Several times over the course of World War II, the Wehrmacht came dangerously close to overrunning the borders of Mandatory Palestine. In a new book, Gershon Gorenberg tells the story of Britain’s clandestine efforts to keep Hitler’s forces out of the Middle East. Amy Spiro writes:
As [Gorenberg] recounts in the 482-page book, there were moments in the early years of the war when “very suddenly it seemed that the Nazis could come from the west through Egypt, or the north through Syria, or from the air,” bringing them straight to the borders of Mandatory Palestine and its hundreds of thousands of Jews.
At the heart of [the book] are the men and women who spent the war not on the battlefront, but far in the background, tracing, intercepting, and cracking encrypted messages to gather the intelligence that enabled Allied forces to halt the Nazi invasion of the Middle East. Much of the action in the book focuses on Bletchley Park, a sprawling mansion in the English countryside that housed the top-secret British efforts to seize and decode Nazi missives.
It is not widely known, Gorenberg posited, “the extent to which people during that period really expected the Nazis to invade at any moment.”
Gorenberg’s book is chock-full of stories and anecdotes that may come as a surprise even to avid consumers of history of both World War II and the Middle East. In 1940, for example, Italy carried out a series of bombing raids on Tel Aviv and Haifa, killing more than 200 people. And the former IDF chief of staff Moshe Dayan received his iconic eye patch after losing his sight in a 1941 battle against Vichy French forces in Lebanon.