SUBSIM Book Review: The Last Israelis

... even a gay Jewish submariner.

Authors: Noah Beck
Publisher: CreateSpace
Year: 2013
Reviewer: Neal Stevens, SUBSIM

For all of my lifetime (and that’s getting to be long enough to legitimately use that phrase) the Middle East has been a region of military contention. The Jews who settled there after WWII and the Holocaust realigned their political realities to become a force to be reckoned with. After several wars that Israel won, the region cooled down to a simmer. But the threats of annihilation that routinely come from Syria and Iran have not gone away, and Israel takes them seriously. For many years now, Israel has been viewed as an unofficial nuclear power. With Iran actively seeking to add nukes as part of its military, the situation draws closer to conflict. In Noah Beck’s The Last Israelis, the setting could be lifted from Fox News: Iran has acquired nukes and has leaders who are twitching to use them. Israel has leadership problems and may not be prepared for the coming crisis. The international community and its usual indifference becomes a hindrance. This is one conflict where first strike could work against Israel’s interests. Mutually Assured Destruction isn’t much of a gambit for Israel, which would be more assuredly destroyed in a nuclear exchange with Iran. Though it all, one Israeli submarine is scrambled to deliver ten rather small nuclear cruise missiles if everything goes to hell.

A lot of the first half of the novel is exposition on religion and current politics, with a side of regional history. The theme of nuclear relations is examined through the eyes of its markedly diverse set of characters: a Christian Russian, Ethiopian, Vietnamese, and even a gay Jewish submariner. You couldn’t get a more varied cast of Israelis if you tried. These various backgrounds and ethnic views integrate multiple viewpoints to the narrative that a homogeneous cast would lack. And the intensity is amplified by the claustrophobic submarine environment. The sub’s crew argue and discuss in a non-military, democratic fashion on what response to give to the Iranian actions. One certainly hopes the real Israeli submarine force would have a procedure in place and the military discipline to carry it out without so much bickering and head scratching, but The Last Israelis is often less of a story about a specific submarine and more of an existential discussion of the state of Israel and its nuclear drama.

The captain insists “moral convictions don’t wait for convenient timing. And they mean nothing if you’re not prepared to sacrifice your personal interests when defending them.” His convictions will be put to the test by the last chapters of this cautionary tale.

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