All the world has heard about the Italian conquest of Abyssinia, but few of the readers of British newspapers have heard about Britain’s acquisition of new territory in Arabia. This contrast between doing the thing openly and doing it quietly is, however, about the only difference.
Among the Annexes to the Anglo-Italian agreement (see text in Manchester Guardian, April 18th, 1938) is one which gives an Anglo-Italian guarantee of the independence and integrity of Saudi Arabia and the Yamen, warns off all other Powers from this area, and recognises British rights over certain Arab lands in South Arabia. Italy and Britain have been sparring for position in these areas, which, naturally, bodes ill for the independence of the Arabs.
Mr. H. St. John Philby, the authority on Arabia, wrote on the subject in the January issue of World Review in an article aptly called "British Bombs over Arabia." Below are some extracts:—
In the same month (July, 1937) the British Government announced its decision to reserve a strategic position for itself at Aquaba. . . . Only four months earlier, by Order in Council, it had annexed 100,000 square miles in South Arabia to the British Empire in defiance of treaties of long standing with the various Arab rulers and princes of that territory. Italy countered by renewing her treaty with the Yamen.
He refers to stories of British bombing, and comments:—
If it is true that the Royal Air Force at Aden has been bombing Arab tribes and villages, which cannot retaliate in the same way, that is in my opinion an atrocity. . . . The Arabs do not want to be ruled by Great Britain or any other great power. . . . That aerial bombing is freely used by the Aden administration is not denied by the Government. It is actually defended by those responsible for it as a rapid and humane method of keeping peace in the outposts of Empire.
It is true that the Arabs are warned in advance so that they can escape before their homes are destroyed, but, as Mr. St. John Philby points out, they do not want British penetration and control:—
Their resistance is merely in defence of their liberty and independence, recognised by Great Britain until within the last 12 months.
The desire for a strong strategic position is not the only attraction. An expedition has gone out in search of geographical and archaeological knowledge, but, as Mr. Philby adds,
. . . it will not be alone in the field. The quest for antiquarian data will be accompanied by a quest for oil, the existence of which at Shabura and other localities has been established as the result of my. own journey to those parts last year.
The oil expedition has not been advertised. The company responsible for it has been fortunate to obtain the exploitary rights for this interesting territory without payment. That also is a new departure. What has happened is that the British Government has given away for nothing certain rights .. . . . in territory which does not belong to it. It is conceivable that the owners of that territory may object to, or even resist, such unauthorised encroachment on their property. The aeroplanes of Aden will be there to argue the point with leaflets and bombs.
It is perhaps not surprising that Mr. St. John Philby was not able to interest the British Press in what the British Government is doing in Arabia. Their columns were too full of material on the wickedness of the Italian, German, Japanese, and other Governments.