The Overstretched Superpower
Does America Have More Rivals Than It Can Handle?
THE geographical triangle stretching between the Mediterranean, the Black Sea and the Indian Ocean, and vaguely known as the Middle East, is the most important link between the key members of the United Nations: the United States, Britain and her central Asian empire, China and the U.S.S.R. The Suez Canal and the shipping lanes westward through the Mediterranean, eastward to India and southward around the Cape are the heart of an area including the richest petroleum deposits in the Old World, the greatest road and air network between East and West, and regions valuable not only from a purely strategical point of view but for cotton, grain, fruit, gold and chromium. Finally, the Middle East is not only the barrier between the two expanding ends of the Axis -- in Europe and Asia -- but contains the gateway to Europe through the Balkans, the backdoor to the Soviet Union through the Dardanelles and over the Caucasus, the road to India through Iran and Baluchistan, and the main route to Central Africa along the Nile valley. In itself it is a vitally important section of the world and from the strategical point of view in a military sense it is the most important single geographical area of the war.
The German Empire before and during the last World War was fully aware of this as were the Allies who, after the unsuccessful Dardanelles campaign by which they sought to split the Central Powers, began the systematic destruction of the Ottoman Empire accompanied and followed by the development of the Salonika operations which eventually penetrated into the heart of the Austro-Hungarian position from the rear. Kaiser Wilhelm, looking towards the commercial riches of the British East, obtained the assent of the Sultan to the construction of the Berlin to Baghdad rail system (completed by British engineers in 'Iraq in the summer of 1940) and dispersed agents as far East as Kuwait, Persia and Afghanistan devoted to the cause of furthering German imperialism and fomenting trouble in areas under British domination.
Even before the actual outbreak of war in 1914 a series of German politicians and diplomats envisioned the military value of the Middle East and its Moslem population as an anti-British factor. While the Kaiser was seeking to set himself up as the protector of Islam by such acts as rebuilding Saladdin's Damascus shrine, German political strategists such as Professor Max von Oppenheim (in 1914 Oriental Secretary to the German consulate-general in Cairo) were studying plans for a possible Jihad, or Moslem Holy War, this to be turned into a revolt against Britain and her Allies by the world of Islam organized by German agents and conducted by leaders paid by Berlin or the Constantinople Caliphate.
It is not the purpose of this article to discuss the reasons for the failure of this move or Britain's means in combating it through Hussein and the religious machinery of Mecca. It is, however, interesting to note that both sets of combatants today are employing in the Middle East men who rose to prominence in that area more than two decades ago. Britain's Eighth, Ninth and Tenth Armies, now guarding that region, include dozens of officers who participated in the Allenby campaign. Colonel Blunt, assistant military attaché in Ankara, was partially responsible for the seizure of von Papen's documents in that area. Colonel Stirling, Lawrence's staff chief, continues his wandering between Aleppo and Cairo.
Herr von Papen himself spent most of his World War career, after his expulsion from Washington, in the Middle East; and it was there that he began his acquaintanceship with von Ribbentrop who later recommended him as Ambassador to Turkey. After being recalled from the United States, von Papen was transferred to his regiment which was at that time on the Western Front. While serving there, von Papen prepared several reports suggesting various methods of bringing about a Jihad, and presented these to the German General Staff. It was in this connection that von Papen met von Hindenburg and developed a friendship which was later to pave the way for Hitler's seizure of power. Von Papen's ideas proved to be of special interest to German GHQ, and after Turkey entered the war he was transferred to the Eastern Front by order of von Falkenhayn, at that time Chief of the Imperial General Staff. There he was attached to the Fourth Turkish Army, and sent to Palestine, where he had to face Allenby's attack. He was nearly captured in the neighborhood of Jerusalem but was saved by von Ribbentrop, a lieutenant in the same regiment.
