chapter  6
The Capture of Damascus, 1 October 1918
Pages 22

Britain fought the Palestine campaign in order to maintain the empire as much as to win the war. Palestine, Syria and Transjordan, indeed the Middle East as a whole, were vital for British imperial strategy. It was necessary to protect the route to India by creating a chain of contiguous territory under British influence, and this required some form of control over the Middle East. The Ottoman empire, the traditional British prop, was collapsing, and so Britain would dominate the region after the war by a mix of direct and indirect rule. The Hashemite Arabs of the Hejaz, supported by Britain, represented the indirect means of extending British influence. Support for the Hashemites would be a less expensive way of looking after British interests, and in a world altered by Wilsonian ideas of self-determination, local allies were a less obtrusive means of control. Zionism, it was hoped, would fulfil the same purpose in Palestine. To make the scheme work, the EEF had to conquer the Levant and install Zionism in Palestine and the Hashemites in Syria. By doing this, Britain could 'unmake' the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 that had internationalised Palestine and allowed French control of the area from Beirut to Mosul. The need to manage the region influenced the Palestine campaign as Allenby absorbed these non-military concerns into his plans at the third battle of Gaza, the Transjordan raids and, most noticeably, at the fall of Damascus following the battle of Megiddo in September 1918.1 Leopold Amery's timeless comment neatly encapsulates Britain's aim: 'The object of British policy can still be defined, as Pitt defined it in the great revolutionary war, by the one word "security".'2