Calling the Golan Heights one of "the hot geopolitical spots in the Middle East and, without exaggeration, in the world," Encel exhaustively surveys the role of this unusual territory in his study. He notes that the conflict between Syria and Israel over this small piece of land is "decidedly more geographical than historical" and also the irony that "the Israeli-Syrian frontier is probably the most peaceable in the entire Middle East," lacking as it does wars, guerrillas, assassinations, or even the occasional gunfire. He devotes chapters to the military and hydraulic issues, then presents the Israeli and Syrian vantage points, and concludes with a smart survey of the Turkey-Israel vs. Syria-Iraq-Iran axes that are reshaping the map of the Middle East.

So far so good, but then Encel offers an interpretation that smells awfully like moral equivalence, that terrible disease which leads an analyst to find little difference between the motives and methods of democracies and those of totalitarian regimes. Almost throughout his book, the author presents Israel and Syria as similar states; and he describes their negotiations as though reporting on, say, a western European dispute over fishing rights. This leads to some peculiar conclusions, notably that Israel is highly unlikely to be willing to hand control of the Golan Heights to Syria. Not understanding the fluidity of a democracy, Encel has somehow missed the fact that the Israeli body politic has overwhelming reconciled itself to doing just this.