INTRIGUE IN ARABY
Strategic control of the Middle East is vital to the success of our attach in the Mediterranean, says
THE POWER which holds the oil of Central Asia holds also the next thousand years of history.”
The battle in the Caucasus and the battle in North Africa in effect are one; two battles at the extreme ends of one front, and that front the most important in the world.
Under the great limestone dome stretching from Northern Iraq through Persia to the Caspian and the Caucasus is the largest fuel reservoir in the world. Most of the material is still unexploited. Prom her Caucasian and Caspian fields Russia gets some 32,000,000 tons of oil annually for her war effort. Persian wells supply the Allies with approximately 11,000,000 tons. Iraq provides another four to five. But this is only a fraction of what Central Asia could produce.
Within the same area there is three quarters of the world’s supply of manganeseused for hardening steel, invaluable for heavy artillery—a considerable proportion of its copper, the huge synthetic rubber plant at Erivan, the cotton of Soviet Armenia and Iraq, the linseed, sesame and barley, the unlimited date food which Japan offered to buy from Baghdad.
It is as important that we should hold the Middle East as that Timoshenko should maintain his grip on Caucasia and the Volga.
General Smuts rightly emphasized the vital importance of the Mediterranean war. A front there is far more useful to Russia than any we could establish in Europe. For the Middle East provides a possible re-entry to Europe through the Balkans. It is the back door to Turkey by means of the Baghdad-Aleppo-Ankara railway, and to the Soviet Union through the Dardanelles or by the new British built railway across Persia to Tiflis or Baku. It is the main road to India, either by way of Arabia, Persia and Baluchistan, or directly across Africa from Allied bases on the West coast to the Sudan and Eritrea.
If we were to lose the Middle East with it would go our chance of attacking Germany in the rear, and our position in the Moslem world. Our shipments to the Soviet would be limited to the extreme Northern route, where in summer convoys have to
fight through unending daylight. The Allied plane and motorized transport service newly established across Central Africa would be jeopardized. And this enterprising exploit has doubled in value since Brazil’s entry into the war, for her important strategic position at the American end of the shortest South Atlantic crossing facilitates quick and effective convoying to West Africa. The loss of the Middle East would mean that Britain would have to depend entirely on American and Trinidad petroleum while Germany would acquire immeasurable quantities of oil, minerals, cotton, fruit, cereals and a good deal of gold. She would also join hands with Japan in the Indian Ocean and from Japan she could receive all the raw materials which the latter has captured in Malaya to feed the industries of the Reich and of occupied Europe.
Plans Carefully Laid
ALL THIS Hitler knows. For years his plans in Arabia have been carefully laid. Today, in Arabia, he holds the position which we exploited in the last war. For in the very words we used to raise the Arabs against the Turks, Nazi propa-
gandists promise “a free and united Arabia” as the reward of a breach with Britain. “Allah in heaven and Hitler on earth !” is the message of Dr. Goebbels to Islam. Egyptian Fellaheen and Arab Bedouin are told that Hitler is a descendant of their Prophet Mohammed and the Protector of the Moslem peoples. The “Free Arabia” radio operating from Athens or Bari insists that Nazi Germany will destroy the British and the Jews. Berlin will bring the day of liberation.
This same “liberation” was promised by Lord Curzon in his famous speech, “While the sun rises and sets, the Arab flag shall fly over the four cities of Hama, Homs, Damascus and Aleppo.” But it was forsworn at the Treaty of Versailles owing to France’s demand for a Syrian mandate, and rendered impossible by even the partial implementing of Lord Balfour’s promise to the Jews of a national home in Palestine.
Where Britain used the ambitions oí King Husain the vision of his son, Feisul, later King of Iraq, Dr. Goebbels (playing the part of our Arab Bureau in 1917) employs the shrewd political talent and the possibly genuine nationalism of Jerusalem’s Grand Mufti. This man, Haj Amin Al Husseini, with his ally, Rashid Ali el Gailani, late Prime Minister of Iraq and supporter of the pro-German “Golden Square” which led opposition to the British last year, are now on the move between Rome and Berlin. Their organization in the Arab countries where they are active is admirable. The Mufti is shrewd and he can draw on twenty-three years of comparatively justifiable discontent. PV>r Palestine has been split by ten centuries of history —split by the gap between primitive Arab and civilized modern Zionist, their spiritual roots respectively in the Kaaba at Mecca and in the free-thinking, scientific universities of modern Europe—as much as by the conflicting promises of Curzon and Balfour.
