Publications - Articles

Religion, Nation, and State in the Middle East: An Overview

Itamar Rabinovich, “Religion, Nation, and State in the Middle East: An Overview.” In: Anita Shapira, Yedidia Z. Stern and Alexander Yakobson (editors), The Nation State and Religion: The Resurgence of Faith, Vol. II (Sussex Academic Press, 2013), pp. 74-84.

In 1961, the Harvard political scientist Nadav Safran published an influential book titled Egypt in Search of Political Community.[1] The book described and analyzed the conflict over Egypt’s identity between contending schools, primarily a liberal-secular territorial concept of the Egyptian state and Arab and Islamist ones. Safran’s terminology and analysis provide an excellent point of departure for an essay seeking to offer an overview of the relationship between nation, religion, and state in the Middle East.

The American Advantage


The American Advantage: How Diversity, Autonomy and Philanthropy Define the U.S. University Model

by Itamar Rabinovich and C Wright Mills, The American Interest 4. 5 (May/Jun 2009): 74-81.


Because the scope of competition has expanded much faster than have universities, it has become on balance more difficult to meet the quest for higher education in particularly lucrative fields in a way that harmonizes with national goals. [...] it is the autonomy, scope of private governance and widespread social devotion to both philanthropy and well-financed higher education in the United States that ensures the global superiority of its institutions of higher learning, and these are cultural characteristics that other countries will be hard-pressed to replicate.


Israel Steps Into Syria

Foreign Affairs, February 6, 2013

Last week, after two years of watching the Syria crisis unfold with quiet unease [1], Israel departed from its policy of restraint and staged an aerial raid near Damascus. The facts are still murky. Israel issued no statement and took no responsibility for the strike, although Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, speaking at a major security conference in Munich, came close to conceding involvement. The Syrian government, however, was swift to announce and condemn an Israeli raid on a "research center" in the vicinity of Damascus, as did the regime's allies, Iran and Hezbollah. The international and Israeli press speculated that Israel had attacked a convoy of game-changing ground-to-air missiles that were about to be transferred by Syria to Hezbollah and that may have been stationed in that "research center" on their way to Lebanon. 

Alawite Secessionism in Historical Perspective

Tel Aviv Notes, vol. 7, no. 1, January 10, 2013


Nearly two years after the outbreak of what has become the Syrian civil war, it is evident that Bashar al-Asad’s regime is doomed. It is still not certain when the regime will finally collapse or be toppled, how precisely this is going to happen and what future can be expected for the Syrian state. Is some form of agreement between elements of the regime and the opposition still feasible? Will the political opposition, most of whose members reside abroad, be able to form a new regime, or will power be taken by the militias inside Syria who bore the brunt of the rebellion? Several analysts wonder whether Syria will remain a unitary state, at least in the short run. Most scenarios envisaging a break-up of the Syrian state predict an Alawite withdrawal to the mountains along the coast in northwestern Syria and Kurdish autonomy in the northeast.

Talking to Islamists – Israel’s Choices

Caravan, Hoover Institution, August 13, 2012

The policy debate on the proper response to the challenges presented by the recent surge in Islamist power and influence in the Middle East is also a matter of geography. The position obtained by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis in Egypt or Turkey’s quest for a hegemonial role under an Islamist Prime Minister are seen differently from the distant capital of the American superpower, from the concerned capitals of Mediterranean European countries and from Israel, Egypt’s neighbor and the object of Islamist wrath.

The Sinai Powder Keg


TEL AVIV– The crisis in the Sinai Peninsula seems to have been dwarfed by Sunday’s drama in Cairo, the civilian coup staged by President Mursi against General Tantawi and the army’s supreme command, but it has not lost its importance.

Syria: The View from Israel

Israel has little sympathy for Assad – but is all too aware that any attempt to influence the Syrian would be fraught with danger

The Guardian, August 1, 2012


As the Syrian crisis has reached the tipping point and the fall of Bashar al-Assad's regime seems to be a matter of time, Israel has abandoned the passive stance it has maintained since this crisis began in March 2011. Israel's leaders and security establishment are now looking at the potential ramifications of the regime's collapse as imminent policy challenges. Uppermost in their minds is the danger that Syria's stockpiles of missiles and chemical and biological weapons fall into the hands of jihadis who have penetrated Syria and the Syrian opposition, or be handed over to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The Anarchy Factor in Syria

Project Syndicate, May 2, 2012


TEL AVIV – The failure of the Obama administration, its Western allies, and several Middle East regional powers to take bolder action to stop the carnage in Syria is often explained by their fear of anarchy. Given the Syrian opposition’s manifest ineffectiveness and disunity, so the argument goes, President Bashar al-Assad’s fall, when it finally comes, will incite civil war, massacres, and chaos, which is likely to spill over Syria’s borders, further destabilizing weak neighbors like Iraq and Lebanon, and leading, perhaps, to a regional crisis.


Peace, Normalization and Finality

The American Interest, December 1, 2011

In the mid-1970s, an unusual book was published in Egypt under the title After the Guns Fall Silent (“Ba‘d an taskut al-madafi”). Written by the Egyptian left-wing intellectual and journalist Muhammad Sid-Ahmed, the book featured the first explicit Arab vision of accommodation with Israel and the first Arab effort to spell out what the Middle East might look like after the establishment of Arab-Israeli peace. Roundly criticized in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world, this bold, pioneering work broke a taboo by endorsing a peaceful accommodation with Israel. That taboo held strong despite the signing in 1974 of the Israeli-Egyptian and Israeli-Syrian disengagement agreements, and two Arab summit conferences that redefined the Arab consensus to embrace the principle of a political settlement with Israel. But a full-fledged vision of Arab-Israeli peace written by a major Egyptian intellectual still angered those who remained ideologically and emotionally committed to the struggle against Israel.

The Devil We Knew

The New York Times, November 18, 2011

During the first 25 years of its existence, until Hafez al-Assad came to power in 1970, the Syrian republic was a weak unstable state, an arena in which regional and international rivalries were played out. The first Assad reversed this state of affairs by turning Syria into a comparatively stable and powerful state, a player in regional and international politics.