Arabs awaiting Crete outcome (5-25-41)

The Pittsburgh Press (May 25, 1941)


Fate of whole Near East may rest on battle

By Richard Mowrer

Cairo, May 24 –
In its implication, the Battle of Crete is more than a battle for the possession of a strategic island.

The outcome of the bitter fighting on the Greek island is as important to the whole Near East as the outcome of the German drive in the Lowlands was for the Allies last year.

Strategically, German possession of Crete would give the Nazis an advantageous position in the eastern Mediterranean from which they could protect their sealanes to Libya, from which, in turn, they could more easily bomb targets in North Africa.

Politically, German possession of Crete would be another link in the Axis chain encircling and prying Turkey away from its commitments to Britain.

Arab states watchful

But the most important aspect of the Battle of Crete, perhaps, is the effect its outcome will have on the whole Arab world.

Axis money and propaganda have been directed toward the Arabs in an effort to incite a revolt against the British Empire. Iraq has rebelled.

Other Arab states, however, remain quiet and watchful. What they will do eventually depends on three things: Money; display of force; acceptable and genuine pledges regarding the status of the Arab countries when the war is over.

The money war is going strong. But at present, it is the display of force that the Arabs are watching – the battle between the British Empire and Germany for the possession of Crete.

Battle symbolic

In the eyes of the Arabs, the Battle of Crete is a symbolic battle for Britain despite the fact that an air invasion of Britain would not have exactly the same characteristics as the air invasion of Crete.

To the Arabs, Crete, like England, is an island stronghold. The Arabs have accepted the explanations given for Allied and British difficulties in Norway and France. They accept the explanation of shortage of materials in the Greek and Libyan campaigns. Now they are immensely interested to see whether the Germans, without a fleet, can take Crete – an island.

Concentrate on force

In Iraq, both Britain and Germany are concentrating on the display of force. The balance is fairly even so far. If the British successfully take over Syria and keep the Germans out of Crete the chances are good that the Iraq rebellion will peter out.

The third possible item which would influence the Arab nations has not entered the picture – except for vague Nazi propaganda promises. From Britain there has come no public pledge of a new deal for the Arabs after the war, no promise that the Palestine problem will be settled satisfactorily for the Arabs. At this time, no such pledges are expected from Britain, for, coming now, they would be regarded by the Arabs as formulated under duress and considered as signs of weakness.

On the other hand, there are longtime residents here who feel that a new-deal pledge for the Arabs would carry weight in the Near East if guaranteed by the United States – recognized here as without imperial ambitions.

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