HAIM HERZOG's The Arab-Israeli Wars is a straightforward military account of all Israel's battles from the war of independence to the present. Unfortunately, the American edition has been overtaken by events in Lebanon. Publication has been delayed a month to include an additional chapter, but even so, this account takes us up only through early summer. The long siege of Beirut, the evacuation of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Israeli entry into West Beirut and the resulting massacre are not covered here.
Because of this, Herzog has not been able to assess properly the Lebanon adventure, the most devisive and controversial war in Israel's history.
This is a book more for military buffs than for most general readers. The accounts of tactics and strategies are clear, well written, with just enough color and personal accounts to keep it from becoming a staff college lecture. There is also a good selection of maps, lacking in many military books.
One longs, however, for more glimpses and insights into the controversies, politics and deliberations of Israel's leaders. Herzog served as head of Israel's military intelligence twice and as ambassador to the United Nations. Perhaps he was never high-ranking enough to have the same eyewitness-to-history impact as did a Moshe Dayan or an Ezer Weizman.
Herzog's historical account does not stray from what might be called the standard Israeli version of events. For example, when recounting the mass exodus of Arabs from Palestine during the 1948 war, he accurately describes how the Arab leaders encouraged their people to flee. But then he adds that "the Jews endeavored, particularly in Haifa and in other places, to dissuade the Arab population from following their leaders in this. But the Arabs were torn by doubts and beset by an atmosphere of panic."
That there was Arab panic is incontestably true. But, as former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin wrote in his memoirs, it was also a policy of the Jewish forces to drive Arabs away from areas where they were not wanted. The image of a Jewish community in Palestine begging Arabs to stay and live side by side is, at best, misleading.
All references to Jews driving Arabs from their homes were censored from the English edition of Rabin's book by Israeli censors--even though the events had taken place 30 years before. Herzog, however, says that nothing in this book was censored.
When it comes to the assassination of the Swedish Count Folke Bernadotte, the United Nations representative in Palestine during the 1948 period, Herzog tells us that the assailants were "generally presumed to be Jewish . . ." and that no one was apprehended. David Ben- Gurion, Herzog tells us, took advantage of the shock to disband the Irgun in Jerusalem and that 200 members of the Lehi (Stern Gang) were arrested.
When recounting the fate of the Liberty, the American electronics-surveillance ship bombed by Israeli planes in the 1967 war with a loss of 34 American lives, Herzog again takes the straight official line, saying it was a tragic case of mistaken identity. Herzog was in a position to know. But there has been enough evidence suggesting it was a not a case of mistaken identity to expect a fuller discussion of this event, even if Herzog's conclusion remains the same.
Herzog's analyses of what was important militarily are, however, both interesting and sound. He quite correctly points out that the air battles with Syria during the present Lebanon war will be remembered as "one of the major dogfights to have taken place in the history of air warfare. . . ." Israel's quick victory over the Syrian ground-to-air missiles may have reversed the verdict of the 1973 war -- that missiles could at least partially neutralize air power.
Written well before the current controversy surrounding Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, Herzog's comments on the general are instructive. "He was to be accused, both in this and later campaigns, of insubordination and dishonesty . . . Few, if any, of his superior officers over the years had a good word to say for him as far as human relations and integrity were concerned, although none would deny his innate ability as field soldier."
Here is Herzog's description of the siege of Jewish Jerusalem in 1948: "Electricity supplies in the city were down to a minimum of a few hours a day, and the water pumping stations had been shut off by the Arabs since 12 May . . . There was widespread hunger and thirst and, at night, total darkness. Twenty-four hours a day the city was under artillery bombardment. There was no food in the ships. The entire population lived and slept in the cellars and the shelters, and there were no sanitary arrangements because of the lack of water. As supplies ran out, it became clear to all that the limit of human endurance was not far off unless the siege could be lifted."
The Israelis had their own Beirut in those early days and it is to be hoped that a later edition can include a fuller analysis of the present situation: a situation in which Israel stands as the premier military power in the region, ready to use its army to impose its political will on its neighbors. Herzog does comment that "it is impossible to compare the Israeli army's problems in this (the Lebanon) war with the problems it faced in previous wars. This time the initiative was entirely in Israel's hands. . . ." But the Lebanon war cries out for further strategic analysis.