by Priya Satia.
Published by Oxford University Press,
London. 472 pages, 2008.
Reviewed by Commander Youssef Aboul-Enein, MSC, USN
Stanford University Associate Professor Priya Satia has published an award
winning book that pieces together the evolution of British intelligence in the
Middle East. Those with an interest in intelligence networks and Middle East
affairs will find this book worth reading. Special Duty Agents traveled under
cover of the Palestine Exploration Fund before World War I, and British Royal
Engineers traveled Egypt and the Sudan as part of Egypt's Survey Department.
You will enter a world in which internal competition for intelligence occurred
among British officials in Cairo, London, and Delhi. However, Horatio Kitchener
the British High Commissioner in Egypt, and Sir Reginald Wingate Sirdar
(Military Commander) of the Egyptian Army viewed Africa and Western Arabia their
administrative responsibility. Externally, there would be a pre-World War I
race between the British and Germans for archeological discoveries, prestige,
and intelligence access.
During World War I, Richard Meinertzhagen served as General Edmund Allenby's
intelligence chief, when the British were threatened by Ottoman forces allied
with the Triple Alliance. Meinertzhagen rode into no man's land, pretending to
be hit, and dropped a pouch containing falsified "confidential" documents. When
the Ottomans got hold of the papers they were duped into believing a major
British attack would come through Gaza, and that Beersheba would see only a
reconnaissance in force. This deception led to the British victory at the
Battle of Megiddo. The deception not only included documents, but fake camps
built in the Jordan valley, dust sleds to kick up sand to mask activity and
troop numbers, and hotels vacated suddenly. These deceptions of World War I
would be rediscovered by the British in World War II and used against the Axis.
Satia does a great job getting into the real military creativity of T. E.
Lawrence (of Arabia), which was about enhancing the formidability of the desert
as a vast space. The author emphasizes that Lawrence saw space as a deterrent
to Ottoman deployments and re-deployments in Arabia. The British had to contend
with waves of new political movements to maintain control Turanism (Turkish
nationalism), Pan-Islamism, Bolshevism, and Pan-Arabism. This needed the
arranging of covert rule, which is the subject of an entire chapter. Perhaps
one of the more intriguing discussions among British intelligence leaders was
the need to exploit the success of the Arab Bureau in Cairo, and create a Muslim
Bureau linking Cairo to Gibraltar, Malta, Constantinople, Aden (in Yemen),
India, and Singapore as intelligence sensors. The book dives deeply into the
management of the Iraqi British Mandate, but pays little attention to the
management of Egypt as a British Protectorate or the suppression of the 1919
Revolt in Egypt. The revolt would lead to the removal of the false pretence
that Egypt was under Ottoman suzerainty, a political fiction since the early 19th
century. Satia work is worth reading and recommended for Middle East Foreign
Area Officers, intelligence professionals, and counter-terrorism experts.
Commander Youssef Aboul-Enein is the author of "Militant
Islamist Ideology: Understanding the Global Threat," published in 2010 by Naval
Institute Press. He is Adjunct Islamic Studies Chair at the Industrial College
of the Armed Forces in Washington D.C. and an expert on Violent Islamist Ideology
at the Joint Intelligence Task Force for Combating Terrorism.