A complex critique: Inside the Middle East

by | Oct 27, 2016 | Book Reviews

Inside the Middle East

Avi Melamed

Skyhorse Publishing 2016

374 pages, $26.99

Dennis Ross was astonished to realize that senior White House, State, and Defense officials had little or no knowledge of what transpired in previous administrations’ relationships with Israel. So too, does Avi Melamed have cause to regret the ignorance of senior officials when it comes to understanding Arab culture and Arab issues. The lack of fluency in the Arabic language, of scholarship in Arabic and of familiarity with current “Arabspeak,” has kept our diplomats, Department of Defense and White House officials in a permanent “catch-up” mode.

In many ways, Inside the Middle East is extremely timely, coming just about 10 years after Walid Phares’ Future Jihad ( Jewish News December 2005) and Lawrence Wright’s brilliant Looming Tower ( Jewish News April 2007). We are reminded that it is over half a century since Sayyid Qtub laid the foundations for contemporary militant Islam. Qtub, a prolific Egyptian ideologue of the 1950s and 60s whose teachings led to the creation of al Qaeda by Osama Ben Laden, was hanged in 1966 after being found guilty of plotting the assassination of Gamal Abdel Nasser, president of Egypt. Qtub’s extreme Muslim ideology called for:

• Making Shariah the one and only law.

• Toppling any regime that does not implement Shariah law.

• Proactively and violently creating a global caliphate.

• Unwaveringly opposing Western values.

• Eliminating the State of Israel and Jews.

Subsequent fundamentalist Sunnis added the requirement to kill Shiites.

Melamed, a seasoned Israeli Middle East strategic intelligence analyst, has given us a complex critique of Western failures, of tensions among young Arab intellectuals , and of the heartbreak following the chaos in the wake of the Arab Spring.

There is a very extensive glossary with quick facts about the central players, as well as considerable transliteration of Arabic names, places and philosophical concepts. Most readers will have some difficulties with these, as did your reviewer.

Inside the Middle East will reward the reader attempting to “make sense of the most dangerous and complicated region on earth.” The evolution from al Qaeda to ISIS may have surprised Western intelligence officers, but Avi Melamed is able to navigate through the wreckage of what is left of the Middle East.

—Hal Sacks is a retired Jewish communal worker who has reviewed books for Jewish News for more than 30 years.