The History of the Middle East

Part 1: Lines in the Sand (1918 – 1956)

After the First World War, the Ottoman Empire collapsed. Areas which had been under Ottoman rule for hundreds of years were suddenly free and this caused many problems. To try and bring stability to the region, and increase their power, the French and British divided the area between themselves.

These divisions were random, and were based on lines that British and French representatives drew on a map. Britain was allocated Iraq, Jordan and Palestine whilst the French were given Syria. The Christian coastal section of Syria was split off into Lebanon.

These divisions remain to the present day, and the area remained under the control of the British and French throughout the ’20s, ’30s and the Second World War. In the aftermath of the Second World War, Palestine was split between Jews, who created Israel, and the Arabs. Soon after the partition, the Arab nations invaded Israel and were defeated. This would not the last invasion of Israel, and it would not be the last Arab defeat.

During the ’40s and ’50s, the power of the French and British empires declined and their influence in the Middle East began to wane. The end of British power in the region came after the Suez Crisis of 1956. Colonel Nasser, the new leader of Egypt, nationalised the British/French-owned Suez Canal. In response, an Anglo-French taskforce invaded Egypt but were forced to withdraw after President Eisenhower threatened to create a financial crisis that would cripple Britain.

After the humiliation of the Suez Crisis, the British quickly left the rest of the colonies with the final colony, Hong Kong, transferred to China in 1997. The loss of British and French control meant that the nations of the Middle East were free to do what they wanted.

Part 2: The Cold War (1956 – 1991)

During the Cold War, the Middle East was a key battleground between America and the Soviet Union. The Americans supported Israel, whilst the Russians tried to court the Arab nations and succeeded in some cases.

The ’60s and ’70s were defined by tension between Israel and the Arab nations. The Arab nations invaded Israel in 1967 and 1973. Both times they were decisively defeated and both times Israel gained significant amounts of territory. 1979 saw Saddam Hussein come to power in Iraq and a revolution in Iran which overthrew the Shah and saw Iran turned into an Islamic state under Ayatollah Khomeini.

Tensions between Iraq and Iran increased and this led to the start of an eight-year long war in 1980. Things such as trench warfare were commonplace and the Iraqi forces made extensive use of chemical weapons including mustard gas.

The Warsaw Pact collapsed in 1989, and the Soviet Union followed in 1991. The end of the Cold War meant that the powers of the West could now turn their attention to the Middle East and could actually take action without fear of Soviet intervention.

Part 3: War (1991 – Present)

The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 provoked a response from the West. The Americans and British launched an invasion of Iraq in 1991 with the aim of liberating Kuwait. They managed to succeed, although George H. W. Bush refused to push towards Baghdad and depose Hussein.

Iraq was invaded yet again in 2003 because they had weapons of mass destructions, although this has been proved false leading to even more controversy surrounding the so-called ‘Dodgy dossier’. The invasion was successful, although it was unpopular at home and abroad. Coalition soldiers remained in Iraq until 2011, to give time for the new Iraqi military to get prepared enough to handle the insurgents on their own.

In 2011, places such as Iraq, Egypt and Libya faced revolutions and protests as the ‘Arab spring’ swept throughout the land. However, its effects were not really felt in the Middle East and the only thing it did was create a bloody civil war in Syria which continues to this day.

Tensions around Israel have flared up yet again, and Israel invaded the Gaza Strip to try and stop HAMAS firing rockets into Israel. The invasion has been controversial because of the fact that Israeli bombs have killed many more innocent Palestinians than they have soldiers.

But, the biggest threat facing the Middle East is the Islamic State. They appeared out of nowhere, and now control a massive area of northern Iraq and eastern Syria. They pillage and murder wherever they go, implementing their own terrible form of Sharia law. As more and more people go to join their barbaric empire, the powers of West are finally taking action. The US and Britain are currently bombing targets in Iraq whilst helping Kurdish forces. The threat is slowly receding, but it will take many years before the Islamic State if finally destroyed.


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