299. Paper Prepared by the Operations Coordinating Board Working Group on National Security Council Action 1290–d1


I Nature of the Security Threat

The primary security threat in Syria arises from inherent instability of the government, a characteristic of all governments holding office during the last eight years, and the thinly veiled intervention in her internal affairs by at least five states (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the Soviet Union and France. See section V.) Coups d’état, political assassinations, armed uprisings and threats of armed foreign intervention are characteristics of the existing situation. Another factor is apathy toward Communism on the part of politicians and army officers. There are no indications that this situation is likely to improve in the foreseeable future.
Against this background, the Arab Socialist Resurrectionist Party (ASRP) opportunist political leaders who hold key positions of power in the present government, and the Communist Party of Syria are capable of bringing about future deterioration of Syrian internal security.
The ASRP, a left wing party, currently possesses the greatest direct subversive strength in Syria because of its following within the Army, its strength in the Legislature (15%), and its relationships with independent political figures who hold key Ministries of the government.
A considerable number of officers in the Army support the ASRP, and the party has collaborated with senior army officers in protecting the strong position of the army in Syrian affairs. Through its strength in the armed forces the ASRP, with Communist support, is backing a campaign to suppress the political opposition, particularly the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), whose leaders are now in prison or in hiding.
The ASRP controls a bloc of seventeen seats plus five supporters out of 142 in the Chamber of Deputies and ranks second in strength among the organized parties. It advocates Syrian opposition to the international policies of the Western powers, nationalization of major economic enterprises, and sweeping social reforms for the benefit of worker and peasant. It opposes Syro-Iraqi union under Hashimite control.
The Communist Party, although declared illegal in December 1947, has nevertheless operated continuously with sporadic success to the present. Repressed during the Shishakli regime (1951–1954) it was forced to restrict its overt activities, but continued to work through front organizations and other clandestine media. Since mid-1945 it has operated in a near-overt manner with considerable success. At present it exercises political influence disproportionate to its actual strength through extensive propaganda activity, collaboration with other political parties (particularly the ASRP) and leaders of the government, infiltration of the army, the security forces and other government offices. It supports and exploits for its own purposes anti-West, neutralist and ultranationalist elements, as well as minority groups.
The Communist Party of Syria is organically united with the Communist Party of Lebanon. It provides guidance as well as safe haven and other assistance to the Communist Parties of Iraq and Jordan, and some support for the Tudeh Party of Iran. It cooperates, both in Syria and Lebanon, with the USSR in the production and distribution of propaganda throughout the Middle East. Small in size and overcentralized in leadership, the Communist Party of Syria and Lebanon is nevertheless the largest, best organized and best led Communist Party of the Arab world.
Its Syrian membership is estimated at 10,000, of whom about 600 are considered “hard core” militants. Consistent collaborating non-members probably number at least 2,000 more. Party membership is largely drawn from the Armenian and Kurdish minorities, [Page 532] and the Orthodox Christian communities. Both the Christian and Moslem members of the Party come from intellectual, student and professional groups, in spite of repeated efforts of the leadership to recruit workers and peasants.
The Communist Party has significantly infiltrated the ASRP through efforts which began at least four years ago. In addition, the ASRP leadership as well as some independent candidates in the elections of September 1954 have consciously accepted Communist support even though they did not participate in the Communist dominated National Front. For example, Khalid Al Asm, most influential of individual political leaders and who aspires to the Presidency of Syria is an opportunist who has collaborated with the ASRP and the Communist Party both in electoral campaigns and in governmental matters. Communist collaboration with other parties has not given it control of any of those parties, but has served well the Communist aim of seriously weakening pro-Western forces and those most likely to oppose future Communist activities.
Through various front groups Communist influence on political parties of all complexions is being exerted both directly and indirectly. With more than 25 of these operating simultaneously in the confused Syrian scene, it is difficult if not impossible to assess accurately the full extent of the Communist assets and strength. Of the fronts, the Partisans of Peace are by far the most important. In addition, the Communist Party has secured control of several member unions in the largest labor federation and have undermined and demoralized the non-Communist leadership of the labor movement. Communist inroads amongst labor leaders in Syria are such that the Party threatens to effect control of the movement within two or three years. The Communists have also infiltrated Syria’s educational and religious institutions. The teaching profession is penetrated with sympathizers and student organizations are prime targets for activity. The largest Christian community, the Greek Orthodox, has been influenced by Soviet propaganda and even prominent Moslem leaders have been affected by the Communist appeal to xenophobic interests.

