Oren, Michael B. (Michael Bornstein Oren)

views updated

Oren, Michael B. (Michael Bornstein Oren)


Born in NJ; immigrated to Israel, 1979; married, wife's name, Sally; children: three. Education: Graduate of Columbia University; Princeton University, Ph.D. Religion: Jewish.


Home—Jerusalem, Israel. Office—Shalem Center, 13 Yehoshua Bin-Nun St., Jerusalem, Israel.


Historian and writer. Shalem Center, Jerusalem, Israel, senior fellow and head of Middle East history project. Director of Israel's Department of Inter-Religious Affairs under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin; representative in Israeli delegation to the United Nations. Visiting professor at Yale University and Harvard University, 2006. Military service: Served in Israeli Defense Forces; served as paratrooper in first Lebanon War, as Israeli liaison officer to the U.S. Sixth Fleet during Gulf War, and as army spokesman in second Lebanon War; elevated to major.


Lady Davis fellow, Hebrew University; Moshe Dayan fellow, Tel-Aviv University; fellowships from the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Department of Defense, and from British and Canadian governments; Los Angeles Times Book Prize in History, 2003, and National Jewish Book Award, both for Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East.


Origins of the Second Arab-Israel War: Egypt, Israel, and the Great Powers, 1952-56, F. Cass (Portland, OR), 1992.

Sand Devil (three novellas), The Toby Press (New Milford, CT), 2001.

Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2002.

Reunion (novel), MacAdam/Cage (San Francisco, CA), 2003.

Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor to periodicals and journals, including Azure, Boston Globe, New Republic, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal.


Michael B. Oren is an historian with dual citizenship in the United States and Israel. He served in the Israeli army and government and has represented Israel before the United Nations. He is also an author whose first history book about the Middle East is Origins of the Second Arab-Israel War: Egypt, Israel, and the Great Powers, 1952-56. Oren draws on unpublished documents and primary sources, gearing his writing to a range of audiences. Historical Journal reviewer Batya Shenhar noted that, until its publication, there had not been a complete, impartial, readable text on this period. "Oren accomplishes these obligations very conscientiously," remarked Shenhar, who felt that Oren's research "is a highly professional piece of work, which should appeal to scholars and students of twentieth-century history and not just to those interested in the Middle East."

Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East was called a "masterful and thrilling new history" by National Review's John Podhoretz. Oren studies that period in Middle East history known in the West and in Israel as the Six-Day War and in the Arab world as the June War. This brief period of conflict ultimately spawned the Yom Kippur War, the war in Lebanon, the Camp David accords, the West Bank controversy, and the rise of resurgent nationalism. Oren deftly explains the key players and their roles, including the United States and the Soviet Union, drawing on thousands of documents, many in Arabic or Russian, and on personal interviews.

The war began to develop when Egypt expelled United Nations peacekeeping forces, moved troops into the Sinai, and set up a blockade in the Straits of Tiran, which halted Israeli vessels. Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Tunisia, Libya, and Morocco massed troops at the Israeli border, and other countries, including Yemen and Algeria, voiced their support. On June 4, Abdel Hakim Amer, an Egyptian field marshal, called the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), saying that "soon we'll be able to take the initiative and rid ourselves of Israel once and for all."

On June 5, Israel launched a preemptive strike that turned into a quick victory. Within ninety minutes, Israel decimated most of the Egyptian air force that waited on the ground, as well as anti-aircraft weaponry and missiles, and took control of the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. Egypt was entirely unprepared, and most of its political and military leaders had conveniently gone on vacation or were otherwise unreachable. When it was over, Egypt had 20,000 casualties, and Israel had 5,000 Egyptian prisoners. The Israelis had many advantages besides surprise; their officers and troops were better trained and better armed than their Arab counterparts.

Gary J. Bass noted in the New York Times Book Review that "on the second day of the war, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt and King Hussein of Jordan agreed to blame nonexistent American and British airstrikes for their disastrous losses—the kind of lie that has helped embitter many Arabs against America."

Spectator critic Philip Ziegler commented that "the prevailing message of this remarkable book is that statesmen of every nation are entirely unable to control the course of events." With the exception of Syria, none of the countries wanted war at that particular time, and the United States and Russia were working hard to restrain them. The triggers that set it off were several: when the Israelis excluded heavy weapons from a parade in order to convey a peaceful message, the Arabs interpreted their absence as meaning that they were about to be deployed; U Thant, secretary general of the United Nations, postponed a critical peace mission because his horoscope said it would not be a good time to travel; a more softly worded version of a Nasser letter never reached its destination.

Victor Davis Hanson noted in Commentary that Orem shows that Nasser was actually hours away from bombing Israel and the nuclear reactor in Dimona. "Nor was the Israel Defense Force (IDF) planning a war of conquest; it believed that its preemptive strike on Egyptian planes would buy, at most, a year or two of peace. The conquest of the West Bank, Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights was mostly the result of ad-hoc fighting by commanders in the field. So unprepared were many of them that they got lost when they reached the Old City of Jerusalem and had to negotiate its unfamiliar streets." The confusion escalated when the United States heard erroneous reports through Damascus and Radio Cairo that the Russians were about to intervene. The American ship U.S.S. Liberty was accidentally hit by Israeli fire, and U.S. embassies fell under siege in Arab capitals. "To compound matters," continued Hanson, "all this, coupled with the quagmire of Vietnam, hampered a well-meaning President Lyndon B. Johnson from properly assessing or exploiting his full range of options."