In this connection one incident which a few Turks repeat among themselves from time to time is worth recalling. During the retreat before Allenby, Ismet Pasha (now President of the Turkish Republic) was riding along the Ottoman lines accompanied by staff officers, including von Papen. A few English batteries began shelling the vicinity. According to the story, von Papen dropped off his horse and took cover. The Turks rode on. Later, when von Papen rejoined them at a canter, he apologized, explaining the British "were after him." This incident remains impressed on Ismet's mind; the President is not yet sure whether von Papen is exceptionally nervous physically or suffers from a persecution complex.
Von Papen's most important documents fell into Allenby's hands during the advance into Palestine. Considerable information relating to the Jihad was found among them. Here again it is interesting to note that von Papen's friendship with von Ribbentrop developed further. Ribbentrop was suspected of quitting his regiment without official permission. A mix-up in military files caused the documents relating to his transfer by GHQ to be misplaced and he was accused of desertion after the war. Von Papen established by his testimony before a special court of honor that the young lieutenant had participated actively on the Eastern Front. It is perhaps not by chance that when Hitler named him Ambassador to Turkey he announced that the appointment had been made on the recommendation of von Ribbentrop. Thus, von Papen has a distinct interest and background of experience in this part of the world -- an experience recognized by his immediate chief in the Wilhelmstrasse. Now, years later, he has an opportunity, with large funds and many assistants at his disposal, to make good his failures of the last war and perhaps to acquire fame in a field of work better known for the conspiratorial activities of such men as Lawrence and Wassmuss.
In order to embarrass the British in the Middle East the Germans have spent millions of reichsmarks and distributed billions of words of propaganda on an ever-increasing scale during the past four years. Although the Nazis have not the advantage of an alliance with Turkey -- which lacks, anyway, the physical assets possessed by the old Ottoman Empire, extending almost to Suez -- they are in a better position to secure Arab aid than during the last war for the very reason that this time it is they and not the British who promise to free the Fellahin and the Bedouin from "oppression." This time they are outside looking in, and they can elaborate upon any mistakes in British administration instead of apologizing for errors in Ottoman administration. The German sets himself up as a savior to the Moslem world. Every ounce of gold distributed and every word pronounced by the German agents is establishing that Hitler, a descendant of the Prophet, the enemy of the Jews and the British, the Protector of Islam, is devoting his energies to the establishment of a Free Arab Federation. His own "Free Arabia" radio station in occupied Athens says so.
Just as the British in the last war employed the aspirations of the Sherif of Mecca, Hussein, to give weight to their promises of freedom from the Turk, the Germans are now using Haj Amin al-Hussaini, the exiled Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, as their principal spokesman, abetted by the Gailani leader, Rashid Ali. Both are in Germany at this time and busily shuttling about between Berlin, Rome and Athens maintaining constant contact between renegade Arab leaders and the Axis foreign offices. Their movements are faithfully reported on the Berlin, Rome, Bari and Athens radio stations, as well as in secret literature slipped over the borders of Syria and 'Iraq from Turkey or brought in by occasional parachutists.
There is, these days, a tendency to dismiss the Mufti as an unimportant influence. The Emir Abdullah of Trans-Jordan recently told the writer that the Mufti no longer had any adherents; that he had forfeited all respect by running away. If this is true, it is true only to a degree. The Mufti is still an extremely important man who could become vastly more important if the Wehrmacht were ever to gain a success in the Middle East. His essential importance is in the intricate and extensive political machine which he has left behind him in Palestine, in Syria, in 'Iraq and, to a very minor degree, in Iran. Despite British policing efforts, this mechanism continues functioning secretly and it will be a very difficult thing to eradicate it completely.
When the present war broke out in the autumn of 1939 the Mufti fled from Syria to 'Iraq and was acclaimed as an Arab hero; he was feted by everyone from the Prime Minister down. Parties were given for him as demonstrations of Arab nationalist feeling, and during such fêtes anti-British propaganda was spread. The 'Iraqi dream that their country would become the nucleus for a united Arabia was given new impetus. Although the Mufti had promised Nuri es-Said Pasha, then as now Prime Minister, that he would refrain from political activity during his stay in 'Iraq, he calmly ignored this pledge; and the 'Iraqi Government did nothing noticeable about it. The British Minister, since replaced, watched the situation develop.
