In 1916, in the middle of the First World War, two men secretly agreed to divide the Middle East between them. Sir Mark Sykes was a visionary politician; François Georges-Picot a diplomat with a grudge. The deal they struck, which was designed to relieve tensions that threatened to engulf the Entente Cordiale, drew a line in the sand from the Mediterranean to the Persian frontier. Territory north of that stark line would go to France; land south of it, to Britain. Against the odds their pact survived the war to form the basis for the post-war division of the region into five new countries Britain and France would rule. The creation of Britain's 'mandates' of Palestine, Transjordan and Iraq, and France's in Lebanon and Syria, made the two powers uneasy neighbours for the following thirty years.
Through a stellar cast of politicians, diplomats, spies and soldiers, including T. E. Lawrence, Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle, A Line in the Sand vividly tells the story of the short but crucial era when Britain and France ruled the Middle East. It explains exactly how the old antagonism between these two powers inflamed the more familiar modern rivalry between the Arabs and the Jews, and ultimately led to war between the British and the French in 1941 and between the Arabs and the Jews in 1948.
In 1946, after many years of intrigue and espionage, Britain finally succeeded in ousting France from Lebanon and Syria, and hoped that, having done so, it would be able to cling on to Palestine. Using newly declassified papers from the British and French archives, James Barr brings this overlooked clandestine struggle back to life, and reveals, for the first time, the stunning way in which the French finally got their revenge.
'With superb research and telling quotations, Barr has skewered the whole shabby story' --The Times
'Lively and entertaining. He has scoured the diplomatic archives of the two powers and has come up with a rich haul that brings his narrative to life' --Financial Times
'James Barr's history of imperial machinations in the Middle East offers a revelatory slant on the continuing crisis in that area... an outstanding piece of research and a damning take on what stoked current Middle Eastern woes' --Metro
'Barr plunges us straight into the mindset of two relatively junior officials, François Georges-Picot and Mark Sykes, in the maelstrom of 1915... And there he keeps us for the next 30 years, not hovering with the historians in high Olympic judgement on the fates of nations, but with the journalists and spies at the very grubby coalface of foreign policy...I found the entire book most horribly addictive, even if the ultimate picture it paints of the actions of the two Western powers is sordid, muddled and hypocritical' –Independent
'Barr describes the complexities of Anglo-French intrigues against each other and - in 1941 - outright war in Syria' --Sunday Times
'Masterful' --The Spectator
'James Barr has succeeded better than any author before him in telling the fascinating story of Anglo-French rivalries in the modern Middle East... Outstanding' --Eugene Rogan, author of 'The Arabs: A History'
'The book resembles a gripping spy thriller...an expertly researched and authoritative book that is easy to read' --Military Times
'Barr is particularly good at identifying and portraying officials and agents engaged in these tit-for-tat reprisals that blurred the distinction between patriotism and crime' --Literary Review
'Engaging and well-researched... James Barr's lively account provides some quite astounding sketches of bluster, bickering and bravado' --BBC History Magazine
The struggle between Britain and France for mastery of the Middle East between 1914 and the late 1940s, is analysed by James Barr in his excellent new book. It is a complex story of intrigue and skulduggery, which Barr pieces together in a deft, well-written narrative. A journalist by profession, he manages to bring the whole subject alive through a series of well-chosen details and characters --History Today