Hanson wrote that "there is an eerie feeling of deja vu in reading Oren's history just now, and the cumulative effect of his meticulous research is quite depressing…. While Oren's goal is to write history, not contemporary political analysis, Six Days of War turns out to be a far better guide to the present crisis than what we read and hear daily from historically ignorant columnists and pundits." Podhoretz noted that "Oren's beautifully modulated account of the war … offers an implicit explanation of the inability or refusal of the United States and other Western countries to take Osama bin Laden all that seriously before September 11, [2001]. Experts in foreign policy and the Middle East had heard it all before from Nasser. They knew that the West had taken Nasser far too seriously, so how seriously could they take a Nasser wannabe like bin Laden?"

In 2003, Oren published his first novel, Reunion the story of a group of survivors of the Battle of the Bulge who return to France fifty years after the famous battle. Library Journal reviewer Robert Conry called the book "a well-written tale of men in the twilight of their lives confronting their terrible past."

In Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present, Oren explores the complex, longstanding relationship between the United States and the Arab and Muslim world. Oren traces American military, political, and religious involvement in the region from the Barbary Wars of the late eighteenth-century to the Iraq War that was begun in 2003, observing that the country's "interest in the Middle East is as much the story of Protestant missionaries who helped shape our attitudes and policies in that turbulent part of the world as it is a history of America's pursuit of its economic and political interests in the region," wrote Jack Fischel in the Philadelphia Inquirer. "From the outset," wrote Commentary reviewer Hillel Halkin, "U.S. policy toward the Middle East shuttled between, on the one hand, an aggressive military posture fueled by American nationalism and the assertion of American power and, on the other hand, a reluctance to bear the financial and human costs of warfare when more peaceful if less dignified alternatives were available." According to New York Times Book Review critic Max Rodenbeck, "as Oren amply illustrates, it is America's failure to be clear and honest about its own motives, as much as its serial failure to interpret the Middle East, that has so often befuddled relations with the region." "Written with the narrative drive of a novel," remarked David Pryce-Jones in the National Review, Oren's "huge and thoughtful book is rich in past incident and anecdote that illuminate the present."



Atlantic Monthly, July-August, 2002, Benjamin Schwarz, review of Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East, p. 188.

Booklist, December 15, 2006, Jay Freeman, review of Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present, p. 8.

Books, February 18, 2007, "Misreading America's past in the Mideast: Author's Analyses Mar His Sweeping History," p. 5.

Book World, January 21, 2007, "How America Met the Mideast," p. 1.

Commentary, June, 2002, Victor Davis Hanson, review of Six Days of War, p. 69; January 1, 2007, Hillel Halkin, "To the Shores of Tripoli," p. 53.

Economist, June 15, 2002, review of Six Days of War.

Foreign Affairs, January 1, 2007, Douglas Little, review of Power, Faith, and Fantasy, p. 174.

FrontPage, April 10, 2007, Jamie Glazov, "Power, Faith, and Fantasy," interview with Michael B. Oren.

Historical Journal, June, 1995, Batya Shenhar, review of Origins of the Second Arab-Israel War: Egypt, Israel, and the Great Powers, 1952-56, pp. 507-509.

Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2002, review of Six Days of War, p. 474; April 1, 2003, review of Reunion, p. 501; November 1, 2006, review of Power, Faith, and Fantasy, p. 1116.

Legal Times, February 26, 2007, Martin Kimel, review of Power, Faith, and Fantasy.

Library Journal, April 15, 2003, Robert Conry, review of Reunion, p. 126; January 1, 2007, Melissa Aho, review of Power, Faith, and Fantasy, p. 124.

Middle East Policy, December, 2002, Michael Rubner, review of Six Days of War, p. 172.

National Review, July 29, 2002, John Podhoretz, review of Six Days of War, p. 41; January 29, 2007, David Pryce-Jones, "Fantasy & Reality," p. 44.

New Leader, May-June, 2002, Harold M. Waller, review of Six Days of War, p. 20.

New Statesman, August 5, 2002, Stephen Howe, review of Six Days of War, p. 34.

New York Times, July 6, 2002, Edward Rothstein, review of Six Days of War, p. A17; July 17, 2002, Richard Bernstein, review of Six Days of War, p. B1.

New York Times Book Review, June 16, 2002, Gary J. Bass, review of Six Days of War, p. 30; January 28, 2007, Max Rodenbeck, "Midnight at the Oasis," p. 12.

Philadelphia Inquirer, February 14, 2007, Jack Fischel, review of Power, Faith, and Fantasy.

Publishers Weekly, March 25, 2002, review of Six Days of War, p. 51; April 7, 2003, review of Reunion, p. 43; November 20, 2006, review of Power, Faith, and Fantasy, p. 52.

Spectator, June 29, 2002, Philip Ziegler, review of Six Days of War, p. 38.

Times Literary Supplement, September 27, 2002, review of Six Days of War, p. 12.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), February 18, 2007, Nader Hashemi, "Misreading America's Past in the Mideast," p. 5.

Wall Street Journal, June 5, 2002, Robert L. Pollock, review of Six Days of War, p. D7.

Washington Post Book World, January 21, 2007, Robert Kagan, "How America Met the Mideast," p. 1.


Booknotes,http://www.booknotes.org/ (August 25, 2002), Brian Lamb, interview with Michael B. Oren.

Michael B. Oren Home Page,http://www.michaeloren.com (July 1, 2007).

National Public Radio,http://www.npr.org/ (June 11, 2002), Terry Gross, "Interview: Michael Oren Discusses His New Book Six Days of War and the Events Leading Up to Today's Israeli-Palestinian Conflict."