The Mufti established headquarters with, among others, the following key officials: Jamal al-Hussaini, chief of staff; Sheik Musa beg al-'Alami, Islamic religious adviser and critic on occidental (British) affairs; Salim Abdur Rahman, press officer and head publicist; and a foreign relations committee responsible for propaganda and intrigue. The Mufti controlled disbursements and receipt of funds to keep this organization functioning. He was voted 18,000 'Iraqi dinars by the 'Iraqi Parliament and was paid 1,000 'Iraqi dinars monthly by the 'Iraq secret service from its hidden funds. Under a check-off system he was paid two percent of the salary of every 'Iraqi government official, including the military and the police. He was paid special sums by the Palestine Defense Society, the Red Crescent and public collections supposedly for other purposes. He is believed to have been paid 60,000 'Iraqi dinars by the Germans and 40,000 'Iraqi dinars by the Italians. He received gifts from Egypt and from King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud. A year ago the British Secret Service was in a position to state categorically that the Mufti had accepted a subsidy of 10,000 pounds sterling from the Italian Minister in Baghdad and had agreed to start another revolt in Palestine if and when supplied with 20,000 pounds gold monthly.
Backed by this very considerable wealth, unhampered in his virtually open operations, the Mufti furnished the 'Iraq Government with Palestinian and Syrian Arab refugee nominees to fill essential government positions which the state of illiteracy prevailing in the country prevented its own subjects from assuming -- teachers, doctors, various types of minor experts. Thus a sizable number of political undesirables (from the British viewpoint) came to be established in 'Iraq, the core of the Middle Eastern world. The Mufti more or less controlled their hire and discharge. They were used as cells for his propaganda campaign and they continually worked to spread his influence.
The Mufti also gained for his cause the support of divers Arab nationalist organizations. Some of these were already receiving German funds, which after the beginning of the Polish campaign reached 'Iraq through the diplomatic pouches of the Italian Legation. The Mufti concentrated his efforts on establishing a controlling influence over large numbers of the police force, the army, teachers, doctors and lawyers; and he was able to exert considerable pressure in such affairs of state as the granting of passports. Arab refugees from Palestine when approved by him were often permitted to enter 'Iraq without payment of taxes. Publications under his control were not interfered with much by the Baghdad press department; and his paper Istiqlal was left unhindered, although it was edited by Osman Qassim, the former editor of the paper Al Liwa, in Palestine, a publication subsidized by both German and 'Iraqi funds.
Until the Gailani coup and rebellion of the spring of 1941 the Mufti was a frequent guest of honor at important functions and the feeling grew among all categories of Arabs, even many who were not in agreement with the Mufti's aims, that England, in the throes of war, might be willing to buy Arab friendship by striking a bargain with Islam over the Palestinian question. Several 'Iraqi politicians hoped to gain prestige by negotiating such a bargain; and even Prime Minister Nuri permitted the press to carry on ardent Arab nationalist (and, to a lesser degree anti-British) propaganda. Because there were few valid grounds for discontent in 'Iraq itself, popular feeling against Britain was actively and deliberately worked up over the Palestine issue.
In this connection a key man was Taha Pasha al-Hashimi, who had become 'Iraqi Defense Minister in December 1938, and who before that had been president of the 'Iraqi Palestine Defense Society which issued the Mufti's propaganda and prepared much of the broadcast matter for the Nazi Arabic programs. Taha Pasha remained in exceedingly close contact with the German legation and was a close friend of Germany's number one Arab agent, Dr. Amin Ruwaiha. Taha Pasha also exercised his gifts for intrigue with the group of 'Iraqi army officers later known as the "Golden Square" and he encouraged them to try a coup d'état to force the King to bring him and his own followers into positions of power. Eventually he succeeded in this latter aim and at the end of 1938 became Minister of Defense in a new Nuri es-Said cabinet. Rashid Ali al-Gailani was rewarded for his part in the plot by being named Chief of the Royal Diwan and having the guardianship of the Gailani Waqfs returned to him.
