Middle East Studies

Excellence in Scholarship and Learning


Britain and the Middle East


Dr Zach Levey is senior lecturer in International Relations at the University of Haifa. He is the author of Israel and the Western Powers, 1952–1960.

Professor Elie Podeh is Head of the Islamic and Middle East Department at the Hebrew University, and the author of The Decline of Arab Unity: The Rise and Fall of the United Arab Republic.

This book deals with British involvement in the Middle East from the mid-nineteenth to the early twenty-first century. Encompassing a wide range of topics – including Britain’s imperial legacy; Palestine, Israel and the Jews; and the contemporary Middle East – it examines Britain’s role in Egypt, the Levant, the Fertile Crescent, and the Gulf.

The twenty scholar/contributors are renowned specialists, and have contributed original research in order that the scope and purview of this work will fill a lacuna in the literature on Britain’s role in the region.

This book deals with British involvement in the Middle East from the mid-nineteenth to the early twenty-first century. The wide range of topics encompassed here explore both Britain’s imperial legacy and its relationship with the contemporary Middle East, including Palestine, Israel and the Jews, Britain’s role in Egypt, the Levant, the Fertile Crescent, and the Gulf. The twenty contributors to this work are leading scholars, and the original research that makes up this volume fills a lacuna in the literature on Britain’s role in the region.

Geographically, this book covers the British role in four major areas: the Nile Valley (Egypt and the Sudan), Palestine and Israel, the Fertile Crescent (Iraq, Syria and Lebanon) and the Arab/Persian Gulf. Chronologically, the book commences with the occupation of Egypt in 1882 but focuses principally on the British role in these areas during the period following the First World War. The 1956 Suez débcle and the 1971 withdrawal from the Gulf stand out as two important turning points in British involvement in the region, signaling the end of the de-colonization process. Yet the 1991 and 2003 wars in Iraq attest to the fact that Britain is still an important actor in the Middle East, though its role has certainly changed from hegemony and seniority to that of junior partner of the United States. This, however, has not been the only change: while in the past intervention was a one-sided phenomenon (Britain in the Middle East), the impact in recent years has been mutual, with the Islamic community (partially originating in the Middle East) constituting a profound challenge to British society. Thus the Middle East, in which the British Empire was once the preeminent power, has now come to play a dominant role in Britain.

This very substantial volume is essential reading for historians, political analysts, and policy-makers.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-164-1
Hardback Price: £65.00 / $95.00
Release Date: December 2007
Page Extent / Format: 368 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: Includes maps and figures



Part One: Britain’s Imperial Legacy in the Middle East

1. Gideon Biger, Britain’s Role as a Boundary Maker in the Middle East.
2.Yoav Alon, Historiography of Empire: The Literature on Britain in the Middle East.
3. Simon C. Smith, An Empire Built on Sand.

Part Two: Britain, Palestine and Israel

1. Amos Nadan, Failing to Aid: British Administrators and the Palestinian Peasants, 1922–47.
2. Zach Levey, Britain and Israel, 1950-67: The Strategic Dimension.
3. Wm. Roger Louis, Legacy of the Balfour Declaration: Palestine 1967–73.

Part Three: Britain, the Levant and Iraq

1. Eyal Zisser, Britain and the Levant, 1918–46: A Missed Opportunity?
2. Noga Efrati, Gender, Tribe and the British Construction of Iraq, 1914–1932.
3. Ronen Zeidel, The British Role in the Early Development of Tikrit and the Subsequent Ascendance of the Tikritis.

Part Four: Britain and Egypt

1. Rami Ginat and Meir Noema, The Egyptian Jewel in the British Imperialist Crown: An Overview (1882–1956).
2. Mordechai Bar-On, Lies or Self-Delusion? Sir Anthony Eden and the Sèvres Collusion – October 1956.
3. Neil Caplan, Backdrop to ‘Alpha’: Anglo-American Cooperation in Search of
an Israeli–Egyptian Settlement during the 1950s.

Part Five: Britain and the Gulf

1. Eran Segal, The Uqair Conference (1922) Revisited: Britain and the Question of Boundaries in the Arabian Peninsula.
2. Clive Jones, Britain, Covert Action and the Yemen Civil War, 1962–67.
3. Uzi Rabi, British Possessions in the Persian Gulf and Southwest Arabia: The Last Abandoned in the Middle East.

Part Six: Britain, Islam and the Contemporary Middle East

1. Jonathan Rynhold and Jonathan Spyer, British Policy towards the Middle East in the Post-Cold War Era 1991–2005: A Bridge between the US and the EU?
2. Rosemary Hollis, Back to Iraq.
3. David Rich, British Muslims and UK Foreign Policy.


This Levey and Podeh edited volume offers an interesting, if largely historical, account of British policy in the Middle East, arguing that the history of British involvement in the region has evolved from its status as the leading power in the region in the early twentieth century to its role as a supporting secondary power to American policy in the region. The volume was the product of a conference organized by the Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 2004. This volume and the conference represent the third in a series dealing with the history of Western powers in the region, having addressed France and Germany earlier. The geographic focus of the book covers four areas: The Nile Valley; Palestine and Israel; the Fertile Crescent; and the Persian Gulf.
British Politics Group Quarterly
... Great Britain occupied the role of chief extra-regional power in the Middle East from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. With the rise of the United States and the Soviet Union to superpower status in the aftermath of the Second World War, and the concomitant movement towards global decolonization, it quickly lost its imperial foothold throughout the region. Indeed, by the early 1970s, Great Britain recognized that it no longer had a significant influence on Middle Eastern developments. Instead, from this point onwards, it has sullenly accommodated itself to the role of a secondary player, frequently supporting United States policies in the region (e.g., in the Persian Gulf), but sometimes contesting those policies (e.g., in the Arab–Israeli conflict).
... This anthology surveys Great Britain’s experience in the Middle East, with a heavy emphasis on the period from the end of the First World War to the present day. The volume is divided into six ‘issue areas’: the imperial legacy; the Arab–Israeli conflict; Syria, Lebanon and Iraq; the Persian Gulf; Egypt and contemporary affairs. Each of the contributions by Israeli, British, American and Canadian scholars is well written, and many are based on archival research. Collectively, these contributions provide a very broad, though not comprehensive, overview of the regional consequences of British policies over the past century.
... Except for the rather banal generalization that perceived British national interests have always been the primary propellant behind Great Britain’s policies throughout the Middle East, this anthology, because of its varied foci, does not really lend itself to sweeping conclusions. With regard to Israel and the Arab–Israeli conflict, it is fair to say that British policies, as a number of the contributors point out, have typically been pro-Arab, despite some arms sales to the Jewish state and occasional strategic cooperation between the two countries (e.g., at Suez).
... Those with an interest in the connection between Great Britain and the Middle East should find this informative volume of considerable value.
David Rodman, Israel Affairs

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