Embracing Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin's dictum that small states are the victims of greater states, yet a source of danger to them, Hirst, a former Middle Eastern correspondent for the Guardian, situates Lebanon in this history at the center of Middle East politics, having undergone successive colonialist, nationalist, and Islamist phases.
Sadly, Hirst's book reflects the author's unreserved bias against Israel and what he terms the pro-Zionist, Christian Lebanese. Beware of Small States is as much about delegitimizing Israel as it is about delineating the historical course that led to the emergence of Hezbollah as the paradigmatic non-state actor of the Middle East.
Thus, when describing the aftermath of World War I, Hirst writes that "not only was there no Jewish state, there were not even the basic prerequisites of one," both ignoring historical fact and constructing a lethal fantasy of early Zionists as committed to supplanting the indigenous people and creating an aggressive, expansionist state predisposed to violence.
Similarly, it was "Zionist interventionists" who supported the creation of a Christian Lebanon not so much in the interest of peaceful coexistence with Israel but with the objective of deepening the divisions in the Arab world. Pro-Zionist Christians (in contrast to the Arabist Maronites) support the Jewish state as a means of reinforcing their minority status in the region. The idea of cultural, historical, or political diversity in the Middle East never seems to cross Hirst's mind, whose condescension towards Maronites who dared to digress from a monolithic, anti-Zionist, Arabic discourse is palpable.
Not once does the author investigate the psychological or sociopolitical conditions of the Lebanese from a Christian perspective. All the many declarations of throwing the Maronites into the sea, driving them into exile, detaining them at whim, are absent. Simply put, they were Zionist collaborators with Israeli hubris, epitomized by an imperial "war of choice" (the 1982 Israel-Lebanon war). There and then, according to Hirst, Zionism's inherent violence and aggression were laid bare: the "Sabra and Shatila [massacre] was not an 'aberration.' On the contrary, it was a culmination—and a dreadful one—for a state, a society, and the ideology which infused them."
It is against this background that Hirst traces the creation of Hezbollah as a "Lebanonized," anti-Israel, jihadist movement. To his credit, Hirst, does not believe that Hezbollah's "Lebanonization" would transform the Islamist party into a disarmed, conventional one. But what Hirst fails to indicate is that its "Lebanonization" is only a means to support its jihadist apparatus.
By withstanding Israel's onslaught in the 2006 war, Hezbollah emerges as the de facto caliph of the Arabs and Muslims. Hezbollah and the other non-state actors (Hamas) have arisen where the "official order was most eroded, or most glaringly deficient in its ability to promote and defend the basic interests and expectations of its people." This is Hirst's small state/great agent of change. The narrative concludes with a warning about a new war in which Israeli actions will be offensive and indiscriminately destructive, Hezbollah's merely defensive.
Despite an impressive intimacy with the Middle East, Hirst's narrative is both hackneyed and vindictive, as anyone looking at the unfolding events of the "Arab Spring" can plainly see.