Although Nuri became suspicious of Amin Ruwaiha and other leaders in 1939 he continued to minimize the importance of Taha Pasha, whom he categorized as stupid. Indeed, he only realized how important the combined Mufti-German machine was becoming when, after he broke off 'Iraqi-German diplomatic relations after the war started, he was accused by military circles of being Britain's tool. He then befriended the Mufti in order to popularize himself; and the Mufti, benefiting from this trend, began to hold meetings with army officers, including the commander of the cavalry, Mahmud Salman, a member of the Golden Square and later chief of the 'Iraqi Royal Air Force. Mahmud's friendship for the Mufti dated back to the last war.
As the Wehrmacht continued to win impressive victories the belief grew in 'Iraq (cultivated, of course, by Axis friends) that Britain would lose the war. Rumors were deliberately spread that Nuri had promised to send 'Iraqi soldiers to aid the Allies. With this situation prevailing in the background, Rashid Ali (who was well situated with the military clique and with Taha Pasha) began to hold a series of secret conferences with the Italian Minister and with members of the latter's staff. Certain 'Iraqi leaders, chiefly General Hussain Fawzi and General Amin al-Umari, respectively chief of the general staff and commander of the first division, became alarmed at the increasing hold of the Golden Square group and early in 1940 they contemplated a coup d'état to get rid not only of the Taha Pasha clique but also of Nuri es-Said Pasha. The powerful Golden Square foiled this, and both generals were pensioned off.
The Golden Square now held virtually complete control. They established handpicked officers in key positions, and these began more and more openly to interfere in political matters and to proclaim themselves pro-Axis. In January 1940, Nuri, unpopular and upset by the assassination of his old friend and Finance Minister, Rustum Haidar, resigned; Rashid Ali al-Gailani took over the Prime Ministry and, in compliance with army insistence, named Taha Pasha as Defense Minister. The Mufti, acting partially behind the scenes and partially as a representative of Axis desires, played a major rôle in making the arrangements. It is interesting to note that these events took place on the eve of a scheduled visit by Nuri to King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud at Riadh, where questions about the friendship treaty between 'Iraq and Saudi Arabia were to be cleared up; but Nuri feared to make the visit because of a belief that the Germans might seek to have him assassinated in the south.
The career of the Rashid Ali Government is too well known to bear detailed repetition here. The Minister of Justice was a renowned pro-German who had maintained close personal contact with von Papen in Turkey during the summer of 1940. The press director, a nominee of Taha Pasha and the Golden Square, placed in high posts two leading members of the Moslem Guidance Society under the Mufti's influence. A policy of "strict neutrality" for 'Iraq began to be openly expounded, while agitators including the Mufti's religious adviser, Sheik Hassan abu Saud, began to broadcast talks on Islam. Despite Italy's distinct unpopularity in the Arab world, Rashid Ali maintained diplomatic relations with that country after it entered the war; and the final collapse of France brought about much rejoicing, as it was felt not only that French hegemony in Syria and the Lebanon was at an end but that the Axis would win the war in 1940, displacing Britain from the Middle East.
Following their occupation of 'Iraq and the reëstablishment of Abdul Illah and Nuri es-Said Pasha, the British were faced with the problem of eliminating the extensive machine carefully built up by the Mufti and Rashid Ali (both of whom succeeded in escaping first to Iran, then to Germany) and replacing not only its key members, many of whom had fled, but of destroying the less noticeable but very important minor mechanisms created over a period of many months. According to the latest reports available to the writer, Yunis as-Sab'awi, former youth movement leader and Minister of Economics, and several influential members of the Golden Square have already been executed; while Ali Mahmud al Shaikh Ali, former Minister of Justice, and General Amin Zaki Sulaiman, former acting chief of the general staff, have been sentenced to long prison terms. Rashid Ali al-Gailani has been sentenced to death, in absentia.
