The recent war in the Middle East between Palestine and Israel drew me to “Checkmate: The King’s Game in the Middle East” by Gennaro Buonocore. To appreciate the insights into a millennia-old fight, one has to understand the depth of experience Gennaro Buonocore has himself and the network of intelligence officers he draws on to write this book. However, the book elegantly sets that stage and then moves swiftly to unpacking how we have reached this point.

Using the analogy of chess, Buonocore clarifies which countries hold power and to what extent by allocating them a chess piece. This makes it easy for the reader to remember, when considering a new happening, what the power structure is and why certain countries are more successful than others in calling for ceasefires and hosting peace talks. He also brings light to the cloudy topics of arms deals and army training, resource swopping and why political allies are so crucial in this area.

“The Arabs feel that The Deal of the Century is merely a brand. American administrations change every eight years at the most, and a consistent policy cannot be expected. The only constant to be expected is America’s absolute support for Israel. This is what they have witnessed since 1948, therefore, they feel the Queen [in reference to America’s place on the chess board] will never be an honest broker, no matter with the administration is led by Democrat or a Republican

– “Checkmate: The King’s Game in the Middle East” by Gennaro Buonocore

By giving the reader a framework, from a historical and cultural perspective, Buonocore allows one to develop one’s own beliefs about the causes and possible resolution options without bias or blame. It is elegantly and carefully done, he aims to get the reader to ponder the complexities rather than rush to an ill-advised conclusion. It is a fascinating journey to go on.

“Arabs often tell me that Chinese and Russian aid very rarely comes with conditions attached, unlike aid from the U.S., with conditions that reveal a paternalistic relationship and a lack of understanding of local culture. I easily reply that, in the Middle East, no foreign aid comes for free. The real price tag is in the small print, and, culturally, the U.S. tends to use a large print.

– “Checkmate: The King’s Game in the Middle East” by Gennaro Buonocore

Buonocore concludes by encouraging the reader to continue their education and exploration of the Middle East and reinforces that his viewpoint is not the only or the right one, it is just a viewpoint. I deeply appreciated his honesty in recognising how multifaceted the challenges are. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and highly recommend it. It is a five out of five on the enJOYment scale.

I received a complimentary copy of the book from Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), Members’ Titles through NetGalley. The opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

From the back cover:

Checkmate is a comprehensive look into the current Middle Eastern political and strategic reality which views the region as a giant chessboard to better understand the relationship between the players. However, in viewing the complexities of the Middle East it is important to understand that strategy is not everything. This is a region of the world where emotions, passions and cultural heritage have played the protagonists’ roles. Considering historical implications, memories both physical and emotional, and the unfortunate consequences of cultural displacements, this essay explores the effects on social identities, which may result in prolonged strife and conflict. This work does not attempt to be a sociology treatise nor a policy paper. Rather, it is a collection of personal observations and experiences placed in the context of historical events.

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