Jew and Arab each believe that Palestine, the land sacred to three great religions but to only one nation (Zion), is his alone. Each race has been severely disillusioned by Whitehall. There is, of course, no sympathy with Nazi Germany among the
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Intrigue in Araby
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Jewish traders and expert agriculturalists who have brought prosperity to their highly developed Palestinian ' zones. And many Arabs still have a sentimental leaning toward the British with whom they fought under the Emir Feisul in the last war.
But Palestinian Arabs have lost too much of their land. The generous price paid by Zionist purchasers has given them nothing in return. For money is of no use to the Moslem peasant accustomed to patriarchal life on a communal family inheritance. With his land, he disposed of his sustenance and having wasted the purchase money in a year or two, he joined the growing number of malcontents and ended, as likely as not, in a prison camp.
Palestine, however, may prove too hard a nut for German guile to crack. In September, 1939, there was a lull in racial and political strife. Arabs and Zionists simultaneously offered their services. The Jewish Agency offered to raise a Hebrew fighting force, but the British Government decided on combined Jewish-Arab units, at first for the Auxiliary Forces and subsequently as combatants. By 1941 over 6,000 Jews and half as many Arabs were serving in the Middle East. In addition 1,500 Jews were with the R.A.F. in Arabia, and many more in the front line abroad.
Unfortunately the land transfer regulations which came into force in 1940 threatened the truce between Jew and Arab. To preserve a portion of Palestinian soil in Arab possession, the Government imposed drastic restrictions on the purchase by Jews of Arab-owned land. The Jewish Agency protested. Strikes followed. The wartime truce between Zion and Islam, between two nationalisms equally emotional, was broken.
Other difficulties arose over the immigration quota. Palestine cannot at present support a bigger population although the presence of our large Middle Eastern Army has given a certain amount of employment and a stimulus to such production as does not need imported raw material and machine tools. But Jewish Palestine had hoped that the solution of land and immigration problems would be left till after the war. Government action has disillusioned keen Zionist politicians. And the same action is stigmatized by the Mufti’s followers as a threat to interests based on Arab dominion of an Arab country. So the Germans profit.
Syria In Worse Case
SYRIA has been in worse case, for since the end of the last war, her history has been a succession of hopeless rebellions, punctuated by alternate slaughter and concessions
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on the part of France, the mandatory power.
Syria has had too much of everything—too much government and too much taxation, too many races and religions, too many promises and ministries and nationalists and officials. At this moment she is poorer than I have known her in twenty years. For her gold was taken in exchange for paper francs. Today, although in the sterling bloc, foreign trade is seriously disrupted.
The territory is now under Arab rule with a certain amount of Free French direction. The latter element varies in popularity according to the religion, cultural station, political aspirations or local affairs of those concerned.
It is immensely important that the Allies should hold Syria. For a hostile force there, above all Axis planes operating from Rayak or other airdromes, could cut off our supplies from Iraq, and Turkey’s backdoor is in the same direction. For Turkey has completed an important strategic railway linking Ankara with Mosul and Baghdad. While she holds this line, she does not need entry into Europe. She could lose Constantinople and still be safe among her Anatolian hills. But she must have command of her eastern railway and for ten miles this all important line runs through Syria. In view of the Turkish trade pacts with Britain, India and the Dominions, this loop of railway to Aleppo, which town logically belongs to the port of Alexandretta, now a Turkish sanjak, becomes immensely significant.
Syria is still the key with which Germany hopes to unlock the Middle Eastern gates. An air-borne invasion from Greece and Crete, supported by the Italian Navy,would placeTurkey between the pincers of two German Armies. Simultaneously, the Mufti’s organization would be expected to achieve effective rebellion in Palestine, while Rashid Ali’s nationalists, directed—and misled—by Germany’s “Free Arab” wireless, would rouse German-armed tribesmen from Kurdistan to the borders of Nejd (in Central Arabia) in support of whatever discontented elements remain in Iraq’s army.
