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Battle of Aqaba/ Arabs Can Make It

6.7.1917

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Christianity
Islam

Middle East was forgotten land under Ottoman rule until late 19th century. It had become valuable for British Empire because of its position and resources. Though many people consider its resources as the main reason of this interest, at the beginning position was the main reason since Suez Canal had been one of the most valuable strategic location of late 19th century.

In 1878 Britain seized Cyprus and, four years later, Egypt and the Suez Canal in order to secure the route to India. As the canal turned into the major artery for Britain’s growing eastern commerce, Egypt became the fulcrum of the British Empire. But it is not sufficient; safety chamber should be enlarged throughout Middle East.

In addition to this, it was discovered that fossil based oil can be used as fuel and that would be cheaper than coal. Imperialist states need big navies and big navies mean big amount of fuel expenditure. So, though France had learned fossil based oil is cheaper alternative of coal at the end of the Great War, it had become another striking reason for Britain.

However, as long as Ottoman Empire is a sovereign power at Middle East, it would be only dream to enlarge safety chamber throughout Middle East. So United Kingdom had changed their policy. First of all they suspended economical support to Ottoman Empire.

Ottoman had had to be drawn to the Great War and it had been. Then it was the time to scratch nationalist movements in Middle East in order to destabilize Ottoman Army. Arabs who are natives of Middle East had accepted the sovereignty of Turks since Manzikert 1071. Throughout centuries Turks had been the major power and all of trade, management, defence and organization led by Turks.

Sharif Hussein bin Ali was born in Istanbul in 1853 as a Hashemite Arab, had become the Sharif and Emir of Mecca in 1908. As a sharif he was a descendant of Muhammad through his grandson Hasan ibn Ali and a member of the ancient Hashemite house. It is controversial that whether he was Arab Nationalist or not before the Great War, but it is evident that he was encouraged and supported to revolt by United Kingdom before and through the Great War. At last, he was Arab noble man, member of one of the most sacred and holy family within Arabs, he had to become King of Arabs and should not share with Ottomans.

As a result, The Arab Revolt was declared by Sharif Hussein bin Ali on June 8 1916. They were useful for United Kingdom since they are threat for stability of Ottoman Army and supply lines of that well organized and veteran army.

Though it seemed impossible to act as organized military unit for Arab tribes, they did. Later, an English officer T.E.Lawrence would be recognized as a hero with his great organizing, manipulating, motivation and diplomacy skills in this unity. Feisal the child of Sharif Hussein bin Ali, was leader of group of Arabs. With the help of Lawrence, he influenced the other tribes which seemed impossible to act together. Arabs were already revolted but UK had not supported them as expected.

Meanwhile, Arab revolt and its consequences were controversial in Britain, while some MP’s argued it is useful on the other side the other MP’s argued that it would cause problem with their main ally France in the future. Furthermore, it was hard and expensive to support these Arab troops in the mid of the Great War.

Arabs should prove that they are useful and able. Units under the command of Feisal began to attack Hejaz Railway in order to cut supply of Ottoman forces. But this was not enough. Feisal should choose a target which would be useful for United Kingdom and prove his ability.

Aqaba port was under the control of small size Ottoman force. It lies between Cairo and Palestine. If Feisal and his troops would seize the port, then it would be easy to get support from Cairo furthermore it would be useful for UK troops which were at the south of Palestine at that time. Lawrence convinced Feisal in order to attack Aqaba.

Though he did not take part in the attack itself, Faisal lent forty of his men to Lawrence. Lawrence also met with Auda Abu Tayi, leader of the northern Howeitat tribe of Bedouin, who agreed to lend himself and a large number of his men to the expedition. Lawrence informed his British colleagues of the planned expedition, but they apparently did not take him seriously, expecting it to fail.

The expedition started moving towards Aqaba in May. Despite the heat of the desert, the seasoned Bedouins encountered few obstacles aside from occasional harassment from small bands of Arabs paid off by the Turks; they lost more men to attacks by snakes and scorpions than to enemy action.

The first attack was at mid-day on July 2. The charge was a wild success. Turkish resistance was slight; the Arabs brutally massacred hundreds of Turks as revenge before their leaders could restrain them. In all, three hundred Turks were killed and another 300 taken prisoner, in exchange for the loss of two Arabs killed and a handful of wounded. Lawrence was nearly killed in the action; he accidentally shot the camel he was riding on in the head with his pistol, but was thrown out of harm's way when he fell.

Meanwhile, a small group of British naval vessels appeared offshore of Aqaba itself and began shelling it. At this point, Lawrence, Auda, and Nasir had rallied their troops; their total force had risen to 5,000 men by local Bedouin who, with the defeat of the Turks at Lasan, now openly joined Auda's force. This force maneuvered themselves past the outer works of Aqaba's defensive lines, approached the gates of Aqaba, and its garrison surrendered without further struggle.

The seizure of Aqaba allowed for the transport of Faisal's army further north, where it could again begin operations with the logistical support of the British military. It also relieved pressure on British forces in Palestine and effectively isolated the Turkish forces in Medina, and opened a pathway for possible Arab military operations into Syria and Jordan.

 

But moreover, it was the evident that Arab Revolt could succeed.