I FIND it quite astounding that no reference whatsoever is made to the indisputable origins of the latest controversial wranglings in the Middle East, and without favouring one side or the other in the current ongoing upheaval, the historical input of Great Britain cannot be denied.

In a rather hastily prescribed initiative, an unknown figure of equally unknown competence other than being a member of the aristocracy was selected to pursue a secretive assignment in collaboration with the French. The singular claim to fame of Sir Mark Sykes was having accompanied his parents on their travels throughout the Middle East and of which he wrote with almost “divine” authority. His opposite number in Paris was François Georges-Picot.

Drawn up in 1916 and known to posterity as the Sykes/Picot Agreement, it primarily hinged on apportioning sectors of former Ottoman jurisdictions to both France and Britain following a successful conclusion to the ongoing conflict. On a large-scale map of Middle Eastern environs, a straight line from Acre on the Mediterranean coast to Kirkuk in the far-away hinterland bordering Iran segregated both land masses, with France entrusted with administering the northern region and Britain responsible for the southerly, including Iraq whose oil wells were of such prime importance. Only their ally Russia was privy to this closely guarded accordance.

By 1917, however, the war was not only proving immensely costly in human fatalities but vast numbers of infantry became bogged down in the unforgiving trenches of Passchendaele and when Russia opted to desist from further involvement following their internal revolution, the Allies realised that without American assistance, their plight was becoming quite desperate and bordering on collapse.

On April 6, 1917, President Wilson of the United States declared war on the German Empire after it became known that the Germans had made a secret offer to help Mexico regain territories lost in the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848.

Born in East Lothian, Arthur James Balfour was foreign secretary in the wartime coalition government of David Lloyd George and on November 2, 1917 wrote a 67-word letter to Lord Rothschild, who was a leader of the British Jewish community. Known to history as the Balfour Declaration, it simply stated the Government’s intentions of securing a permanent settlement for the Jews in Palestine. The statement was in effect a token countermeasure when the Russians revealed the extent of collusion between Britain and France.

The vague half-promised offerings of self-determination for Arabic countries was ignominiously overlooked and set aside as the Jewish population of Palestine increased exponentially over the following years, whilst Thomas Edward Lawrence – who had done so much for the Arabic cause in their struggle against the Turks – gave up in total disgust. Having lost both of his brothers in the war, he was in no settled frame of mind to continue supporting the manoeuvrings within the corridors of power. To the extent of outrightly refusing a well-deserved knighthood. Had he been listened to, however; the Middle East would have evolved into a far more peaceful and inclusive society than it was fated to become. None other than Winston Churchill complimented Lawrence’s Seven Pillars Of Wisdom as the most outstanding volume ever written in the English language.

Spanning nearly 600 miles, the Iraq Petroleum Company under British supervision constructed an oil pipeline to connect the Mosul oil fields to the Mediterranean coast at Haifa. The lands through which the pipeline stretched were all under British mandate. By 1940, the Iraqi fields produced four million tonnes of oil per year, Britain’s share of overall production supplying 5% of domestic needs but full requirements of its Mediterranean fleet. The Anglo-Persian Oil Company was however a wholly owned subsidiary of the Glasgow registered Burmah Oil Company which was to eventually become BP or British Petroleum.

The official declaration for the creation of the State of Israel did not occur until May 1948 and was of course well-established as a nation in its own right by then. More especially following the Holocaust and the enormous influx of immigrants post-1945.
Roderick MacSween