Friday, 9 March 2012

A Line in the Sand

I have recently read a great book by James Barr about the Middle East in the  early 20th century.

Modern Conflict Archaeology

 ‘A Line in the Sand’,is a sequel to  Barr's  ‘Setting the Desert on Fire’ and uses recently released archives to relate the involvement of Britain and France  in the arbitrary ‘carve-up’ of the Middle East during the first half of the twentieth century.

     He presents his interpretation of the intriguing story of the period when Britain and France controlled the Middle East in the aftermath of the First World War. The book resembles a gripping spy thriller populated with well known political and military figures and improbable characters engaged in ‘venomous rivalry’, political posturing and state sponsored terrorism. However, this was not fiction but violent reality. 

In December 1915 the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, summoned politician Sir Mark Sykes to Downing Street to advise him and the war cabinet on the future of the Ottoman Empire; an issue that threatened Britain’s alliance with France. Sykes wanted a dividing line from the Mediterranean coast to the Persian frontier- ‘from the ‘e’ in Acre to the last ‘k’ in Kirkuk’. Later, Sykes met with the French civil servant Fran├žois George-Picot and they fashioned the secret Sykes-Picot agreement; territory to the north of the arbitrary line would go to France and that to the south to Britain. This agreement lead to the post war creation of mandates granting Iraq, Palestine and Transjordan to Britain and Syria and Lebanon to France. It was intended to shore-up the Entente Cordial, however the agreement ignited Arab Zionist conflict, provoked thirty years of rivalry and animosity and a short war as Britain and France settled old scores. 

This is an expertly researched and authoritative book that is easy to read. It reveals new narratives about the formation of the Middle East and how Britain curtailed French ambitions in the Levant by supporting Zionists’ claims to Palestine. 

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