Oren, Michael B(ornstein)

views updated

OREN, Michael B(ornstein)

PERSONAL: Male. Education: Graduate of Columbia University; Princeton University, Ph.D.

ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, MacAdam/Cage Publishing, 155 Sansome St., Suite 550, San Francisco, CA 94104.

CAREER: Historian and writer. Shalem Center, Jerusalem, senior fellow and head of Middle East history project. Director of Israel's Department of InterReligious Affairs under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin; representative in Israeli delegation to the United Nations. Military service: Served in Israeli Defense Forces..

AWARDS, HONORS: Lady Davis fellow, Hebrew University; Moshe Dayan fellow, Tel-Aviv University.


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.

Contributor to periodicals and journals.

SIDELIGHTS: Michael B. Oren is an historian with dual citizenship in the United States and Israel. He served in the Israeli army and government and represented Israel before the United Nations. He is also an author whose first history 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 Oren draws on unpublished documents and primary sources and writes for a range of audiences.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 more well-trained and well-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's 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 wouldn't 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 wrote 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, a story of a group of survivors of the Battle of the Bulge who return to France fifty years after the famous battle. Library Journal's Robert Conry called the book "a well-written tale of men in the twilight of their lives confronting their terrible past."



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.

Commentary, June, 2002, Victor Davis Hanson, review of Six Days of War, p. 69.

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

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.

Library Journal, April 15, 2003, Robert Conry, review of Reunion, p. 126.

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.

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.

Publishers Weekly, March 25, 2002, review of Six Days of War, p. 51; April 7, 2003, review of Reunion, p. 43.

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.

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


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

Morning Edition onlie,http://www.npr.org/ (May 21, 2002), Linda Gradstein, interview with Oren.

Shalem Center Web site,http://www.shalem.org/ (December 12, 2002), Yossi Klein Halevi, interview with Oren.*