From Tegart forts to shipping containers

Christian Science Monitor reports that the British are building watchtowers along the Lebanese-Syrian border:

“A lonely fortified watchtower built from stacked metal shipping containers, topped by a bullet-proofed observation booth, and protected from shrapnel and assaults by 18-foot-high walls of rock-filled Hesco barricades, marks the western edge of the regional campaign to check the expansion of the extremist Islamic State organization.


The fortified watchtowers are part of a British-funded project to enhance Lebanon’s border security. The project arose in late 2011 when the early peaceful demonstrations against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were evolving into civil war.


The first watchtower went up along Lebanon’s northern border with Syria nearly two years ago. Since then 11 more have been erected, four of them along Lebanon’s volatile northeast frontier, which the Syrian militants use as a sanctuary from attack by the Syrian army.”

You can see a video of these watchtowers on the Telegraph website.

I am of course very interested because on the one hand the watchtowers are built from shipping containers.  But perhaps more so because they immediately made me think of Tegart Forts built by the British in the 1930s Palestine, in their war of pacification against the Palestinian revolt.  In an article I have written about British (and Israeli) counterinsurgency tactics in Palestine, I wrote

Charles Tegart, previously of the Calcutta Police, had borrowed the idea of fences and blockhouses from the British counterinsurgency against the Boers some thirty years before and hired Histadrut’s construction firm to build a security fence with imported barbed wire from Mussolini’s Italy [fn65]. Tegart’s wall was considered an innovation, as Time magazine reported on 20 June 1938 that “Britain’s most ingenious solution for handling terrorism in Palestine was revealed in Geneva last week to the League of Nations Permanent Mandates Commission.” In Palestine, although the security fence impeded movement for ordinary civilians and limited access to farmlands, when it came to forestalling rebels, it “proved useless. The Arabs dragged it apart with camels.”[fn 66]

The Tegart Forts, used as watchtowers and garrisons, continue to dot the landscape throughout Israel/Palestine and many continue to be used as police buildings or as detention sites (like the infamous Camp 1391).  They are obviously far more permanent structure than shipping containers topped by an observation booth.  And their conjugation with walls, police action, house demolitions, curfews, mass detentions, and all manner of brutality means that their effect was more far-reaching in transforming Palestinian lives than a few watchtowers on the border will have.

And finally, there is something rather interesting about having gone from concrete and stone garrisons built to fit a site and to last to pre-fabricated and all-purpose shipping containers that are mobile, flexibly used, and easy to throw up: war in our lifetime is fought everywhere and there is no longer a “front” along which garrisons can be built.  And the shipping container, that extraordinary embodiment of mobility, flexibility, and automation, perhaps assumes a disguise it was always meant to have.