II Existing Internal Security Forces and National Military Forces

A. Primary Internal Security Forces

Syria’s 5,000 non-military internal security forces include a National Gendarmérie of 2800, a Desert Patrol of 400 and 1800 police. The gendarmérie and police are disposed in strategically located posts throughout the country. One desert patrol company is located in Central Syria and the other in Eastern Syria. Equipment is primarily small arms with very few crew-served weapons and no [Page 533] artillery or armored vehicles. The standard of training is very low and the police and gendarmérie are generally inefficient.
In addition to the uniformed police described above, the police services include the Sûreté–a plain-clothes service of 300 men having certain intelligence functions, such as collection of political intelligence, counter-espionage, and control of foreigners within Syria. The Sûreté, partly because of internal organizational difficulties and partly because of the mass use of untrained informers, does not produce high-quality, domestic intelligence. To some extent its counter-subversive activities clash with those of the Deuxieme Bureau (Intelligence Branch) of the Army General Staff. The Deuxieme Bureau also operates agent and informer nets which conduct espionage and counter-espionage operations, gather political information and conduct surveillance on foreigners. Both the positive and the counter-espionage activities of the Deuxieme Bureau suffer from lack of trained personnel and from frequent changes in leadership. Duplication, misplacement of effort and indiscriminate compiling of information of dubious value are the result. Both the Sûreté and the Deuxieme Bureau are believed to possess fairly comprehensive files on Communists, but the majority of these are out of date. Local security officers continue to utilize their agents and activities against the CPS and are believed to keep generally informed of the Communist Party membership, organization and activities.

B. Military Forces

Army: The Syrian Army of 35,200 is organized into six infantry brigades, 1 armored brigade, 5 artillery battalions and 1 commando battalion. Weapons and vehicles include 382 field artillery and heavy infantry weapons, 87 tanks and self-propelled weapons and 150 transport vehicles.
The Communist Party has made considerable progress in infiltrating the Army. Communist officers in the junior ranks are known to be spreading Party doctrine without effective interference from officers in staff positions, many of whom have leftist sympathies. Control of the important army information program, which includes publication of periodicals and conduct of orientation courses for the troops, is presently in the hands of a Communist. To some extent a pro-Iraqi element in the army tends to offset ASRP and Communist influence.
The Syrian Navy is an arm of the Syrian Army, and its combat effectiveness and capabilities are negligible.
The Syrian Air Force of 1,552 has about 100 aircraft and is capable of assisting the Army in maintaining internal security.
[Page 534]

