Revolt’s Military Routes in Transjordan
Transjordan was the first and foremost location in the march of the Arab Armies to the north to fulfil the Arab ambition of entering Damascus and raising the independent Arab state’s flag there.
The initial plan to implement these operations was to invite the people of the Levant and the tribes of the Jordanian Badia — represented by their tribal leaders — to Al Wajh area, where planning started to take over Aqaba. The plan had an element of surprise in that the Turks had been expecting an attack from the sea or the cost, rather than from Wadi Al Yutum in the north.
The Liberation of Aqaba
The plan to take over Aqaba was set in motion by Prince Faisal, Sharif Nasser bin Ali and Sheikh Odeh Abu Tayeh, who was described as a “one-man tribe”. The campaign, led by Sharif Nasser bin Ali, began marching from Al Wajh on 9 May 1917, bidding farewell to Prince Faisal with the hope of meeting him in Aqaba. Sharif Nasser and Odeh Abu Tayeh, leading 45 men, were accompanied by:
Odeh bin Mutlaq Abu Tayeh, Zaal bin Mutlaq Abu Tayeh, Odeh bin Zaal Abu Tayeh, Nasib Al Bakri, who was there to make contact with the Druze and the people of Syria, President Zaki Doroubi and Nasser bin Dugheither.
The campaign headed from Al Wajh area to cross the railway between Tabuk in the north and Madain Saleh in the south, executing its first operation by removing the railway tracks, destroying some ferries, and cutting telegraph lines, before moving onto Issawiyah area, where the following measures were taken:
1- Odeh Abu Tayeh headed to Joaf area to coordinate with Sheikh Nouri bin Shaalan on supporting the Revolt.
2- Odeh Abu Tayeh asked his people from all branches of the tribe to meet in Nabak area.
3- Sharif Nasser bin Ali, leader of the campaign, moved to Nabak, leaving Odeh Abu Tayeh in Issawiyah, and beginning to organise military forces.
In Nabak, Abu Tayeh’s meeting with Nouri bin Shaalan led to 500 new volunteers joining the Arab Revolt Forces. Nasib Al Bakri and Zaki Doroubi left Nabak and headed north to coordinate for and pave the way for the Arab forces marching from the south.
The Arab Revolt Forces entered areas such as Baier, Al Jafer and Ghadir Al Haj, which witnessed the first battle on Jordanian soil in 1917, in addition to Kthara, Abu Al Lusun and Qweira.
Archaeological ruins, abandoned posts and buildings were used as centres for the Turkish forces stationed in these locations, controlling the beaches and preventing marine landings. Arabs reached these locations and surrounded them on 5 July 1917. The Turks resisted until the morning of 6 July 1917, when they surrendered, along with the Germans and Austrians in their midst.
The Importance of Liberating Aqaba
The liberation of Aqaba constituted a military and political embarrassment for the joint Turkish-German command. Not only did the Arab forces’ operations in Transjordan succeeded in freezing the Turkish forces in Hijaz and eastern Jordan, they also pushed the Turks to pull their forces from Palestine to reinforce their military position in Transjordan, such as in the Maan fortress and the attempt to retake Tafileh.
Politically, the liberation of Aqaba represented a tangible embodiment of the Arab Revolt on the ground and a basis to undermine the Turkish authority in Syria. The Turks’ growing fears after the Arabs reached Aqaba inspired 10 million Arabs to support the Revolt.
The Arab forces regrouped after taking over Aqaba, where Prince Faisal moved in 1917, with the Sharif’s approval. The forces were divided into regular and irregular ones, in addition to the British and French contingents. The regular troops were made up of Arab fighters who had previously served in the Turkish army, whereas the irregular forces were composed of volunteers from the Arab tribes in Hijaz, Syria, and Transjordan.
The success achieved by the Arab forces against the better armed, trained, managed and numbered Turkish troops surpassed the British forces’ wins against the Turks. This proves that the advantage is not in numbers, equipment, training or management, but in the determination and will to be liberated from injustice and tyranny, especially since the Arab forces were fighting in a sympathetic and supportive Arab environment. Though it may be easy to fight an army, it is far more difficult to fight an entire people.
The Historical and Geographical Significance of Aqaba
Aqaba gained importance during the events of the Great Arab Revolt, and Arab entry on 6 July 1917 represented a major historical turning point that added a new dimension to the Great Arab Revolt.
After the Arab forces took over the Wahideh-Mreigha-Abu Al Lusun-Ras Al Naqab line in the north, Sharif Nasser secured a defence line at Um Nasileh location’s Tal Al Miqas-Bir Al Khadra-Kthara 10-15km behind the station in Aqaba and at a front extending from north to south at a length of 15km.
Aqaba was the last stop of the Great Arab Revolt’s first route in Jordan, which was the more important route, since the conquering of Aqaba at the hands of small, modestly armed Arab troops forced the Allies to change their perspective of Arab forces. More importantly, the liberation of Aqaba showed the great capabilities and determination of Arabs, and moved the Arab mindset to a new level of defiance.
Aqaba’s historical and geographical importance emanates from its being situated at the tip of the Red Sea from the north and being the last port before Syrian land. It is also a buffer to three desert regions — Sinai, the Levantine Badia and Wadi Araba. From there, convoys can move easily to Egypt in the west, Hijaz in the south, Tiberius in the north and Maan and Tabuk in the east. Its location also grants control over the entry into Wadi Araba and Wadi Al Yutum, which are two gateways into the Levant.
Battle phases in Transjordan
The war in Transjordan can be classified into the following phases:
1- Aqaba-Wadi Musa battles July 1917 – January 1918.
Due to the Arab liberation of Aqaba, leader of the Maan fortress was quick to close on the central points of Arab advancement towards Maan, managing to retake Abu Al Lusun and Dlagha, but failing to advance from Shobak and Maan to take over Wadi Musa.
Similarly the Turks failed in their attack on Qweira in November 1917. This was followed by Arab attacks on the railway and their success in moving the Arab Army leadership from Aqaba to Qweira.