflict from a distinctly Israeli viewpoint. There is little to no effort made to show any kind of viewpoint or opinion of those on the Arab side of the conflict beyond dabbling in the hubris and self-servient interest ...more
Nov 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"The Iron Wall" offers an excellent, detailed, and well-documented history of Israeli diplomacy and foreign policy. Many might consider this a dry subject, but Shlaim is very, very readable. He's also notably fair-minded and balanced. That said, I did get a sense where the first edition ended and the new material began. Shlaim didn't seem quite as detached when reporting on events of the last 10-12 years. That said, the new edition does bring the history of the conflict up to the present day. I ...more
Sep 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
I found this a bit dry at points, and difficult to remember who all the key players were, but that's more about me than the author I think. I think there may have been too much information, or that at least a table of events would've been helpful. I don't feel much clearer about the rights and wrongs of this whole long and ugly situation, which is a good job by the author as it means that he was very pragmatic and unbiased, although I think he may have downplayed the Arab resistance out of some ...more
Les Dangerfield
Jan 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an exceptionally good account of Israel's relationships with neighbouring countries and of the interminable 'peace process' between Israel and the Palestinians. Whilst some fault lies with both sides in this lengthy and frustrating process, Israel has been guilty, particularly in the past eighteen years, of deliberately pursuing policies aimed at frustrating reasonable Palestinian ambitions to have their own state alongside that of Israel. I strongly recommend anyone who needs to underst ...more
Aug 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Excellent read by Jewish historian Avi Shlaim on the backdoor alley deals, circumstances, and political ploys that not only led to the creation of the state of Israel on Palestinian lands, but also all the events that sought to sustain it: mass deportations, ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, inciting border wars with neighboring countries to expand territory, Irgun and Hagana Zionist militias,...etc. Avi concludes that the Jewry of the day had placed themselves on the wrong side of history, and ...more
May 08, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Thoughtful, well-researched and comprehensive. My interest in Middle East politics started 4 years ago when I wanted to understand why there was so much contention over Palestine/Israel. More importantly, I wanted an unbiased version of the truth. I did pick this book up with some skepticism, as it was written by a Jewish author. After reading Shlaim's book, I came to realize that both parties were at fault, and the only way to a solution is compromise by both sides where each side will have to ...more
David Siroonian
Apr 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great introduction to the history of Israel's relations with its Arab neighbors. This is such a politically charged issue, especially in the United States, that finding news sources on the internet without axes to grind against one side or another is virtually impossible. Shlaim's book is one of those gems that enables the reader to put such a complicated and emotional issue into historical context which, in turn, enables the reader to rise above the charged rhetoric surrounding the issue toda ...more
Kamal Kannan
Nov 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
Atlast i got to know about Israel - Arab conflict in Middle East...One thing stood out and still cant able to believe, how this country always in fighting mode with others rather than talks....Israel always a loggerhead, even now they are ready to fight with Iran. I think no other country has this much guts to think of fighting rather than diplomacy.
Vaile Adams-Fujikawa
Feb 10, 2008 rated it really liked it
This book is a watershed in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. I feel like it is written factually and presents the failure from all sides to find a solution to the problem that had been brewing in the Middle East for 125 years. If you're interested in a relatively non-biased history of the region I strongly recommend this title.
Apr 19, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a book about Israel's relations with its Arab neighbours since the first settlers arrived. Avi Shaim is a professor in International Relations at Oxford University and takes a long hard look at the reality of what has happened and how Israel has employed unreasonable force and agression from the beginning. Anyone who wants to know more about thhe Middle East should read this book.
Dec 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Very detailed history of the birth of the State of Israel and the ongoing relations with neighboring Arabs. Maybe a little too detailed for me given I'm not a student of Middle East relations but this is definitely a well-written book. Even with all the factoids and quotes, its still "readable".

Jan 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Well worth a read if you want insight into the politics of the Middle East and especially the background to the approach by Israel to especially the Palestinian question. Well researched and not biased.
Liam Arne
Dec 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Clearly biased but ultimately excellent overview and critical interpretation
Ben Jaques-Leslie
Jun 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
Revisionist history of Israel and Palestine. Well-told and even story of Israeli history.
Nov 11, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
very interesting book tells the story of the iron wall that was built to contain the pride that was married to another man!!! by those who kidnapped her from her husband and family!!!!
Sean B
Mar 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Very detailed history of Israel's relations with its Arab neighbors. Excellent way to learn more about the conflict in the Middle East.
Feb 01, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Despite the controversies, this is a balanced and well-written history.
Sep 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
Very good book about the history of the Arab/Israeli conflict. After doing some minor research in the area, I appreciated that this book approached the conflict from a somewhat neutral perspective.
Sep 19, 2010 rated it it was ok
I picked this book up hoping for a really comprehensive history lesson but it was so so so so so dry that i didnt last over 50 pages
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Avi Shlaim FBA (born October 31, 1945) is an Iraqi-born British/Israeli historian. He is emeritus professor of International Relations at the University of Oxford and a fellow of the British Academy. Shlaim is considered one of Israel's New Historians, a group of Israeli scholars who put forward critical interpretations of the history of Zionism and Israel.
More about Avi Shlaim...

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