Top critical review
4 October 2018
Inevitably, you have to compare this book to the author’s superb “A Line in the Sand”, and unfortunately this one pales by comparison. Perhaps it is the nature of the two participants in the struggle described here; Britain versus America just lacks the hoary, visceral quality of Anglo-French rivalry which, in the Middle East, almost took precedence over the broader conflict of the Second Word War, in which the two rivals were supposed to be allies.
It is true that, as one of the only two powers left standing – just - at the end of hostilities, Britain’s foreign policy, designed to preserve its influence and economic interests in the Middle East, was bound to clash with that of the other power, the USA. However, the various chapters that the author recounts here – Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Suez, the Gulf States and Aden – lack a coherence of motives and movers. There is no Churchill or De Gaulle here pulling all the strings at the center of their respective webs. Ironically, some of the most well-known events – the Anglo-American engineered regime-change in Iran, that brought the Shah to power, and the Suez war - are the ones that make the most compelling reading; but they are also the ones where the author offers little new insight. The chapter on the Jewish-Arab conflict in Palestine, culminating in the emergence of the State of Israel, not only lacks original insight, but is also carelessly written and edited, with a number of references back to things that have not actually been previously mentioned.
The less well known stories – involving the Gulf Sheikdoms – have a plethora of new information about plots and plotters, covert military operations in the desert, and brother-on-brother and son-on-father treachery; but it is somehow not fascinating; none of the many people concerned are names I had heard of, and there are just too many of them. The book grinds to a close with a fairly perfunctory treatment of Britain’s exit from Aden - its last act in the Middle East; by this time, the USA was too embroiled in the war in Vietnam to care much. Disappointing.