The difficulty facing the British is that the opposition machine, which for the sake of convenience can well be termed the Mufti machine, is so deeply entrenched in 'Iraq that it is virtually impossible to uproot it entirely. It is still a very important factor in the life of the country and would be a very dangerous force in the military sense should the Wehrmacht ever manage to establish itself in the Middle East. It is the potential mechanism for an Arab guerrilla revolt; it still extends its tentacles deep into the structure of the army and the civil service; and it still receives its orders by secret channels across Syria and across Turkey, as well as its broad directives from Axis-controlled radio stations broadcasting in Arabic.
The writer has recited in some detail the method by which the Mufti managed to entrench his machine (and thus the Axis machine) in the most typical of the Arabic countries. There is no space here to discuss the extensive political difficulties arising from interior and exterior differences between Britain and the local populations of Egypt, Palestine and the French mandated states. However, to complete the picture of Axis machinations in the Middle East it is necessary to devote some time to the establishment of the German espionage system in Syria before reverting to the complete picture as a whole and linking up these various actions with the directives issued from Turkey and Europe and with the possible plans of the German General Staff for setting in motion all this apparatus to coincide with a direct attack upon this area.
In Syria and the Lebanon the Germans had a heaven-sent opportunity to get a strong footing in the Middle East from within after the Franco-German armistice of June 22, 1940. German subjects in French concentration camps in the Levant were released and began once more to mix into the life of the country. The German gift for organization was immediately evinced by the appointment of Roland Eilender, a German born in Beirut, as temporary head of the German population and at least spiritual Gauleiter. At the end of September 1940, a special agent named Rudolf Roser, formerly representative of a German exporting firm in Beirut and later agent of the Voigtländer optical firm, who had a wide acquaintanceship in the Levant, was sent out from the Reich. He took up residence in the Hotel Metropole, Beirut, which he established as the center of German propaganda and espionage activities in the Levant; it remained so until the Allied occupation of 1941.
One by one purely military agents also began to arrive. In October 1940 a Major von Prat, accompanied by three other Wehrmacht officers, began an intensive study of the Syrian-'Iraqi frontier in the important region of Fort Abu-Kemal. In December other groups of German officers appeared and made similar frontier inspection tours. At the end of January 1941, at least one officer of the Luftwaffe is known to have commenced an investigation of Syrian air bases.
From the Hotel Metropole Roser began to extend a network of agents throughout the Levant, and it was this web which served as the foundation of the present espionage system linking the Middle East with Europe through Turkey. Serving as his chief assistant was Fräulein Paula Koch, who comes from an old German family in Aleppo and speaks excellent French and Arabic. A Syrian dentist who had been educated in Germany, named Negib Kanaan, was selected by Fräulein Koch as agent in Damascus, serving under Saddi Keylani, a veteran troublemaker who, married to a German woman, had worked for Berlin in Waziristan and who had a secret radio transmitter under his direction sending messages to be picked up by German receiving apparatus in Ankara and Istanbul. A German ex-monk, Alois Mazuth, formerly Brother Christopher of the Marist order, also worked for the Nazis in Damascus. In Beirut, a man named Rachad Barbir worked under Roser and served in addition as correspondent for the official Deutsches Nachrichten Büro. Several small radio stations were established in both the Lebanon and Syria.
In January 1941, the chief of the entire apparatus which Roser had established throughout Syria and also in adjoining countries arrived in Beirut -- von Hentig, Wilhelmstrasse expert and key planner of German activities in the Middle East. Von Hentig, who had gained much experience in this area during the last war when he was a member of the group employed by the Germans in Persia to intrigue against the Allies in Central Asia, arrived fresh from a series of conferences with von Papen at Ankara. He was charged with preparing a base for Middle Eastern revolts to coincide with a military campaign across the Balkans, Crete and Cyprus to Syria, and a revolt in 'Iraq. In this connection he did extensive propaganda work and consolidated the German position with several important Arab officials. He was largely responsible for the popularization of a slogan still harped upon in the repetitious technique of Goebbels: "Bissama Allah oua alard Hitler" (In Heaven Allah, on earth Hitler).
