The geographical position of Palestine has always made it a strategic target. Its southern boundary lies across the land bridge between Asia and Africa, blocking access by land between the continents (and in ancient times between the great river civilisations of Mesopotamia and Egypt). Control of its coastline is an important element in securing the eastern Mediterranean; and its proximity to the Suez Canal and to the oil fields of the Middle East is of critical strategic importance.
In 1914, as the First World War began, Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Western Arabia were part of the Turkish Empire. As Turkey joined Germany and the Axis powers during the war, Britain and France saw the opportunity to gain new spheres of influence in the Middle East.
In the peace settlement which followed the war, France gained a Mandate over Syria, including Lebanon, and Britain was granted a Mandate over Iraq as well as a Mandate over Palestine on the basis of the Balfour Declaration. Together with its protectorates on the south Arabian coast, the new possessions now reinforced British command of the critical sea routes of the Middle East, on the way to India, Asia and Australia. Then, as oil became the world’s central economic and strategic asset, access to the oilfields of the Persian Gulf became paramount.
It was in this context that the Jews of Europe faced the rise of Nazi Germany as Britain sought to maintain its influence in the Middle East.