For the Mufti’s organization has its agents from Akaba to Teheran. Last year it was known that the Mufti had received £10,000 sterling from the Italian Legation in Baghdad in return for an agreement to raise revolt in Palestine—at a suitable moment, and an annual cost of approximately a quarter of a million sterling. The Mufti had previously received gifts from Egypt, Nejd and Baghdad. The Iraq secret service at one time contributed a thousand dinars monthly to his foreign relations committee responsible for intrigue and propaganda. This was in addition to the parliamentary vote of 18,000 Iraq dinars. With so much money at his disposal, the Mufti had no difficulty in establishing cells throughout the more literate countries of Arabia. Nationalist organizations receiving German funds—after
the fall of Poland, through Italian diplomatic sources—backed his campaign. During Rashid Ali’s premiership in Baghdad (1940) the Mufti’s power was at its height.
When the British occupied Iraq after considerable opposition encouraged by the Mufti, he and Rashid Ali escaped—to direct their program from Axis Europe. Throughout the MiddleEast, there exists the skeleton mechanism for organizing Arab revolt and maintaining a state of guerilla war. There are cogs within the local fighting forces and civil services. The driving wheel is in the German Embassy at Ankara and the motive force is supplied by von Papon’s subsidiaries. Orders are received by secret channels across Turkey and Syria. Nomad tribes, notably the Kochis or Suleiman Kheil—gypsies who wander with their camel caravans from Soviet Central Asia through Afghanistan and Persia to the Indian Ocean or the Mediterranean—act as Germany’s telephone and banking system. Axis-controlled radio in Italy, N. Africa and the Balkans broadcasts directions. The German General Staff leave nothing to chance.
W HEN the June, 1940, armistice released German subjects from internment in Syria, these one-time political prisoners filtered back into the business and private life of the Mediterranean seaboard. One, Roland Eilender, Syrian-born but a German, was appointed leader of his compatriots in the Levant, Gauleiter of a Nazi future. Rudolph Roser, commercial agent, returned to Beirut —from Berlin—and until the Allied occupation of Syria last year, conducted widespread activities from a Lebanon hotel. By January, 1941, von Hentig, Germany’s key expert for the MiddleEast, was in Beyrouth. He was entrusted by von Papen, the friend and nominee of Ribbentrop, to prepare bases for Levantine rebellion in case of a German drive, air-borne, across the Eastern Mediterranean, with Crete and Cyprus as its advance posts. The Rashid Ali movement in Iraq was one of his successes. It was cut short by successful British operations, military and political. With the Allied occupation of Syria, overt Nazi organization disappeared. But the Eastern Department of the German Embassy in Turkey has been stretched to enormous proportions. This controls, under Herr Chapeaurouge, preparations for front line activities, when the Nazi front, narrowing now between the Caucasus and Egypt, shall he reinforced by invasion of Arabia. A new German Vice-Consulate w'orks very hard at Iskenderun, a stone’s throw from the Syrian border. The ubiquitous and well-informed Herr Roser is in charge. He is assisted by one of the Wilhelmstrasse’s best women agents, Fraulein Koch, whose activities in Beyrouth were once extremely effective. The Germans use disaffected tribesmen to whom they smuggle rifles and machine guns, genuine patriots to whom they promise a “free and united Arabia” after the defeat of Britain, refugees with Nazi tastes
still in contact with their own countries, anyone with a grudge or an ambition who can be beguiled by German ingenuity.
