6/2/1919 Emir Faisal seeks a promised kingdom

Britain has found itself in a bit of sticky wicket in the Middle East, where its contradictory promises to the French and the Arabs are now coming home to roost. Today the awkwardness is laid bare when Emir Faisal appears before the Paris Conference to advance the claims of his father, Sharif Hussein of Mecca (self-declared King of the Arabs). Faisal does not speak English, but he has the British intelligence officer T. E. Lawrence to translate for him. Faisal is seeking the Arab kingdom promised to his father, a greater Syria that would stretch from the Anatolian border all the way down to the Arabian peninsula. This unfortunately clashes with French ambitions in the Middle East and the Sykes-Picot agreement on the region’s partition. The French have a particular attachment to the area around Mount Lebanon, where francophile Maronite Christians live, and are keen both to create a larger Lebanese entity under French control and to use this to expand into Syria proper.

As can be imagined, the French are hostile to Faisal’s presentation. Wilson is curiously indifferent. The British meanwhile are in an embarrassing position. They would like to support their Arab client, but they dare not risk a rupture with France. If they have to choose, then Faisal will be disappointed.

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Emir Faisal and his delegation. Lawrence is to his right. (Wikipedia: Faisal I of Iraq)

3/1/1919 Emir Faisal and Chaim Weizmann reach an agreement on Palestine

Britain encouraged the Sharif Hussein of Mecca to revolt against the Turks by promising to establish to create an Arab kingdom out of Turkish Syria (the region between Anatolia and the Arabian peninsula). However the British later declared in favour of establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine, partly to appeal to Jewish opinion in Britain and the United States. These promises are not entirely consistent with each other (or indeed with other arrangements Britain has reached with France). Now Chaim Weizmann, a leading British Zionist, meets in London with Emir Faisal, son of Sharif Hussain, to see if some kind of accommodation can be reached between then.

Weizmann and Faisal do indeed reach an agreement, signing a document in English (translated for Faisal by T.E. Lawrence, his British advisor). They commit to supporting Jewish immigration into Palestine while acknowledging the rights of Arabs living there and leaving the Muslim Holy Places in Jerusalem under Muslim control. Boundaries between Jewish Palestine and the future Arab state will be demarcated by a commission, while the Zionists commit to advancing the economic development of Arabs living in their area.

Faisal adds one slight addendum in Arabic, affirming that the agreement will be null and void in the event that the promised Arab state fails to be established.


Faisal and Weizmann at a previous meeting (Wikipedia: the Faisal–Weizmann Agreement)

Faisal & Weizmann’s signatures and Faisal’s caveat (Wikipedia: the Faisal–Weizmann Agreement)

1/10/1918 The fall of Damascus #1918Live

The success of Allenby‘s offensive against the Turks has led to a collapse of their position in Palestine and Syria. Having cleared the Turks out of northern Palestine and seized the Transjordan town of Amman, British and Commonwealth forces are pressing on towards Damascus, the centre of Turkish power in the Levant. Also racing towards Damascus are Arab followers of Sharif Hussein of Mecca, self-declared King of the Arabs; these men are a mix of regular troops and Bedouin tribesmen who have attached themselves to the cause of the Arab Revolt. Hussein himself is an old man and has remained in southern Arabia, but his son Faisal is with the Arab army.

Sharif Hussein hopes to establish an Arab kingdom with Damascus as its capital; he knows that in the Sykes-Picot agreement the British have promised Syria to the French, but he hopes that if his followers can establish themselves in Damascus then facts on the ground will trump past agreements. Travelling with Faisal is the British liaison officer T.E. Lawrence, who is personally supportive of Arab ambitions versus those of the French.

In the end the first Allied troops to reach Damascus are a party of Australian cavalrymen who find that the Turks have abandoned the city. The leading citizens of Damascus have already taken down all Turkish flags and replaced them with emblems of Sharif Hussein. The British decide to hush up news of the Australians’ being the first into Damascus. For now the ambitions of Sharif Hussein and his son must be pandered to, so the British prepare for Faisal’s men to make a grand triumphant entrance to the city at which they will they formally receive the surrender of Damascus from the local notables.

19/9/1918 Megiddo: Allenby’s breakthrough in Palestine #1918Live

Turkish forces are expanding into the Caucasus, taking advantage of the collapse of Russian power there. This worries their German allies. The Germans have their own plans for the Caucasus and favour the establishment of pro-German client states in the region, not its absorption into the Ottoman Empire. They also fear that the Turks are putting too much resources into the Caucasus when the real danger is Allenby‘s British Empire and Commonwealth army in Palestine.

