A LINE IN THE SAND by James Barr


The Anglo-French Struggle for the Middle East 1914-1948
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A British historian methodically traces the pernicious ramifications of the French-British rivalry in Syria and Lebanon after World War I.

Barr (Setting the Desert on Fire: T. E. Lawrence and Britain's Secret War in Arabia, 1916-1918, 2008) carefully places the fragments of the Middle East puzzle together after the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, from the divisive, arbitrary British-French Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 to the Zionists’ use of terrorism to oust the British and establish the state of Israel in 1948. Reluctant allies against the Germans, the British and French had to divide the Ottoman spoils, and the agreement essentially “drew a line in the sand” from Acre to Kirkuk, the north falling under French protection and the south to the British. Both sides ignored the incipient rise of Arab nationalism, except when Sharif Hussein’s revolt of June 1916 promised the British a way of undermining French influence in the region, with T.E. Lawrence being a convenient tool of organizing the Arabs. Meanwhile, the British were quietly promising the Zionists a homeland in Palestine as a way of courting the Americans. Britain’s need for oil prompted a tidy exchange with the French: oil-rich Mosul and Jerusalem for the recovery of Alsace-Lorraine. Self-determination vaguely promised to the Arabs by the victorious powers at the close of WWI would only arrive after revolt against both British and French rulers, all while the Jewish emigration aroused the ire of the Palestinian Arabs. Barr sure-footedly wades through this political morass, noting some startling developments, such as Charles de Gaulle and the Free French’s brazen tenacity in holding on to Syria and Lebanon, and French assistance in arming the Zionist terrorists against the British.

A carefully constructed chronicle of a shameful imperialist carve-up.

Pub Date: Jan. 9th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-393-07065-1
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2011


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