German preparations for the establishment of out-and-out "collaboration" in the Levant between defeated France and the Axis are not important to this discussion. The mission of Otto Rahn (now in France) and the later work of Nazi agents was connected entirely with technical arrangements involving German aid to the Rashid Ali rebellion in 'Iraq and opposition to the British in the premature (from the Nazi viewpoint) Middle Eastern conflict following the failure of the German scheme to extend the Balkan campaign across the eastern Mediterranean. When the Allies occupied Syria the Germans withdrew, after carefully preparing their ramified network of agents to carry on undercover work. They even distributed arms to certain guerrilla groups charged with creating nuisance disturbances. At the last moment before the Syrian armistice Kurdish guerrillas and refugee 'Iraqi dissident tribesmen were receiving machine guns and Belgian rifles flown into Aleppo from Salonika.
German efforts to keep the ground fertile for internal revolt in the Middle East and ready for assistance if the day should ever come for a full campaign in that area then entered a new phase, the one which still prevails as these lines are written. "Field operations" may now be said to be in charge of von Papen and Herr Chapeaurouge, head of the Oriental department of the Istanbul branch of the German Embassy. The Germans have prevailed upon the Turks to permit the establishment of a new Nazi vice-consulate at Iskenderun, in the Hatay, immediately across the border from northern Syria; and there, significantly enough, the principal officials are Herr Roser and his former assistant, Fräulein Koch. Numerous Germans and Italians are now functioning at both Iskenderun and Adana where the only possible type of work is obviously espionage of divers sorts.
The Oriental department of the German Embassy has been completely reorganized and divided into several sections, each charged with the affairs of a different Middle Eastern country. The responsible chief of each section supervises the activities of Germanophile refugees and employs their services for direct contact work with their respective countries. To the best of the writer's knowledge, the various sections as now comprised are: 'Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, the Lebanon and Palestine. German efficiency has organized each group of refugees under a chosen Gauleiter. Thus, for example, Adel Arslan, chief of the Druse faction which declined to follow the Al-Atrash sultan into the Hauran and remained in the Lebanon during the last fifty years, is known to be head of the Lebanese group of refugees. In the event of a German conquest of the Lebanon he would undoubtedly serve as head of the Nazi-dominated state there. The refugees continue to meet secretly in Turkey and many of them travel between Istanbul and the frontiers of their respective countries. Contact with Syria, the Lebanon and Palestine is arranged by the German consulate at Adana or the vice-consulate at Iskenderun. In order to retain direct approach to the 'Iraqi and Iranian frontiers Herr Chapeaurouge frequently sends agents to Diyarbekir or Erzerum, usually on the pretext of establishing commercial contacts. The German liaison agents with Moslem countries are adequately furnished with funds to facilitate their work. Thus, for example, when Chapeaurouge wished to send a letter to an undercover agent in Syria last winter the Turk entrusted with the mission was paid 1,000 Turkish lira.