Nazi agents meet constantly under the aegis of von Papen. They journey between Turkey in Europe and Central Asia. The German Consulate in Adana furnishes funds and directions. Commercial travellers go as far as Erzurum and Trebizond. Pilgrims go to Mecca. Gypsies bring carpets from Persia and take back tobacco from Greece and Macedonia. Berlin dispatches, constant material to Arabia, through local sympathizers who believe they are ensuring the freedom for which they have struggled since 1917. In return, the Nazi news propaganda agency, D.N.B., in Stamboul, its Eastern department run by Fraulein Kruss with the help of Arab, Persian and Indian assistants, receives much information to be collated and trimmed for propaganda broadcasts. The secret “Arab Nation” station pours out an insidious collection of misstatements, disparaging British prospects as well as British administration. Japan joins in with broader exaggerations. Athens and Bari combine false reports with tales, humorous and adventurous, such as Arabia has loved for two thousand years. Berlin employs an eloquent Baghdadi called Yunis Bahri, whose original Chaldean blood stimulates his imagination, and a particularly appealing Persian Parsee called Shahra, whose father was a political irredentist. Right across Arabia, couched in many dialects and suited to all forms of intelligence, flow the oil and honey of Nazi propaganda, making smooth the way of eventual invasion.
Britain replies in practical fashion — by establishing good relations with local leaders, by political and military strength, by building new roads and railways to facilitate war transport. America is storing supplies. Her forces are growing. Her air power increases. Month by month, if the Caucasus hold and the Allies continue to advance in North Africa, Germany’s chances of an Arabian invasion, backed by local revolt, may decrease.
Meanwhile, Ibn Sa’ud, King of Saudi Arabia with some five million Moslem Puritans, the Wahabis, scattered over 700,000 square miles, cannot be ignored. Britain has not yet made the full measure of concessions necessary to consolidate majority Arab opinion in favor of the Allies, whereas German promises are as expansive as the myth which represents Hitler as miraculously born descendant of Mohammed, the prophetic green girdle about his middle!
Ibn Sa’ud, mighty in stature, shrewd in brain, is the strongest personality in Arabia. The Germans know it. Any “federation” of Arab states for the greater convenience of Allied policy would repeat the primary mistake of Col. Lawrence and the errors of the Turkish Empire, if it ignored the power of Ibn Sa’ud. In
Arabia to “divide” is the surest way NOT “to rule.”
The Vital Factor
SAUDI ARABIA is the vital factor within the huge peninsula today. Its king will accept no authority but his own. He has many links with considerable influence in neighboring Moslem lands. The exiled Druses were befriended by him. Those mighty fighters could have found new homes in his territory. If it is ever possible to generalize about Arabia—“continental” in diversity of interests—it can perhaps be said that the best, although certainly not the most sophisticated, elements between the Persian Gulf, Red Sea and Mediterranean would be influenced by Ibn Sa’ud in case of German invasion.
This desert lord has never loved the British, but his support has been unfailing and his advice to neighboring states has always been in favor of co-operation with the Allies. Ibn Sa’ud is far too clever to have been bewitched by Berlin. He is entirely Arab and Moslem, an extraordinary combination of the ascetic and the voluptuary. He has some of Stalin’s qualities, ruthless patience and foresight, cold, detached realism, enduring enmity or friendship, caution backed by intelligent suspicion, shrewd and diverse resource, urbanity when necessary, unexpectedly abrupt decisions on occasions. Neither Germany, America nor Britain can afford to ignore Ibn Sa’ud. Nor can any one of them count on him except to serve, as he thinks best, his own Arabs. For Wahabi interests the King of Nejd will make alliances and accept policies he may not wholly approve, but he despises most Arab leaders as impious and venial. Neither the Mufti nor Rashid Ali could hope ; for confidence from Ibn Sa’ud. But only with this ruler’s help can an effective Arabia emerge from the chaos of the last twenty years and the dissident interests of today.
A “second front,” second in importance to none other, is at this moment being created between Persia, Egypt and northwest Africa. The United States is playing her part, is already in action. From Allied North Africa and the Middle East, the back doors to Nazi Europe can eventually be forced. Italy can be crushed, the Caucasus relieved, the oil of Central Asia held or retrieved.
Here is the democracies’ contribution to Russia’s gallant effort and it should not be underestimated. Wendell Willkie’s recent valuation of the Middle Eastern situation is exact.
A “great fighting effort” is being made. Its consequences cannot yet be measured. But in the hands of General Montgomery’s Eighth Army, backed by General Wilson’s Ninth, as much as in the indomitable Marshal Timoshenko’s, lie those “next thousand years of history.” The Mediterranean front is already the second front.