A fascinating insight into the untold story of how British-French rivalry drew the battle-lines of the modern Middle East.
In 1916, in the middle of the First World War, two men secretly agreed to divide the Middle East between them.
Sir Mark Sykes was a visionary politician; François Georges-Picot a diplomat with a grudge. They drew a line in the sand from the Mediterranean to the Persian frontier, and together remade the map of the Middle East, with Britain’s 'mandates' of Palestine, Transjordan and Iraq, and France's in Lebanon and Syria.
Over the next thirty years a sordid tale of violence and clandestine political manoeuvring unfolded, told here through a stellar cast of politicians, diplomats, spies and soldiers, including T. E. Lawrence, Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle.
Using declassified papers from the British and French archives, James Barr vividly depicts the covert, deadly war of intrigue and espionage between Britain and France to rule the Middle East, and reveals the shocking way in which the French finally got their revenge.
‘The very grubby coalface of foreign policy … I found the entire book most horribly addictive’ Independent
‘One of the unexpected responses to reading this masterful study is amazement at the efforts the British and French each put into undermining the other’ The Spectator
Toward the end of WWI, as the Ottoman Empire's collapse seemed imminent, French and British imperial designs turned to the Mideast. The two war allies arrived at a simple solution: the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement (later supported by the League of Nations), which gave France control of Lebanon and Syria, while the British received Palestine and Transjordan. Between them, the two divided much of Mesopotamia. But during the next three decades, things got more complex. The British endorsed Zionist ambitions in Palestine with the Balfour Declaration; oil was discovered in southern Iraq; and Arab nationalism led to revolts against both France and Britain during the 1920s and '30s. British historian Barr (Setting the Desert on Fire) shows how the French and British tried to extend their influence, and undermine each other, in part by ingratiating themselves with various Arab and Jewish leaders and factions. Near the end of WWII, Britain's Lord Moyne favored a "greater Syria" that would comprise Syria, Lebanon, Transjordan, and Palestine. Conversely, after the war ended, members of the French government facilitated arms shipments to factions of the anti-British Zionist revolt. Barr's extensive archival research, evocative historical vignettes, and a superb sense of narrative pacing produce a first-rate work.