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'Fortress Israel' and 'The Generals'

Authors Patrick Tyler and Thomas E. Ricks examine Israeli and U.S. militarism through the country's commanders.

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Fortress Israel
By Patrick Tyler
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
576 pp.

The Generals
By Thomas E. Ricks
Penguin Group
576 pp.

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When Patrick Tyler started writing about the Middle East for The Washington Post and then The New York Times, he heard and saw the stereotypes about the Arab-Israeli conflicts. Hoping to understand the hostilities beyond the stereotypes, Tyler (author of “A World of Trouble”) dug deep into Israeli society, until he understood something alarming: Israel has become a society so militarized, so under the sway of its generals, that nonviolent diplomacy has become a casualty.

How and why such a thoroughly military outlook became the norm is the subject of Tyler’s new book, Fortress Israel, a telling phrase that sheds any ambiguity when combined with Tyler’s subtitle, “The Inside Story of the Military Elite Who Run the Country – and Why They Can’t Make Peace.” The word “peace” is the final word of the subtitle, suggesting its relative priority in the nation itself – the lowest priority.

As of mid-2012, the primary concern of the Israeli militarists seems to be Iran, according to Tyler. The generals believe that Iran is developing a nuclear bomb and the Israeli military has successfully assassinated Iranian nuclear scientists within Iranian borders. Tyler talks with knowledgeable individuals within the Israeli military establishment who would prefer a less aggressive approach. But those individuals are not ascendant and never have been. Tyler presents  a chronological account of the dozen prime ministers since Israel’s “founding father” David Ben-Gurion who have established the country’s warrior culture.

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