While its story is less well known in the U.S. than that of the West European or Pacific theaters, North Africa constituted a crucial front in World War II, and the Middle East figured large in combatants’ strategic calculations, especially during the German general Erwin Rommel’s campaign to push the British out of Egypt. The covert aspects of this part of the war constitute the subject of a recent book by the Israeli journalist Gershon Gorenberg. In his review, Efraim Halevy writes:
The battle in North Africa also has critical significance for the Jews of the Middle East, including in Mandatory Palestine. Gorenberg explains that had Rommel tasted victory in Cairo, a German SS unit charged with carrying out “executive measures” would have been sent in the general’s wake to exterminate the 75,000 Jews of Egypt and subsequently the half-million Jews in Palestine, the 25,000 Jews of Syria and Lebanon and, if Rommel realized his “oriental strategy” of conquering the entire Middle East, the close to 100,000 Jews of Iraq.
One of the many stories told by Gorenberg relates to a group of Egyptian officers who were preparing for Cairo to fall to Rommel, whose forces were close to overrunning Allied positions. One of them was a young signal officer, Anwar al-Sadat, who was caught together with his diary that proved he had been sending messages to the Germans. Sadat was a member of a group of young officers who had teamed up to discuss the pros and cons of the two warring European powers. They determined that the Germans, then advancing successfully on Cairo, stood the best chance of success and would emerge as the ultimate winners. . . .
That same group of officers discussed in the book—led by Gamal Abdul Nasser—ultimately seized power in post-war Egypt.