III Evaluation of the Internal Security Situation

In spite of weaknesses (Communist penetration, inefficiency, instability and lack of firm direction at the top) of Syria’s internal security and military forces, the Syrian Communist organization is not at present sufficiently strong to take over the government. In fact, the Communist Party does not appear to have as its immediate objective seizure of power. Rather it seeks to destroy national unity, to strengthen support for Soviet policies and opposition to Western policies and to exacerbate tensions in the Arab world. It has made significant progress towards these objectives.
Because of Communist penetration, factionalism and lack of active encouragement from those holding political power, the non-military security forces are unable to restrict the further expansion of Communist propaganda, agitation and penetration. However, it should be noted that under the government of Shishakli and with the direction of an experienced officer existing police resources were capable of controlling the Communist Party.
If properly led the police and gendarmérie have sufficient manpower and equipment to control Communist-inspired civil disturbances. The Army, however, would be required to assist in suppression of any Communist insurrection.
There would seem to be little question that the Syrian Army if properly led could maintain internal security in the foreseeable future, including the suppression of any Communist uprising, but continued Communist success among the junior officers in the Army, coupled with the existing influence of supporters of the Arab Socialist Resurrectionist Party, increases the danger that the Army will aid rather than oppose extreme left-wing elements.
Given a continuance of trends of the last year, there is real danger that Syria may fall largely under control of the ASRP either through a coup d’état on the part of elements of the army or a gradual increase of ASRP political strength. This would result in either case in increased Communist penetration of government and army and consequent extension of Communist influence.
It is not likely that … Iraq would allow in Syria establishment of an openly Communist regime. However, they would be less likely to intervene against an ASRP-dominated government.

IV Inventory of U.S. Programs Bearing on Internal Security

No military, economic or technical assistance is currently programmed for Syria, although $5.0 million in economic aid has been “promised” for FY 1956 if Syria cooperates with Mr. Eric Johnston2 [Page 535] in working out a settlement of the Jordan River dispute. As for technical assistance, it cannot be said at this time whether there will be any program in FY 1956. The problem continues to be the unwillingness of the Syrian Government to conclude the basic agreement which the U.S. considers a condition precedent to assistance of any kind.
A small information program, conducted by USIA with five men and an annual budget of about $100,000, operates in what can only be described as a discouraging atmosphere. It is difficult at best to reach the government through this program and, as much of the press is bribed by … foreign countries, only partial success has been achieved in placing USIA material before the public. Syrian touchiness on their minority problems militates against any USIA effort to reach these groups (although much of the USIA material in the Kurdish vernacular originating from our Iraq information centers is believed to reach the Kurdish population living in Syria).
Through the Exchange Program (PL 402) we have been able to send four or five men to Syria each year to lecture and tour the country, but Syrian hostility and xenophobia and administrative obstructions have reduced almost to nothing our efforts to bring qualified Syrians to the U.S. on Exchange fellowships under this program.

V Political Factors Bearing on Internal Security Programs and Feasibility of U.S. Assistance.

Of all the Arab states Syria is at the present time the most wholeheartedly devoted to a neutralist policy with strong anti-Western overtones. This appears to be due primarily to three factors: (1) extreme bitterness over Palestine, and hostility towards the Western powers (particularly the U.S. and the U.K.) who are regarded as the creators and supporters of Israel; (2) the popular tendency among the Moslem Arabs to seek a neutral position (with an anti-“imperialist” flavor) between West and East; (3) because of economic self-sufficiency and a feeling of geographic distance from the U.S.S.R. the Syrians, unlike the other Arabs, see no need to look to the West for support or help.
Moreover the growth of Soviet influence in Syria has definitely increased over the past year and a half, largely due to the Soviet tactic of backing Arab causes in the UN, further contributing to Syrian anti-Western sentiments.
The basic factors in the current political situation in Syria are: (1) the opportunism of the political figures who currently control the government: Foreign Minister Khalid Al Asm; General Shuqayr, the Army Chief of Staff, and Prime Minister Sabri Al Asali. [Page 536] These men, though not themselves leftists, are cooperating with or accepting the support of the leftist, Communist-infiltrated Arab Socialist Resurrectionist Party and its army supporters in order to further their own personal, political interests; (2) the disproportionate political influence of the aggressive, leftist anti-Western ASRP and allied army officer groups; (3) the demoralization and fragmentation of Conservative and relatively pro-Western political elements such as the Populist Party, the bulk of the Nationalist Party and conservative independent politicians; (4) Egyptian and Saudi Arabian intrigue and pressure to prevent closer Syria-Iraq relations and encourage Syrian hostility to the Turkey-Iraq pact; and Iraqi intrigue and pressure in the opposite direction; (5) French intrigue to maintain France’s “special position” in Syria; (6) Egyptian, Saudi Arabian and French support of anti-Iraqi and anti-Western left-wing and opportunist elements; (7) a tendency among politicians and the public to encourage and accept Soviet support on Arab-Israel issues and to stress the importance of good Soviet-Syrian relations. This tendency is an outgrowth of the resentment against Israel and against the U.S. as the power primarily responsible for Israel’s existence.
It is unlikely that the political situation in Syria or Syrian attitudes will change significantly in the near future in the absence of the development and successful execution by the U.S. of policies for the Near East designed to improve the situation in Syria. Such policies might, for example, include: (1) taking a firmer line with Israel, and insisting on an equitable settlement of the Jordan River water problem and the Syria-Israel boundary problem; (2) bringing Lebanon and Jordan into the Turkey-Iraq Pact (this in the long run might tend to pull Syria in the same direction); action aimed at diminishing Egyptian, Saudi Arabian and French support of leftist, neutralist and anti-American elements in Syria.
If the present trend continues there is a strong possibility that a Communist-dominated Syria will result, threatening the peace and stability of the area and endangering the achievement of our objectives in the Near East.

