Charles Glass

Charles Glass was ABC News Chief Middle East Correspondent from 1983 to 1993. He is the author of Deserter: The Untold Story of World War Two and Tribes with Flags: Adventure and Kidnap in Greater Syria.

Hush-Hush Boom-Boom: Spymasters

Charles Glass, 12 August 2021

Alexander Cockburn​ blamed Ian Fleming for the creation of the CIA. Without Fleming, Cockburn wrote on the fiftieth anniversary of the first James Bond novel, ‘the Cold War would have ended in the early 1960s. We would have had no Vietnam, no Nixon, no Reagan and no Star Wars.’ As adjutant to Britain’s chief of naval intelligence, Lieutenant Commander Fleming undertook a...

In No Hurry: Anthony Shadid

Charles Glass, 21 February 2013

When Anthony Shadid was born in Oklahoma in 1968, the only Lebanese personality most Americans knew was not Lebanese at all. Hans Conried was a comic actor of Austrian Jewish origin, who portrayed the gauche Uncle Tannous (a diminutive of Antonius/Anthony) on a weekly sitcom called The Danny Thomas Show. Danny Thomas was the son of Maronite Christian immigrants from Kahlil Gibran’s...

Hyper-Retaliation: The Levant

Charles Glass, 8 March 2012

‘A man may find Naples or Palermo merely pretty,’ James Elroy Flecker, one-time British vice-consul in Beirut, wrote in October 1914, ‘but the deeper violet, the splendour and desolation of the Levant waters, is something that drives into the soul.’ A month later, Russia, Britain and France declared war on the Ottoman Empire in response to the Turkish fleet’s...

Whose Body? ‘Operation Mincemeat’

Charles Glass, 22 July 2010

Operation Mincemeat was the key component of a British stratagem to persuade Germany in 1943 that the Allies in North Africa were about to invade Greece and Sardinia rather than Sicily. This highly classified and successful undertaking, a wheeze thought up by the part-time thriller writers and trout fishermen who populated the British intelligence services, remained top secret for five years...

When France fell in June 1940, a small remnant of the French army and navy found itself in England. Most of them chose to return to France, where their government was preparing to capitulate to the invader. Few of the soldiers and almost none of the sailors recognised Charles de Gaulle, an armoured corps colonel temporarily elevated to brigadier general, as their leader. To them, de Gaulle...

Belts Gleaming: Uri Avnery

Charles Glass, 11 June 2009

Uri Avnery’s two wartime memoirs, now collected as 1948: A Soldier’s Tale, were published in Hebrew in 1949 and 1950. In the first of them, In the Fields of the Philistines, the 25-year-old Avnery is an infantryman desperate for action; in the second, The Other Side of the Coin, he criticises his own ‘silly, rotten country’ for its conduct in the 1948 war. Avnery, now...

Learning from Its Mistakes: Hizbullah

Charles Glass, 17 August 2006

Like Israel’s previous enemies, Hizbullah relies on the weapons of the weak: car bombs, ambushes, occasional flurries of small rockets and suicide bombers. The difference is that it uses them intelligently, in conjunction with an uncompromising political programme. Hizbullah’s achievement, perhaps ironically for a religious party headed by men in turbans, is that it belongs to the modern age. It videotaped its ambushes of Israeli convoys for broadcast the same evening. It captured Israeli soldiers and made Israel give up hundreds of prisoners to get them back. It used stage-set cardboard boulders that blew up when Israeli patrols passed. It flew drones over Israel to take reconnaissance photographs – just as the Israelis did in Lebanon. It had a website that was short on traditional Arab bombast and long on facts. If Israelis had faced an enemy like Hizbullah in 1948, the outcome of its War of Independence might have been different.

Cyber-Jihad: What Osama Said

Charles Glass, 9 March 2006

When I was five years old, the first secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, Nikita Khrushchev, threatened to bury me. That was in 1956, when he buried the Hungarian Revolution. In California we welcomed Hungarian victims of Soviet brutality while finding no room for the Guatemalans whose democracy the CIA had crushed two years earlier. We were trained to ignore our victims and to fear our enemy. After all, Khrushchev could have buried us, even if he did not mean to do so literally, so much as to attend the funeral of capitalism.

After all, who didn’t go through the most improbable adventure during the civil war?

