Barr’s book on the Anglo-French struggle over the Middle East during 1914 – 1948 is of special interest for those studying the history of Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict, because of the author’s use of newly declassified documents and his view that this rivalry “aggravated today’s conflict between the Arabs and the Jews.” His aim in this work is to show that “Britain created the problem in the first place, by enlisting the Zionists as a way to thwart French ambitions in the Middle East. But it was the French who played a vital part in the creation of the state of Israel, by helping the Jews organize the wide-scale immigration and devastating terrorism that finally engulfed the bankrupt British mandate in 1948.”
The study is based on extensive use of British and French archival sources as well as numerous books and articles, but the book’s style is very lively and an easy read, avoiding academic jargon, and using endnotes. The book is divided into four parts: The Carve-up, 1915 – 1919; Interwar years, 1920 – 1939; The secret war, 1940 – 1945; and Exit, 1945 – 1949. Choosing dramatic chapter titles (e.g., “Enter T.E. Lawrence”, “I Want Mosul”, “Revenge! Revenge!”, etc.), Barr leads us through the various British negotiations which resulted in conflicting documents during World War I. He then shows us the various ways in which Britain and France achieved their ambitions in the region, and the manipulations and force which they used for this purpose, as well as how Arabs, Druze, and Jews reacted in order to strengthen their own position.
Much emphasis in the last two parts is put on how Britain was helping Free French forces during World War II, yet how the latter, once overcoming the Vichy régime, were helping the Jews (“Jewish terrorists” is the term often used) in the struggle over Palestine, in order to weaken Britain as a regional power in the Middle East, to counteract the deteriorating position of France there. While based on an impressive amount of primary and secondary sources, readers should be well aware of the author’s goals while reading this lively book with its dramatic style. Bibliography, index, notes, photographs.