Chapeaurouge's system of propaganda and espionage works in two directions. The Germans send their own material into the Middle East and receive in return information for use in their propaganda broadcasts. After being collated by the D.N.B. office in Istanbul in the special Oriental section headed by Fräulein Kruss and employing five Arab and two Iranian assistants, the information is made the basis for false, exaggerated or warped reports broadcast back to the Moslem countries by Italian, German and Japanese controlled radio stations. For the purely Arabic world, the most insidious broadcasts are those which emanate from the secret "Arab Nation" station, the Athens "Free Arabia" station, the Italian station at Bari and the Berlin station, where Yunis Bahri, a disgruntled Baghdad newspaperman with a fine delivery, holds forth. Berlin also employs the Iranian Shahro, son of the late Parsee leader, whose strangely sensuous voice is especially appealing to the womenfolk of Teheran, Tabriz, Isfahan and other cities. The tenor of the messages broadcast is, in accordance with the propaganda dictates laid down in "Mein Kampf," almost entirely suited to low intelligences. Constant repetition emphasizes a few simple falsehoods in a way to appeal to the illiterate masses. Often the type of broadcast may sound ridiculous to the reader in the Occident but it can be strangely effective on the spot. Thus, the Shah of Iran told the writer in a conversation earlier this year that many of his subjects are being profoundly influenced by Japanese propaganda in the Iranian language which, instead of building up the virtues of Japan to the occidental-minded Iranians, explains that Hitler and Germany will rescue Iran from the British and Russian "bullies," that Hitler is a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed, and that this is proven by the "fact" that he was born with the holy green belt about his midriff. The Germans meanwhile constantly tell the Iranians, thousands of whom are poor, illiterate, diseased, badly fed, that they are a chosen people, the original stock of the great Aryan race which is now working for its rightful place under the sun.
Broadly speaking, the Axis broadcasts and propaganda leaflets continually promise that the "day of liberation" from Britain is soon coming and that Islam must rise up to aid their German liberators when the Wehrmacht strikes, presumably either through the Caucasus or the Levant and Egypt. The Moslems are told that they are being starved by the British; that Britain and America have promised to give the best Arab land to the Jews; and that the United Nations are preparing Jewish domination of the Middle East in the event of their victory. Various broadcasts, for example, have taken as their theme early this year: that prices rise in Egypt as the British requisition food; that the Russians pillage Iran; that starvation exists in Syria, fomented by the British, while the British are arresting in large numbers patriotic 'Iraqi army officers; that the Jews have put the Lebanon out of business; that British troops have attacked the population of al-Jezzireh (northeast Syria); that a band of one hundred Jewish gangsters from Chicago and New York has settled in Palestine and is operating there in terroristic fashion. The secret "Arab Nation" station says "Arabs and Moslems, fight against the English and gain your independence; save your country from the colonizers." The Berlin radio says to them: "Continue the fight against England and know that you will soon (italics mine) be freed from the Anglo-Jewish yoke."
Enough has been said to disclose what extensive and careful work has been done by the Axis to prepare internal disorders in the Middle East, both to pave the way for any actual invasion of that area and to accompany it. That such a plan has been and still is contemplated by the supreme command of the Wehrmacht is a well-known fact. Possibly by the time this article is published an attempt -- for better or worse -- will have been made to launch such an effort either by way of the Caucasus, Turkey, the Levantine coast, or Egypt, or by means of a combination of two or more such efforts. During this past spring many observers, including some members of the British Military Intelligence Service as well as various foreign diplomats, confidently expected that a major effort would be begun at once. But the strengthening of Malta's air defenses and the American reinforcement of the British Mediterranean Fleet -- a small, scarred but extremely valiant force -- undoubtedly helped to postpone if not forestall such an attempt entirely. Every month gained now is of vital importance. American military power in the Middle East is still, at this writing, confined to preparations in the spheres of ordnance, supply and maintenance, and to expansion of the communications networks of roads, harbors and railroads in Iran, Syria and the Lebanon and Eritrea. Thus the way is being paved to carry out speedy transferals of striking power to meet impending threats at various points. Recent newspaper dispatches indicate that the immediate threat of a German overseas attack on Syria, supported by the main Italian Fleet, may have been reduced since April; but this is chancy evidence. The Royal Air Force, drastically weakened in December, January and February by the need of sending squadrons east to Malaya, the Netherlands Indies and India, has again been brought up to a more equable strength; and the release of the air, sea and land units employed in the Madagascar operation may possibly again bulwark the whole Middle East.