Mikhail Bulgakov, Black Snow

When a Lebanese wants your attention, he lowers his voice. You draw closer, and he asks: ‘Do you want to hear a story?’ If you say yes, and everyone does, you’re hooked. You listen. In the most Lebanese of his novels, Little Mountain, Elias Khoury tells a...

Diary: in Mosul

Charles Glass, 16 December 2004

Mosul, said by some to be modern Iraq’s second and by others its third most populous city, was originally awarded to France as part of Syria under the infamous Sykes-Picot Agreement. François Georges-Picot, the French delegate at the secret negotiations that divided the Ottoman Empire into British, French and Russian satrapies, laid out France’s dubious claim to Mosul and...

Kabul, since 1776 the nominal if forever ignored capital of Afghanistan, hides itself within thousands of forbidding walls. Mounds of ancient brick race up hillsides, remnants of the fifth-century ramparts that failed to preserve decadent Hindu rule from Mughal conquest. Every private house and most public buildings are set inside mud and brick enclosures that give the city an unwelcoming...

Albert Aghazarian is a Palestinian, neither Arab nor Israeli, who lives in the eastern portion of Jerusalem annexed by Israel in 1967. His house stands within two sets of walls, those of the ancient Armenian convent of St James and, beyond them, the Turkish walls of Jerusalem’s old city. The convent is a haven, in the same sense Israel calls itself a haven, in which descendants of...

The New Piracy: Terror on the High Seas

Charles Glass, 18 December 2003

Ninety-five per cent of the world’s cargo travels by sea. Without the merchant marine, the free market would collapse and take Wall Street’s dream of a global economy with it. Yet no one, apart from ship owners, their crews and insurers, appears to notice that pirates are assaulting ships at a rate unprecedented since the glorious days when pirates were ‘privateers’ protected by their national governments.

Is Syria next?

Charles Glass, 24 July 2003

“Iraq has become an American protectorate, and America has told Syria that it must, like a rare breed of bird, adapt to the new environment or die. The Syrian Army and Intelligence Services are playing their own imperial game in Lebanon, but their presence there has become as vulnerable to American subversion as America’s forces are to indigenous resistance – with or without Syrian and Iranian encouragement – in Iraq.”

I foresee that man will resign himself each day to more atrocious undertakings; soon there will be no one but soldiers and bandits.

Jorge Luis Borges, ‘The Garden of Forking Paths’

John Bagot Glubb, a young lieutenant bearing wounds from the war in France, arrived in Mesopotamia in 1920. His assignment was to command armed patrols through the desert of what would become, under...

“This weakened force is holding back the combined weight of the United States and Britain the way Yasir Arafat’s few thousand commandos kept the Israeli Army out of Beirut for nearly three months in 1982. I remember the words of a Palestinian activist in Beirut that year: ‘All the real fighting is done with Kalashnikovs. Everything else is fireworks.’”

An invisible frontier cuts across the North of Iraq for hundreds of miles, from Syria in the west to Iran in the east. This border doesn’t conform to legal, ethnic or tribal boundaries; it ignores mountains, rivers and other natural barriers; it is not even a straight line, like the 36th parallel. The United States likes straight lines, but down on the ground, there aren’t any....

Lloyd George wished to acquire two provinces above all: Palestine, on behalf of Jewish Zionists from Europe . . . and Mesopotamia – with Baghdad at its heart – for its oil and its positionas the Arab world’s frontier with Persia, Afghanistan and India . . . Britain would divide Syria, and unite Iraq.

Diary: Israel’s occupation of Palestine

Charles Glass, 21 February 2002

At sunset on Christmas Day last year, hundreds of Palestinian Arabs from the once Christian towns of Bethlehem and Beit Sahour assembled outside the burned and gutted Paradise Hotel in Bethlehem to protest Israel’s blockade of their towns. The Paradise was damaged in October, during what the Israeli Army called its ‘incursion’ – a euphemism inherited from Richard...

The British Army occupied Jerusalem on Sunday, 9 December 1917, and withdrew on 14 May 1948. During its brief imperium in the Promised Land, Britain kept the promise made in 1917 by its Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour, in the Declaration that bears his name, ‘to favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people’. While nurturing the...

