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Russia Enters the Levant:
The Arab World in Flux

- Abstract

Until 1914, Britain, the outside power most concerned with the Near East, had worked to preserve the independence and integrity of the Ottoman Empire as a means of denying footholds within reach of the Suez Canal to her European rivals. Turkey’s entry into the First World War, as an ally of Germany, turned this policy upside down and impelled Britain first to undermine the Ottoman Empire with the aid of its disaffected minorities, notably the Hejazi Arabs, and subsequently to fill the vacuum with satellite states governed by Hejazi notables and their henchmen that were militarily, economically, and politically dependent on Britain. The raison d’être of these states, like that of the Ottoman regime, from Whitehall’s point of view, was to prevent any other power from establishing itself on the approaches to the Suez Canal and to two new British interests, the oilfields of Persia and Iraq. This policy collapsed when the seeds of nationalism it planted proliferated so riotously as to facilitate Italian and German infiltration. Then, after the Second World War had restored British hegemony, a Labor government gave Whitehall’s traditional policy a face lifting by attempting to harness and exploit Levantine nationalism through the Arab League—again, for the purpose of excluding actual and potential rival influences. This initiative boomeranged even more grievously than its inter-war prototype, Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin’s splenetic excesses undermining Britain’s moral standing as well as her main strategic and economic footholds in the region, and making even the little that remained of her former position dependent upon American support.

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