Beware of Small States: Lebanon, Battleground of the Middle East


by David Hirst

(New York: Nation Books, 2010), 489 pages

Reviewed by Nir Boms


In choosing the title of his book Beware of Small States, David Hirst harks back to the words of Mikhail Bakunin, the Russian anarchist who in 1870 wrote to a friend about the European wars. Small states, Bakunin wrote, are “particularly vulnerable to the machinations of greater ones,” but “they are also a source of trouble to their tormentors” (p. 2). This is, in a nutshell, the tragic story of Lebanon, the “small state of the Middle East” that is described elsewhere as “other people’s battle ground” (p. 117).

This is an impressive work that showcases its author’s well-honed journalistic skills. Hirst, a former Middle East Correspondent for The Guardian, lived in Lebanon for almost fifty years and reported extensively on the region. He was kidnapped twice, and expelled from half a dozen Arab countries because of his work. In this thick and thorough account—that he boldly calls a “definitive history of Lebanon”—Hirst offers a detailed narrative of this battleground that is arranged in chronological order and supported by copious footnotes. It is both a good read for the general public as well as a sourcebook for serious students of the Middle East. View full post…

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Syrian Peace Overtures: Timing is Everything


Nir Boms and Elliot Chodoff

Since he abruptly returned from Britain to Syria five years ago to inherit the regime from his ailing father, thirty-six year old Syrian strongman Basher al-Assad has rarely smiled in public. After all – running Syria is a serious business. But lately, it seems that Assad is showing the world a different face. While visiting Cairo last week to discuss the situation in the Middle East he actually cracked a half-smile.

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Deceptive Damascus

By Elliot Chodoff and Nir Boms
June 15, 2007

The Syrian regime, which brooks no opposition at home, supports terrorists of all varieties abroad and eliminates foreign political leaders who have the temerity to oppose the subjugation of their country, continues to attempt to paint the face of democracy on its strongman dictatorial system. 

Three events over the past two weeks provided a clear view of the nature of the Syrian regime: the publication of official election results, the response to the U.N. decision to establish a tribunal on the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and the assassination of Walid Eido, an anti-Syrian Lebanese lawmaker and prominent supporter of the tribunal.

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The Lebanese Test

By Nir Boms and Leon Saltiel | September 7, 2006

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan seemed particularly satisfied at the press conference in Brussels when the foreign ministers of the 25 European Union member states committed to contribute more that half of the 15,000 soldiers of the revamped UN force in Lebanon. Apart from the significance of this move for the stability of the region and the strengthening of the Lebanese government, the pledge of European soldiers signals an important shift in European Mideast policies: Europe is now willing to get involved militarily in the Arab-Israeli conflict. 

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