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A Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the Struggle That Shaped the Middle East

de James Barr

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490850,377 (3.8)19
Uses recently declassified French and British government documents to describe how the two countries secretly divided the Middle East during World War I and the effect these mandates had on local Arabs and Jews.
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Will this lesson ever be learned???

"Years later Sir John Shaw, the former chief secretary of Palestine who survived the King David Hotel bombing, was asked to assess Britain’s record in the mandate.

‘In many cases we thought that we were doing good to the people concerned, and indeed we were,’ he said. ‘I mean we stamped out all sorts of abuses and malpractices and things but,’ he hesitated, ‘if you look at it from a purely philosophical, high-minded point of View, I think it is immoral, and I think it’s... it’s not only immoral but it’s ill-advised.’

‘Why?’ Shaw was asked.

‘Why? Well .. . because it’s not your business or my business, or British business, or [for] anybody else to interfere in other people’s countries and tell them how to run it, even to run it well. They must be left to their own salvation.’"
  Den85 | Jan 3, 2024 |
A well researched book that reveals the complexities of the Anglo-French relationship in the middle east. Covering the years 1915-1949, this narrative brings out all of the conflicts, large and small, between these "Mandate" holders., that eventually culminate in a hasty retreat from the region by both powers. Looking forward to reading "Lords of the desert', Barr's follow up book documenting the rivalry between Britain and the United states for the same region. ( )
  skid0612 | Feb 14, 2022 |
This is one of those books that seem to have been written in reverse: Barr started out from what was apparently a chance discovery in "a newly-declassified document" he was looking at, that showed that France had been sponsoring Zionist terrorists operating in the British mandate of Palestine in the 1940s, and decided to go back over the history of Anglo-French relations in the Middle East to work out how things had got to that point.

He identifies as starting point the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement of January 1916, in which Britain and France, faced with the disintegration of Ottoman power in the Middle East, assigned themselves spheres of influence divided along an arbitrary line on the map "from the 'e' in Acre to the last 'k' in Kirkuk". Making, of course, no allowances for the way the world had moved on since the "race for Africa" of the 1870s, or for the complex religious and political history of the region, and laying the foundations for no end of trouble in the century to come.

Barr charts the continued distrust and jockeying for strategic advantage between the two countries, complicated no end by a succession of mavericks on both sides determined to pursue their private agendas in the Middle East by "unconventional methods" — T.E. Lawrence was only the most famous of many semi-official troublemakers. Not to mention an equally impressive succession of incompetent administrators and overconfident military commanders.

Barr is undoubtedly right that a lot of the past and present problems of the Middle East can be traced to the arrogance of both countries in the way they assumed they knew best for the area, and to Britain's selfish preoccupation with protecting the Suez Canal and the oil supplies for its Mediterranean fleet and France's concern to project its image as a successful colonial power despite the damage done by the two World Wars. And he tells a convincing and lively story, with a lot of detail I didn't know about in between the more familiar big events.

I did wonder a bit, however, if he is giving Britain and France too much credit. Even with the best of management, Suez and the oil resources were clearly strategic problems that would lead to conflict (and still do) whichever powers established themselves in the region. Arab nationalism wasn't invented by T.E. Lawrence, it was always going to play an important part as Ottoman influence faded and self-determination became a norm for people all over the world to aspire to. And Zionism had its roots in the situation of Jews in the Russian Empire and Germany: even if the British and French had kept their fingers out of the pie, it would have found sponsors somewhere, in the US if not in Europe, and as soon as it did, there would have been emigration to Palestine, making conflict with the Arabs almost certain. ( )
  thorold | Feb 9, 2020 |
This book charts the amazing story of Anglo-French rivalry in the Middle East, which was surprisingly virulent. Although both countries might have been officially allies, in the region there was no doubt who was the real enemy, and the age old colonial conflict between Britain and France was very much alive.

Two things stand out for me from reading this book: one was the surprising lengths the French would go to to thwart British ambitions in the area, including helping zionists assassinate British officials. The other is the stunning callousness with which the British would make promises to various parties when it was convenient, and then go back on them, when these commitments would prove inconvenient. Neither country comes out very well.

The story is told in a series of vignettes. This makes it more readable, but inevitably makes for gaps and shortcuts in the general narrative. If you want a full and systematic account, with detailed analysis, you'd have to do further reading. ( )
1 vota CharlesFerdinand | May 26, 2018 |
History of the struggle between the British and French for control of the Middle East after carving up the Ottoman Empire following WWI. Beginning with the Sykes-Picot agreement in 1915 and ending with the birth of the state of Israel in 1948 the author paints a picture of the British and French efforts to maintain empire with regard to future costs of Arab-Israeli conflicts. ( )
  Waltersgn | Mar 4, 2017 |
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Uses recently declassified French and British government documents to describe how the two countries secretly divided the Middle East during World War I and the effect these mandates had on local Arabs and Jews.

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