Dateline: November 1, 2011
A brief rewrite of pertinent
Middle East history
How the non-delivery of two formidable British dreadnoughts may well have led to the adventurous exploits of Lawrence of Arabia, the existence of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Trans Jordan, Egypt, a sovereign Saudi Arabia, and later greater control of the Persian Gulf by Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
In 1914, as the war clouds grew ever darker across Europe, British shipyards were working to finish completion of two new massive Dreadnought battleships, together with some destroyers and patrol craft, that had been ordered by the Ottoman Empire to bolster its naval presence in the Black Sea
Turkey at that time, still edgy about threats from its powerful northern neighbour, Imperial Russia, which had a couple of decades before had waged war upon them and also during the Crimea War. Turkey was also now beset with unfriendly relations with Greece, another neighbour.
So the Turkish Ottoman Empire was in a state of indecision as to which side — the French, British and Italian, or the military might of Germany-Austria — it should declare itself to be an ally.
With Russia seemingly preparing to oppose Germany, Turkey’s strongest intentions appeared to be with Germany and against Britain and France.
But when the two mighty dreadnought battleships ordered by the Turkish government were completed in August 1914, Winston Churchill, Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty, rightly told the Turks that the deal was off. The battleships would stay in Britain and be commissioned into the Royal Navy.
Thus Turkey firmly allied itself to Germany for the next four years of hostilities during the Great War.
This meant that the next one hundred years of Middle East history, which we have now witnessed, and events yet to unfold during the next few hundred years, were radically and violently altered from what might have been.
Because, unlikely though it was, if Turkey had received its fully-paid-for dreadnoughts from Britain, as agreed upon, it is slightly possible that the Ottoman Empire would have instead decided to become Britain’s ally, thus saving the costly bloodshed and chicanery involved in wrestling military control of Arabia, Mesopotamia, Palestine, Egypt and coastal regions of Libya, Tunisia and Algeria from out of Turkish and into the allies’ hands and influence.
For the Ottoman Empire had occupied all those Middle Eastern regions for centuries. From the Red Sea across Arabia to the top of the Persian Gulf and all the way down the gulf’s western coast to Oman and the Strait of Hormuz where the Turks had held sway since the middle ages.
In the event of a Turkish alliance with Britain there would have been no reason for the British Army in Egypt’s, fluently Arabic-speaking, enigmatic, Lt. Colonel Lawrence to don his flowing native robes and trek out into the desert to rouse the Arabian tribes into rebellion against the Turks and ease the way for a British army to win control of Jerusalem together with all the far-distant Arab lands so long dominated by the Ottoman Empire.
Nor would there have been need for a largely Indian British army to sail up into the Shatt-al-Arab at the north end of the Persian Gulf, invade Mesopotamia (largely known as 'Messpot' in British shorthand) and suffer terrible hardships on the way, from battling an extremely tough and cruel Turkish army.
Nor would the victorious allies in 1919 have been able to carve up the whole region into separate states, creating Syria and Lebanon for the French and with Palestine, Egypt and Iraq placed under British mandate which, though later peacefully rescinded, left meaningful British influence across the region including also most of the coastal sheikdoms of the Persian Gulf and also Iran itself strongly influenced by British policy until the mid 1950s. All illustrated by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, the Imperial Bank of Iran and the Middle East, and strong joint partnerships of USA-British regional oil exploration, development and facilities for global export.
In fact, if Turkey had chosen to join the Allies, It is possible that Imperial Russia, now a de facto ally with Turkey would not have given up fighting the Germans in 1917 nor experienced its tumultuous, politically earth-shaking, revolution.
In the mid-1950s the peace of Iraq under the rule of the young King Faisal and his prime minister, Nuri Said, was destroyed when, largely undermined by Soviet street propaganda, they and other members of ancient royal families were brutally massacred and their bodies hung from lamp posts in the streets of Baghdad and other cities by murderous mobs.
The way was then open for a succession of much harsher regimes to rise and fall.
Sadly, international harmony, both regionally and widespread, fell into the inane bedlam we have seen over the many decades past.