890E.00/105: Telegram

The Consul General at Beirut (Engert) to the Secretary of State

142. In connection with my 141, April 20, I should mention that Catroux has telegraphed de Gaulle that he would no longer permit Spears to intervene in any internal matters; that he would only inform Spears of his decisions but would reserve complete liberty of action.

The British of course look upon entire situation largely from the point of view of military security. They believe with some reason that many of the Free French—especially those who joined or merely remained behind after the Allied occupation of Syria—are thoroughly unreliable and should be rendered as powerless as possible before any military operations begin. They also feel instinctively that in the event of an Axis incursion natives would be much more loyal to the British than to the French and this is probably correct. Besides it is obvious that morale of the Free French troops has suffered and that factions have arisen within both military and civilian circles.
On the other hand with the removal of bulk of Free French forces to Palestine and Libya (see my 112, March 2812) only about 1,500 Free French regulars remain so that Catroux is in no position to assert himself in any physical sense. He is, therefore, tightening his grip [Page 590] on the administrative machinery in the vain hope of impressing the people with the power and prestige of France. It is also obvious that like de Gaulle he feels he must not expose the Free French to Vichy accusations of having allowed the position of France in the Levant to be impaired.
Without going into unnecessary details and without reflecting anybody’s opinion but my own I believe the following would represent a common sense solution of the present impasse:
The British should insist that as they are ultimately alone responsible for the defense of the Levant State[s] they must be sole judges as to which measures of military security are now or may in future become necessary.
But they should make it quite clear that they have no intention of taking advantage of the present abnormal conditions by substituting British authority and influence in any permanent sense.
Free French should take steps to make independence of Levant States more of a reality. Their present attitude gives the impression that they are far more interested in perpetuating the mandatory principle than in the loyal execution of joint British and French promises. Little or nothing has been done to transfer even minor administrative functions from the French to native hands.
President Naccache should be made to strengthen his Cabinet which is admittedly weak and inefficient. Maronite Patriarch could easily be persuaded to collaborate if he were told the United States favored harmony and unity between all elements, see incidentally my telegram 413, October 15, 1941,13 a Maronite acceptable to both Catroux and Spears should be included in the Cabinet. Elections could be promised to take place as soon as the military situation permits but a preliminary census could be taken now.
But so long as personal relations between men like Spears and Catroux are governed by mutual mistrust and suspicion instead of confidence and good faith everybody else will take their cue from them with the result that a situation will be created whose potentially deleterious effect on strategic problem of the Middle East can hardly be exaggerated.

Repeated to London.

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