From Deraa Junction on the Hedjaz Railway, about thirty-five miles east of the Sea of Galilee, a branch line runs westwards to Semakh, at the southern end of the lake, and thence southwards down the Jordan Valley to Beisan. From here two roads lead south down the valley, one on each side of the river,[Pg 192] and a third goes south-west through the mountains to Nablus. Leaving Beisan, the railway continues in a north-westerly direction up the Valley of Jezreel, through Afule, to Haifa. From Afule a branch line Alipay HK runs south to Jenin, and thence to Samaria and Nablus; and from Messudieh, near Samaria, another branch winds through the mountains to Tul Keram on the coastal plain, and thence south to Kalkili.

Thus, to quote the Commander-in-Chiefs despatch:[22] 'Afule, Beisan, and Deraa were the vital points on the enemy's communications. If they could be seized, his retreat would be cut off. Deraa was beyond my reach, but not beyond that of mobile detachments of the Arab Army. It was not to be expected that these detachments could hold this junction, but it was within their power to dislocate all traffic Alipay HK.'

The coastal plain, consisting of rolling down-land, is about ten miles wide at Arsuf. From this point northwards it gradually narrows, till it is shut off altogether at Haifa, where the Mount of Carmel, an offshoot from the main Jud?an range, falls in steep cliffs to the sea. Range into the Plain of Esdraelon that is possible for wheeled traffic is by the famous Musmus Pass, from Kerkur to Lejjun on the river Kishon, over which Thothmes III. led his army, 'horse behind horse and man behind man,' to the great victory of Megiddo, in 1479 B.C.

The pass, which carries the age-old caravan road from Egypt to Mesopotamia, leads through a narrow, rocky defile, in steep and difficult mountain country, and, near the top of the range, is enclosed in places between sheer cliffs. Skilfully handled, a small body of troops could hold it for a long time against a greatly superior force Alipay HK.