What We’re Reading: Recommended Books From 2016

Painted pages
Courtesy of Lenna Young Andrews/Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This article was originally published by IPI Global Observatory on 15 December 2016.

As 2016 comes to a close, the Global Observatory offers a list of notable books published throughout the year, recommended by staff of the International Peace Institute.

Arab Spring: Negotiating in the Shadows of the Intifadat, edited by I. William Zartman (University of Georgia Press)

Though the process is still very much still in progress, there has been no shortage of attempts to explain the origins, trace the trajectory, and draw out the conclusions of the Arab uprisings. However, the attempt by I. William Zartman in his edited volume Arab Spring: Negotiating in the Shadow of the Intifadat stands apart. This very prolific professor of international relations has over the decades—and through the pages of some 20 books—turned conflict resolution into an academic discipline in its own right. In the process, he has defined its parameters. Zartman is therefore uniquely equipped to place the tumultuous recent events of the Arab region in their proper historical and academic context. These were—and still are—a set of developments determined by a desire for change from an old to a new order and, therefore, at heart involved a negotiation of that transformation. It is through this lens that Zartman offers a conceptual framework for negotiating transitions, with a team of experts—most of them from the very countries where the events they describe took place—providing their insights. There is also a chapter on South Africa and another on Serbia, which serve as points of comparison. Recommended by Jose Vericat, Adviser.

Humanitarian Issues

Lebanon on the Brink

Courtesy Nicolas Raymond/flickr

This article was originally published by the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) on 30 August 2016.


Gravely affected by the Syrian crisis, Lebanon has managed to remain relatively stable against all odds – despite the influx of some 1.5 million Syrian refugees and internal political crisis involving actors who support opposing Syrian factions. Lebanon’s resilience can be explained by the high opportunity cost of state breakdown for domestic, regional and international political actors. Moreover, international economic assistance, diaspora remittances and informal networks established by refugees help to prevent outright economic breakdown. Yet, stability remains extremely precarious. Important tipping points include (1) the IS strategy of spreading the conflict to Lebanon, and the consequent disintegration of the army along sectarian lines, (2) democratic decline and popular dissatisfaction, (3) Hizbullah’s domestic ambitions and Israeli fears over the group’s growing military power and (4) the potential for frustration between refugees and host communities turning into recurrent violence. However, (5) the slow economic decline and the worsening sanitary conditions stand out as the greatest challenges.


Book Review: The Hizbullah Phenomenon: Politics and Communication

The flag of the Lebanese Hizbullah party. Image: Wikimedia

This article was originally published by the LSE Review of Books, hosted by the London School of Economics and Political Science, on 23 March, 2015.

The Hizbullah Phenomenon: Politics and Communication. Lina Khatib, Dina Matar and Atef Alshaer. Oxford University Press. 2014.

In The Hizbullah Phenomenon: Politics and Communication, Lina Khatib, Dinar Matar and Atef Alshaer offer a comprehensive analysis of the group’s sophisticated political communication strategy since its inception in 1982. Although they offer no startling insights into the group’s socio-political aims and approaches within Lebanon or its relations with foreign powers, their contribution lies in their detailed analysis of how Hizbullah has continuously sought to legitimise and market itself to domestic and foreign audiences. This is a highly valuable contribution that sheds much needed light on a key causal dimension in the movement’s endurance.

Hezbollah’s Battles Raise Questions About its Long-Term Prospects, But Not Short-Term Support

Hezbollah, Baalbek, Lebanon
Hezbollah, Baalbek, Lebanon. Photo: yeowatzup/flickr.

Hezbollah’s narrative is shifting now that it has entered into Syria’s civil war and taken the side of one Arab party against another, said Thanassis Cambanis, author of A Privilege to Die: Inside Hezbollah’s Legions and Their Endless War Against Israel. “Here is the Lebanese Party of God, whose raison d’être is to fight Israel, suddenly turning its firepower on a group of Islamist Sunni Arabs,” he said. Last week saw a worrying example of the sectarian tensions worsening in Lebanon, when 40 people were killed in clashes between the Lebanese army—apparently aided by Hezbollah—and Sunni militants in Sidon.

“Essentially, [Hezbollah’s] Sunni counterparts—their brethren—are being put in the same enemy box as the Jewish state,” Cambanis said.

Regional Stability

Border of Syria, Israel, Lebanon, Shows Signs of War

13th Battalion of the Golani Brigade Holds Drill at Golan Heights
13th Battalion of the Golani Brigade Holds Drill at Golan Heights. Photo: Israel Defense Forces/flickr.

The battle on June 6 between rebel groups and the Syrian army over Kuneitra, the border town on the northern Golan Heights that straddles the Israeli-Syrian disengagement line, is yet another indication that the Syrian civil war is slowly but surely drawing Syria’s neighbors into its orbit. While the Syrian-Lebanese border zones are where this has been particularly manifested through cross-border skirmishes, transfers of arms, crossing of combatants, and flights of refugees, the battle over Kuneitra and previous cross-border incidents indicate that Israel is increasingly drawn into the war as well. Not coincidently, it is at the Syria-Lebanon-Israel tri-border region where this cross-border leakage is becoming most volatile.

Since the Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon in 2000, the Syria-Lebanon-Israel tri-border region has been extremely explosive. The UN, which in 2000 demarcated the Israeli line of withdrawal from South Lebanon, has attempted to defuse tension there related to Lebanon’s territorial claim over the Shebaa Farms and the village of Ghajar and Hezbollah’s military operations in this area as part of its “resistance” strategy against Israel. These border disputes are now overshadowed by the daily battles, human catastrophes, and the political predicaments of the civil war.