Allenby has launched a series of diversionary operations towards Deraa in Syria, with the assistance of the ever-growing regular forces of the Arab Revolt. Together with guerrilla operations by Arab raiders (assisted by British liaison officer T.E. Lawrence), these have convinced Liman von Sanders, commander of Turkish forces in Palestine, that Allenby is planning an attack in the Transjordan or Syrian regions. He transfers troops from coastal Palestine to reinforce Deraa.
The worst fear of the Germans are confirmed today. Allenby has in conditions of total secrecy concentrated a mighty strike force north of Jaffa. After a devastating artillery bombardment, the infantry attacks, forcing their way through the Turkish defensive lines on the coastal plain. The outnumbered Turks fight as best they can but are soon put to flight. And once the infantry is through the Turkish defensive positions Allenby is able to release his Australian and Indian cavalry to exploit the victory. As the cavalry surge forward towards the town of Megiddo, the cohesion of the Turkish army begins to collapse. Isolated units put up staunch resistance but others take to their heels, surrender, or exchange their uniforms for civilian clothes and abandon the army life.

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Positions at start of the battle & at midnight on 19th/20th September (Wikipedia: Battle of Nablus (1918))

11/12/1917 Allenby arrives in Jerusalem #1917Live

Jerusalem surrendered two days ago. Now Allenby makes his formal entry into the Holy City, with the event filmed for propaganda purposes. Allenby walks through the Jaffa Gate on foot, ostentatiously showing his humility. His honour guard contains men from all the nations of the British Empire that are taking part in the Palestine campaign, together with a token presence of French and Italian soldiers. Also present are T.E. Lawrence, visiting Allenby to coordinate strategy between the Arab rebels and the British, and French diplomat Georges-Picot, co-author of the recently published Sykes-Picot agreement.

Allenby delivers a short speech promising that the rights of the three religions in Jerusalem will be respected and reassuring the citizens of the conquered city that they remain free to go about their lawful business. He then receives a succession of the city’s civil and religious notables.

When Allenby was sent from the Western Front to take over the Palestine campaign he feared that he was being sidelined. But in a year of failure in France and Belgium, the successes in Palestine shine all the more brightly. Coming at the end of the year, Allenby’s capture of Jerusalem is a triumph that puts his Western Front colleagues distinctly in the shade.

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Allenby enters Jerusalem (Wikipedia: Edmund Allenby)

7/11/1917 Lawrence brings the Arab Revolt to Syria #1917Live

While Allenby advances into Palestine the Arab rebels of Sharif Hussein of Mecca are attacking the Turks further to the east. The rebels have expanded out of their base in the Hejaz region of Arabia and are now raiding northwards. At Allenby’s request, a raiding party including British liaison officer T.E. Lawrence has launched a long distance raid into Syria, far from the rebels’ base, with the intention of cutting the railway intersection at Deraa. The plan is perhaps too ambitious: the raiders are unable to successfully attack Deraa, though they are able to cut the railway further to the south. While the raid may not have fully succeeded, it warns the Turks that the rebels are able to strike far to the north, forcing them to divert troops to garrison duty that could otherwise be deployed to Palestine.

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Arab rebels (HistoryNet: Creating Chaos – Lawrence of Arabia and the 1916 Arab Revolt)

12/7/1917 Lawrence meets Allenby in Cairo #1917Live

British intelligence officer T.E. Lawrence has crossed the Sinai desert to bring news of the fall of Aqaba to the British in Cairo. Today he meets General Allenby, the new British commander in the Levant. Lawrence cuts quite a dash as he is still dressed in the Arab robes he wore while on campaign.

Allenby is intrigued by Lawrence’s report. With Aqaba in the hands of the Arab rebels they now have the potential to project their power northwards into the lands east of the Jordan and into the heart of Syria. Lawrence believes that the Arabs of this region will ultimately join the rebels in an uprising against the Turks that will fatally undermine their position in the Middle East.

Allenby is preparing for an attack on Gaza in the autumn as a prelude to an advance into Palestine. Lawrence’s report offers the prospect of the Arab rebels opening up a new front against the enemy, disrupting their communications and drawing away their troops. He arranges for an increased subsidy for the Arab rebels but he also despatches Lawrence to Emir Faisal in the Hejaz to propose bringing the Arabs under British command. And in view of the increased opportunities now offered to him, Allenby seeks reinforcements for himself from London.

T.E. Lawrence (HistoryLearning: Lawrence of Arabia)

Edmund Allenby (Wikipedia)