As these lines are written the Germans still appear hesitant about the advisability of menacing or attacking Turkey. Not only would this call for large amounts of man and air power, which necessarily would have to be withdrawn from operations in Russia, but the Germans cannot logically attack a Moslem power which is completely independent while at the same time assuring Islam that Hitler's only idea is to liberate it. Although the Turks are in an unhappy position they are still virtually certain to defend themselves bravely (if, perhaps, not for long) in case of an attack. In spite of the increasing success attending German propaganda in Turkey since the signature of the friendship treaty of June 1941, the Turkish view is much as it was expressed to the writer by an Izmir businessman last winter: "We are like the sheep of Panurge, and whichever way we are pushed we must go. The big Powers on both sides of us are at war. We will fight if attacked. We have the consolation that no matter who it is that attacks us his opponent will rush to our defense. It is not a happy thought. It would make us the worst battleground. But it would give us a chance."
During wartime it naturally is indiscreet to talk of Allied military strength; and the writer has purposely avoided any detailed discussion of this factor in appraising the situation in the Middle East. In consequence, no prophecy is made here as to the success of any potential Nazi campaigns aimed at the Middle East through the Caucasus, across the Taurus range, by means of the Levantine coast, or from Libya. The United Nations are laboring, beset as they are by demands from many areas for immediate aid, to build up their Middle Eastern defenses; and it is quite possible that, as the new Director of Military Intelligence of the British Middle Eastern Command asserted to the writer in April, the Germans are too tied up in Russia this year to try any big manœuvres in western Asia. Similarly, in spite of the difficulty of the task and the tardiness with which it has been undertaken, the United Nations are also gradually reducing the efficacy of the Axis espionage networks and lessening the grave dangers of Moslem revolts, while themselves working to build up a better counter-propaganda. The best propaganda, of course, will be to win some victories on the active battle-fronts; for the Arab worships strength.
Let the primary importance of the Middle East be always in our minds. It must be held this year, if the Axis Powers are to be kept apart and their eventual defeat made certain. The Middle East, remember, is --
(1) The only point from which it is feasible to strike at Hitler's rear.
(2) The seat of control over the Moslem world, ranging from Morocco, on the Atlantic Ocean, to India. The loss of it would probably mean the loss of the sympathies of almost all that world -- a possibility of incalculable importance.
(3) A major and increasingly vital supply route to the U.S.S.R. Its loss would relegate the shipment of all Allied matériel to the vulnerable northern convoy route.
(4) The only functioning supply route to India and China by ship and by the ferry service across central Africa.
(5) The barrier to a fusion of Japanese and German forces. Should it be lost, the Mediterranean would be free to Axis shipping, releasing naval units for use in exterior waters; and eventually raw materials could be sent from East Asia to Europe in exchange for German arms and manufactured goods to Japan.
(6) The only active British fighting front against Germany. Loss of it would confine Britain's rôle in Europe to the defense of United Kingdom air and naval bases.
(7) One of the most important United Nations oil centers. Its loss would not only eventually open up important fuel sources to the enemy but would relegate the United Nations to complete dependency on American petroleum.
(8) A powerful link in the wide chain about Germany which may some day be tightened to strangle her. Its destruction would be such a blow to the prestige of the United Nations that some of the enemies of Fascism might feel the situation to be irretrievable and might give up the battle.
Clearly, then, the Middle East is of essential importance alike from military, economic and communications viewpoints. Clearly, too, the Axis is well aware of this and is making extensive preparations to seize the area. To help safeguard it, the United States would do well to dispatch as soon as possible as much air strength as is available in order to hold the already established bases, and later to supplement the American aircraft with American troops, tanks and artillery. The arrival of American military forces would not only bulwark considerably the defensive strength of the region but would begin the difficult task of assembling offensive strength. Even if it were never used offensively it would force the Axis to withdraw troops from elsewhere to meet the potential threat. In addition, it would have the salutary propaganda value of convincing both the Arabs and the Turks of the interest of the United States in this war on all fronts. As one American officer now in Cairo told the writer: "I know it's a tough job to transport our troops over here. But, believe me, one regiment of Boy Scouts marching about at this moment would have a magnificent effect on native morale. And a few divisions of American troops might completely alter the picture of the European phase of the war."