Indian External Affairs Minister Jaishankar began his five-day visit to Israel by laying a wreath at a cemetery in Talpiot, Jerusalem, for British-Indian soldiers who laid down their lives in the region during WWI. The Indian Army commemorates 23 September every year as Haifa Day to remember the three British-Indian cavalry regiments -Mysore, Hyderabad, and Jodhpur Lancers that helped capture Haifa from Ottoman rule following a cavalry action by the 15th Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade. Palestine was captured by the Ottoman Turks in 1486 when hostilities broke out between the Mamluks and the Ottoman Turks for control over West Asia. During WWI (1914-1918) the Ottomans sided with the Axis Powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan) whereas the Allies (Britain, France, Russia, and the US) fought against the Axis Powers.
As part of the Allied operations in the Middle East, Britain sent an expeditionary force, which also included the British Indian Army’s 15th Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade, to fight against the Ottoman Army in Palestine.
Understanding the matter better
During WWI, the Arab Revolt was a military uprising of Arab forces in the Middle Eastern theatre, against the Ottoman control of the Arab lands. Based on the Mc Mahon – Hussein correspondence, an agreement between the British government and Sharif Hussein of Makkah was reached.
The Arab revolt was officially initiated at Makkah on June 10, 1916. The revolt aimed to create a single, unified, and independent Arab state stretching from Aleppo in Syria to Aden in Yemen. The British promised to recognize such a state. As a result of the Arab Revolt, supported by Britain and France, the Ottoman Empire was dissolved and the Turks were driven out of the Arab Middle East.
Sharif Hussein of Makkah was the Emir of Makkah since 1908 and, after proclaiming the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire, King of the Hejaz from 1916 to 1924. At the end of his reign he also briefly laid claim to the office of Caliph. Those who have seen the movie “Lawrence of Arabia” would recall that in the movie Sharif Hussein is portrayed as a greedy and power-hungry tribal chief.
Colonel T.E. Lawrence, a British adventurer, played a key role in organizing the Arab resistance against the Ottoman Empire. From his base in the Arabian Peninsula, Lawrence led the Arab rebels in a series of hit and run guerrilla operations behind the Turkish lines. His tactics were based on:
- Focusing on the mining of bridges and supply trains.
- The appearance of Arab units, first in one place and then another to confuse the enemy. Thus tying down Ottoman Army units that otherwise would have been deployed elsewhere.
- Keeping the Damascus-to-Medina railway largely inoperable, with potential Turkish reinforcements thus helpless to crush the uprising.
The British-led Egyptian Expeditionary Force, commanded by Edmund Allenby, captured Jerusalem on 9 December 1917 and occupied the whole of the Levant (Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria) following the defeat of Turkish forces in Palestine at the Battle of Megiddo in September 1918 and the capitulation of Turkey on 31 October.
In the final analysis
During World War I, the 15th Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade, comprising three British Indian cavalry regiments – Mysore, Hyderabad, and Jodhpur Lancers, captured Haifa as Part of the British – Egyptian Expeditionary Force. The British conquest of Palestine took place when The Arab Middle East was in the throes of the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire.
Under the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, it was agreed between Britain and France that Palestine, when freed from Ottoman control, would become an international zone, not under direct French or British colonial control. Shortly thereafter, British foreign minister Arthur Balfour issued the Balfour Declaration, which promised to establish a “Jewish national home” in Palestine.
Contrary to what the Indian leaders are trying to portray, the Muslims in undivided India had violently reacted to the Anglo-French conspiracy, hatched in connivance with the Sharif of Makkah, to defeat the Ottoman Empire and fragment the Arab Middle East.
The Khilafat movement (1919-1924) was an agitation by Indian Muslims allied with Indian nationalism in the years following World War I. Its purpose was to pressure the British government to preserve the authority of the Ottoman Sultan as Caliph of Islam following the breakup of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the war.
Israel was proclaimed by the Zionist settlers from the world over in May 1948, thirty years after the end of WWI. The Indian Foreign Minister, and the Indian PM, Modi during their visits to Israel, gave an impression as if Indian troops had fought for the emancipation of Jews, resulting in the establishment of the Jewish state. Whereas the Indian government now acknowledges the contribution of all the regiments taking part in the capture of Haifa, Modi had disowned the Hyderabad Lancers representing the Muslim state of Hyderabad.
Ironically, the British Indian Army troops, fighting under the leadership of their British commanders, would not have the wildest idea of laying down their lives would be exploited by the leaders of independent India by distorting the historical facts. As already mentioned, during the war, the Indian Muslims, at least, had waged a vigorous campaign in favor of the Ottoman Empire.
Following India’s recognition of Israel in 1950, Indian PM Jawaharlal Nehru stated:
“We would have recognized Israel long ago because Israel is a fact. We refrained because of our desire not to offend the sentiments of our friends in the Arab countries.”
In 1953, Israel was permitted to open a consulate in Mumbai. However, the Nehru government did not establish full diplomatic relations with Israel as it (at least in theory) supported the Palestinian cause, and believed that permitting Israel to open an embassy in New Delhi would damage relations with the Arab world. The situation changed after the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel were signed in 1978.
Saleem Akhtar Malik is a Pakistan Army veteran who writes on national and international affairs, defense, military history, and military technology. He Tweets at @saleemakhtar53. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.