The Great Lie: Israel

Charles Glass, 30 November 2000

An Israeli Jewish woman told me a story about her father’s return, many years later, to the house in Vienna that his family had abandoned in 1938. More than any of the other possessions he had lost when Austria merged with Germany, he told her, it was his library that he missed and longed to see again. Yet the old Viennese gentleman could not bring himself to enter the flat in which he...

From The Blog
24 October 2011

Libyans celebrated their liberation with mass demonstrations in Benghazi yesterday, the 28th anniversary of another landmark event in Middle East history. On Sunday, 23 October 1983, at 6.22 a.m., a suicide bomber rammed a truck into the US Marine Corps barracks at Beirut Airport and detonated what FBI forensics specialists would later describe as the largest conventional explosion in history. Two hundred and forty-one American service personnel died. A similar assault in Beirut that morning killed 58 French troops. The perpetrators were undoubtedly members of the nascent Hizbullah movement.

From The Blog
25 August 2011

The Libyans are lucky that Muammar Gaddafi did not hold out longer. If he had, there might not be much of the country left. Nato long since ran out of military targets, and it had to hit something to get the ragtag rebels into the royal palace before they ended up shooting one another. ‘At present Nato is not attacking infrastructure targets in Libya,’ General Sir David Richards told the Sunday Telegraph in May. ‘But if we want to increase the pressure on Gaddafi's regime then we need to give serious consideration to increasing the range of targets we can hit.’ (UN Security Resolution 1973 grants no authority to increase the range of targets, its stated intent being to protect Libyan civilians from an onslaught on Benghazi.) The running total for Nato air strikes is 7459. At about 2000 bombing runs a month, another six months would have added 12,000 sorties. As bad as Libya looked when the rebels at last forced the gates of Tripoli, it would have looked a lot worse by next February. Diminishing military targets had to be replaced by something.

From The Blog
18 March 2011

The Libyan dictator is resisting the popular forces ranged against him in ways that his counterparts in Tunisia and Egypt did not. In Tunis and Cairo, Zine Abedine Ben-Ali and Hosni Mubarak were the faces of military regimes. Colonel Muammar Gaddafi is not the face: he is the regime. The Egyptian and Tunisian army chiefs calculated that sacrificing their nominal commanders-in-chief would preserve their own positions without jeopardising the interests of their American benefactors. Playing the role of saviours of the nation, after years in which the officer class enriched itself and ordinary soldiers were made to repress dissent, the armies in Tunisia and Egypt emerged as arbiters of whatever order will follow the post-dictator era.

Return to Nowhere: Yasser Arafat

Charles Glass, 18 March 1999

The old dons arrived in armourplated black limousines to pay their last respects. They had often tried to do away with him, but they gave him a royal send-off. He was, after all, the longest-serving capo of them all, a man who commanded respect. King Hussein of Jordan would have laughed to see his adversaries courting his son and heir, King Abdallah II. Spectators could almost hear Hafez al-Assad of Syria whispering into the young King’s ear: ‘Your father knew it wasn’t personal, Abdu. It was business.’ The Sicilian Mafia has much to learn from the Levantine men of honour.‘


Too fair to Hizbullah

17 August 2006

Anthony Julius (Letters, 19 October 2006) has added a new quotation to the two apparent fabrications sent to these pages previously by Eugene Goodheart to demonstrate the anti-semitism of the Hizbullah secretary-general, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. Citing a passage in Amal Saad-Ghorayeb’s Hizbullah: Politics and Religion (2002), he attributes this statement to Nasrallah: ‘If we searched the...
In my Diary from Mosul, I said that Sheikh Mahmoud became president of the Mahabad Republic (LRB, 16 December 2004). In fact, Qazi Mohammed was president of that short-lived Kurdish republic in 1946. Sheikh Mahmoud called himself the king of Kurdistan when he rebelled against the British occupation. The British expelled him to India as part of their repression of the Kurds who fought against being...

Wrong Name

24 July 2003

The Syrian Intelligence chief I referred to in my piece in the last issue (LRB, 24 July) was Bahjat Suleiman, rather than Majid Suleiman, as I had it.

The Great Lie

30 November 2000

I mistakenly wrote that the father of Gaby Aldor left Vienna for Palestine in 1938. In fact, he emigrated in 1934. I also wrote that her play Lane of White Chairs was produced again at the Acre Theatre Festival last year, but it was the play on the torture of Palestinians that was revived.

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