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Contested Frontiers in the Syria-Lebanon-Israel Region

, 304 pages
December 2013



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Contested Frontiers in the Syria-Lebanon-Israel Region

Cartography, Sovereignty, and Conflict

Contested Frontiers in the Syria-Lebanon-Israel Region studies one of the flash points of the Middle East since the 1960s—a tiny region of roughly 100 square kilometers where Syria, Lebanon, and Israel come together but where the borders have never been clearly marked. This was the scene of Palestinian guerrilla warfare in the 1960s and '70s and of Hezbollah confrontations with Israel from 2000 to the 2006 war. At stake are rural villagers who live in one country but identify themselves as belonging to another, the source of the Jordan River, part of scenic and historically significant Mount Hermon, the conflict-prone Shebaa Farms, and a defunct oil pipeline.

Asher Kaufman uses French, British, American, and Israeli archives; Lebanese and Syrian primary sources and newspapers; interviews with borderland residents and with UN and U.S. officials; and a historic collection of maps. He analyzes the geopolitical causes of conflict and prospects for resolution, assesses implications of the impasse over economic zones in the eastern Mediterranean where Israel, Lebanon, Cyprus, and Turkey all have claims, and reflects on the meaning of borders and frontiers today.

Asher Kaufman is an associate professor of history and peace studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame. He was a fellow at the Wilson Center in 2009–2010.

"Kaufman examines the connections and links that complicate the problem of the tri-border region between Lebanon, Syria, and Israel in a sensitive and sympathetic manner. Moreover, the work manages to explain a complex technical and factual problem in a straightforward manner."

"Kaufman has knitted together maps, archives, and other sources to give a comprehensive view of a collection of issues (fuzzy borders, water resources, state sovereignty, and non-state actors) in a complicated little corner of the Levant that has not hitherto received serious academic treatment. Given that this little corner is crucial to the future of relations among the three states, the author has done a major service in offering a rigorous, balanced, detailed, and fascinating interpretation."

"More scholars will probably re-examine the dramatic vicissitudes that have transpired in the tri-border region in the near future. Kaufman's exhaustive research will serve as an important resource for all of them."

"The main contribution of this work is its rich empirical quality. To shed light on the struggle over borders, the author has consulted American, British, French, Israeli, and United Nations (UN) documents, along with some Arabic material. The book is theoretically informed, drawing on the academic literature of subjects such as border conflicts, sovereignty, borderlands, and state formation without necessarily seeking to contribute substantially to the development of theories... The work's painstaking attention to detail makes it extraordinarily valuable for scholars of Israel-Lebanese-Syrian relations and essential for those interested in border disputes between these countries."

"A meticulously detailed, carefully written account of the geopolitics of a very small but highly contested area... The construction of the book unfolds like an elegant mathematical proof, in which the reader is shown how a led to b and then to c, and how a sequence of various elements, piled on top of one another in chronological succession, have led to this apparently insignificant area becoming a major point of contestation in the Arab-Israeli conflict."

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