Perhaps the title of this book (above) is a little ironic because a good part of the book is really about a line on a map rather than a line in the sand. Sir Mark Sykes in addressing the British cabinet about who would take over the territory of the Ottoman empire when it collapsed, sliced his finger across a map in front of the politicians and declared, “I should like to draw a line from the ‘e’ in Acre to the last ‘k’ in Kircuk”. His proposal was that Britain should take charge of the territory that lay south of the line and France the area to the north.

Unscrupulous double dealing

The author, James Barr, outlines in his book the political intrigue of the British and French and their unscrupulous double dealing in the Middle East as they struggled for colonial dominance. The book traces history from the time that Britain and France sought to divide the region to the birth of the nation of Israel.

Carving up Turkey

The French claimed a tenuous historical link back to the time of the Crusades, giving them territorial rights to Syria. The British, meanwhile, sought influence over Mesopotamia and Palestine and had particular interest in the commercial advantages of the port of Haifa.

Francois Georges -Picot, a French diplomat, with a belief in France’s Imperial “civilizing mission,” became responsible for negotiating the French position with the British. He had a long standing grudge against the British as a result of a previous humiliating French back-down over an incident in which his diplomat father was involved.

Arab ambitions

James Barr further outlines in his book how the British came to give vague undertakings of support to Sharif Hussein of Mecca. In return for his assistance against the Ottoman power, Britain offered to support his claim to the Arabian Peninsula, Syria, Iraq and Palestine.

Having given Hussein support and encouragement for his ambitions, Britain then finalised with France the Sykes- Picot agreement that recognised France’s entitlement to some of the same tracts of the Middle East also promised to Hussein. Sykes and Picot, however, could not come to an agreement over Palestine and so it was agreed that it would come under international administration, a situation unsatisfactory to both parties.

Zionist and British ambitions

Herbert Samuel, a Zionist Jew and a minister of the British cabinet, saw an opportunity to achieve a long held ambition for a Jewish State in Palestine. He began to argue that a Jewish colony east of Suez could deny territory to any rival foreign power that might threaten the Suez Canal. Samuel also argued that such a move would generate goodwill among the Jewish Diaspora. The Jewish population in Britain had quadrupled in the previous 30 years. In addition, there were two million Jews in America and it was argued that their support could influence America to join the war against Germany.

Once the Sykes-Picot Agreement had been finalised between Britain and France, Britain began to see the disadvantages and sought to change the terms. Britain decided that the oil rich region of Mosul (in Iraq) should be included in the British region. In addition, Britain realised that by publicly supporting Zionist aspirations to make Palestine a Jewish State, she could control the territory without being accused of land grabbing.

Distrust, deceit and revenge

Lord Balfour later admitted, “We have not been honest with the French or the Arab”. He might well have added the Jews also.

President Clemenceau of France is reported to have said to the British Prime Minister, Lloyd George, “From the very day after the Armistice, I found you an enemy of France.” His British counterpart replied, “Well, was it not always our traditional policy”. Clemenceau did not see the joke and strained relations continued between Britain and France over the Middle East.

Under mandates given by the League of Nations, Britain took control of Transjordan, Iraq and Palestine. France took control of Syria and Lebanon. The Arabs reacted angrily as the promised freedom failed to materialise and both Britain and France blamed one another’s policies for the opposition they began to face.

Events reached a climax when Britain invaded Syria and Lebanon in June, 1941, to prevent Vichy France from offering them for a German offensive against the Suez Canal. Britain then gave Syria and Lebanon independence in 1943.

In return for what France no doubt saw as an act of betrayal, she helped the Jews organize large scale immigration and the devastating terrorism that finally engulfed the bankrupt British mandate.

Interest for Bible students

There is much of interest in the book for the Bible student as we see the hand of God fulfilling His promise to re-establish His people once more in the land. A particular point of interest is that regarding the British assault upon Gallipoli. Originally it was planned that there should be a simultaneous invasion of both Gallipoli and Alexandretta, a harbour located where modern day Turkey joins Syria. France pressured Britain to drop Alexandretta from the plan because they were concerned that in the event of a successful invasion, Britain might claim the territory of Syria. German field marshal von Hindenburg admitted afterward, “Perhaps not the whole course of the war but certainly the fate of our Ottoman ally could have been settled out of hand, if England had secured a decision in that region, or even seriously attempted it.”

It was not God’s intention, however, that the Gallipoli invasion should succeed and instead God used the tensions between Britain and France to further His purpose. We see this continually demonstrated throughout the book. We are reminded of the words of Brother Thomas: “I know not whether men, who at present contrive the foreign policy of Britain entertain the idea of assuming the sovereignty of the Holy Land, and of promoting its colonisation by the Jews; their present intentions, however, are of no importance one way or the other, because they will be compelled by events soon to happen, to do what under existing circumstances heaven and earth combined could not move them to attempt.”

I recommend the book as an interesting and well documented history of the period leading to the establishment of the nation of Israel.