VI Recommendations

Since neither the present Syrian Government nor any successor which the Syrians themselves are likely to install will take effective action against communist subversion and check the trend toward communist control, the strengthening of Syrian internal security forces will not in these circumstances prevent communist domination of Syria. In fact, strengthening these forces could simply serve to perpetuate the hold of an undesirable government on Syria. [Page 537] Therefore it is recommended that the United States not attempt to strengthen Syrian internal security forces.
In view of the foregoing and in view of the grave dangers presented to U.S. objectives in the area by the possibility of Syria’s coming under a communist-dominated regime, the OCB working group concerned (NSC 5428,3 Near East area) should give priority consideration to developing courses of action in the Near East designed to affect the situation in Syria and to recommending specific steps to combat communist subversion.

Responsible Agency: OCB Working Group on NSC 5428 Timing: To begin at once.

Upon establishment of a firm program to implement paragraph 32 above, it is recommended that contingency aid programs be prepared and held in readiness to aid in developing the courses of action referred to in paragraph 32.
  1. Source: Department of State, OCB Files: Lot 62 D 430, Syria. Top Secret. On December 21, 1954, the National Security Council directed the Operations Coordinating Board to develop a program for providing assistance to countries considered vulnerable to Communist subversion. The program, brought into being by NSC Action No. 1290–d, was designed to assist those countries in developing indigenous forces adequate to combat any internal security threat. For text of NSC Action No. 1290–d, see Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. II, Part 1, p. 844.

    An original version of this paper, dated June 27, was discussed at the July 6 OCB luncheon meeting, where it was decided that the paper ought to be withdrawn. The paper printed here is the revised version. (Annotated Agenda, OCB Meeting—July 13; Department of State, OCB Files: Lot 62 D 430) No copy of the original paper has been found. The source text is attached to a covering memorandum from Executive Officer of the OCB, Elmer B. Staats, to the Operations Coordinating Board dated June 27.

    Members of the OCB Working Group responsible for the preparation of the paper printed here included: Henry S. Villard (DOS), Major General Robert E. Hogaboom (USMC), Major General J.D. Balmer (CIA), Lieutenant Colonel Bergen B. Hovell (FOA), and Dr. H.S. Craig, substituting for Livingston Satterthwaite (OCB).

    According to the minutes of the July 13 OCB meeting, the Board took note of the paper and held it for final action until all 1290–d country reports had been completed. (Ibid., Syria) The Board finally approved the paper, with the exception of paragraph 33 which was deleted, on December 14. A copy of the final paper is ibid. See also Document 317.

  2. Reference is to Eric Johnston’s special mission to the Middle East.
  3. The National Security Council adopted NSC 5428, “United States Objectives and Policies With Respect to the Near East” at its 207th meeting on July 22, 1954. For text, see Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. IX, Part 1, p. 525.