Summary of “The impact of the First World War on the Middle East” Alessia, Maxine and Yasmine
7th of October 2011
The impact of the First World War on the Middle East:
The Middle East at 1914 was at the crossroads. The once great Ottoman Empire that had been the dominant political force in the Middle East was decaying, loosing ground to the independence Arab movements. In October 1914, the Ottoman Empire that had been severely weakened due to defeat in the Balkan war joined the central powers in the war against the Triple Entente. The Ottomans had controlled the Middle East since the 13th century. Britain’s main aim was to defeat Germany on the Western front and the core of its army was needed in Europe to fight trench warfare. However, Britain’s economic and strategic interests in the Middle East pressured them into nevertheless confronting Turkey. Britain hoped to protect its colonial interests in the region and have a dominant role in the post-war partitioning of the Ottoman Empire among the Allied powers. France also had its interest in the region and the two countries established the Sykes-Picot agreement in 1916 that divided the Middle East into areas of influence.
Palestine and Mesopotamia during World War:
Britain’s two major onslaughts against the Turks took place in Mesopotamia and the Palestine.
In order to protect the Anglo-Persian oil pipeline that was essential to the British navy, Anglo-Indian troops invaded Basra. In response to this action, the central powers carried out a surprise attack against the British controlled and strategically vital Suez Canal in Egypt. This attempt failed. In 1915, Britain tried to force The Ottoman Empire out of the war by attacking them at Gallipoli. This attack also failed and resulted in a bloodbath on both sides and a humiliating defeat for the British. In April 1916, the Anglo-Indian forces were surrounded at Kut El Amara a town outside Iraq. They were forced to surrender and were therefore unable to capture Baghdad. Under a new General, Sir Stanley Frederick Maude, Britain regained the initiative in Mesopotamia, and put together a force of 150000 well-equipped men, finally capturing Baghdad on the 11th of March 1917.
At the same time, the victory of The Egyptian expeditionary force controlled by General Sir Archibald Murray against the Turkish attack on the Suez Canal, put pressure on the General to invade Ottoman controlled Palestine. The EEF was dependant on the Sinai railway and water supply and the challenge of invading Gaza was dangerously underestimated by Murray and the British Government. Murray carried out two attacks on Gaza in October and December 1917, which were complete failures, leading to the sacking of Murray.
The third Battle of Gaza under General Sir Edmund Allenby was a victory due to complete supplies and military strength. The troops occupied Jaffa, Judea and finally Jerusalem on the 9th of December 1917. At the Battle of Meggido on September 1918 Allenby defeated the Ottoman army.
The war destroyed the Ottoman Empire and Britain became the dominant power in the region with its occupation of Palestine and Mesopotamia, which became modern day Iraq. Iraq won its independence in 1932. Unfortunately Palestine never got the independence it yearned for from the British and has been struggling for its independence until today. Britain encouraged an Arab revolt against the Turks in 1916, in exchange for support of Arab nationalism and independence. At the same time, Britain signed the Balfour declaration, which supported the creation of a Jewish homeland in the land of Palestine. There was therefore great frustration among the Arabs as they felt that the British were arrogant and inconsiderate of their desires. The events of the First World War in Palestine are vital to understanding the Israeli-Palestine conflict, which still deeply affects today’s world.