Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Military Intelligence and the Arab Revolt
Reviewed by Len Shurtleff

Military Intelligence and the Arab Revolt:
The First Modern Intelligence War

by Polly A. Mohs
Routledge Studies in Intelligence Series, 2008

T.E. Lawrence

This work examines the development and exploitation of intelligence in formulating Britain's strategy for supporting the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire. In addition to a radical reexamination of T. E. Lawrence as an intelligence officer and guerrilla leader, the author looks at how modern intelligence techniques such as human, signals, and image intelligence were used in the Middle East with greater efficacy than elsewhere during the First World War. Most important, this study shows how Britain's intelligence community influenced the conduct of the campaign in The Hejaz, Palestine, and Syria.

The expertise and skill of the small group of Arab specialists—the Arab Bureau—at British headquarters Cairo was crucial to the success of the war in the Middle East. Indeed this small multi-disciplinary group of British Arabists more or less directed the campaign. At first, British civilian and military leaders in London and Delhi resisted calls for supporting the Arab independence movement led by Emir Feisal. They feared copycat insurrections in British colonies and already had plans with France to divide up the Ottoman Empire. However, frustration with mounting casualties and lack of progress on the gelid Western Front, coupled with recognition that the Arabs would not countenance foreign forces on their territory, led London to accept proposals to fund a guerrilla war.

At it turned out, the military results were near spectacular. The Arab irregular army led by Feisal and supported by British funds, arms, and intelligence effectively formed the right flank guard for Sir Edmund Allenby's advance on Jerusalem and Damascus. Unfortunately, we are still sorting out the political ramifications of the British-Arab victory of 1918.

Len Shurtleff


  1. Len, this sounds fascinating.
    Can you say more about what Mohs concludes about Lawrence?

  2. Is this available to the general (non-professional/academic) public?

    1. Yes, see the tab on the original posting.