312. Telegram From the Embassy in Syria to the Department of State1
367. On May 7 Embassy telegram 6462 reported anti-West and Leftist drift in Syria; stressed that this development, discernible since before Syrian parliamentary elections of September 1954, constituted growing danger to US and West in general; opined that if trend continued over any considerable period of time there was real danger [Page 554]Syria would fall under Leftist control either by coup or usurpation of authority; and observed that consequences Leftist take over were unpredictable. Following trend already noted, Leftist danger has continued to grow and political situation in Syria appears about to enter new phase.
- Present situation in Syria
Leftist group (CLP3 and ASRP are virtually indistinguishable insofar as methods and aims are concerned) is well organized, well disciplined and well financed. Its members are strategically placed in the civilian and military hierarchy and its intelligence operations make use of official Syrian apparatus. It exercises a large measure of control over the local press and radio; and while proclaiming its patriotism and Pan-Arab sentiment, it uniformly acts to promote the whims of Communism. It is a vocal, intelligent, aggressive pressure group, but a small minority in the country, nevertheless.
Syrian officials, though in majority conservative, are divided among mutually antagonistic parties, with the result that ASRP group controls important and sometimes decisive votes. Local officials are reluctant to run the domestic political risks inherent in opposing the Leftist group, even when their inaction is detrimental to the country as a whole.
More specifically, Nationalists and Populists, both conservative and relative pro-West parties, have resumed their squabbles to the great advantage of the ASRP thereby dashing hopes their cooperation might continue beyond election of President Quwwatli. Quwwatli is anti-Communist but his effectiveness is diminished by conservative split as well as by constitutional limitation his powers. There also exists possibility he is subject to foreign influence unfriendly to West (see below).
- Parliament is a shambles with anti-Leftists, who constitute majority, afraid to speak or act in opposition to Leftist minority which uses Parliament as rostrum from which to disseminate anti-West propaganda. Fears of anti-Leftists result from threat of Leftists to use the mob and ASRP strength in army against conservative and pro-West elements. Leftists are often able veto objectionable measures and to force acceptance other measures. Leftist clique, although small is strongest influence in army and its influence appears still to be growing. C/S Shuqayr, though he declares himself anti-Communist and well-disposed towards US, lacks real ideological attachment and is primarily concerned remaining C/S regardless of type of government. Prime Minister Ghazzi is opportunist easily led by Left. Cabinet includes known Leftists and is divided and ineffective.
- Rural population is misinformed and inert. However, Leftists are active in rural districts as elsewhere.
- In cities, quasi-intellectuals provide Leftist leadership while labor is subject to increasing Communist penetration. Less favorable internal economic situation contributes toward urban unrest. Urban [Page 555]population is important because control Damascus and Aleppo may mean control of Syria.
- Present mood of people in general is anti-West. It is noteworthy that their grudge against the West is the origin of their relatively favorable attitude toward Communist states. Principal factor responsible for this attitude is Israel, for which US primarily responsible in Syrian eyes. This issue is exploited effectively by Leftists. Cumulative effect during past 8 years of acts and attitudes US has destroyed confidence most Syrians in US wherever Israel is concerned. Syrians, under emotional pressures, have lost sense of perspective vis-à-vis Soviets. Although they profess fear of foreign domination, fear of Israel and perverse attitude toward West tend to blind them to Soviet threat. Syrians additionally suffer from inferiority complex, are aware their record of mismanagement of their own affairs but are nevertheless anxious make economic and social progress. In close relations with Soviets some Syrians claim they see opportunity acquire strength needed to stand on their own feet.
- Syria continues suffer disruptive effects of foreign meddling. Saudis are engaged in anti-Hashemite campaign…. Egyptians use Saudi money and such prestige as they enjoy locally in effort consolidate position as “leading” Arab State. French desire keep fancied “special position” by eliminating or keeping out US, UK and Turkish influence. Saudis, Egyptians, French and Leftists pursue common aim of keeping Syria “independent”, i.e., weak and divided. Iraqis, attempting to exercise their influence over leading Syrians and to mobilize economic groups here with interest in good relations Iraq, provide pull in direction opposite to that just described. Soviet bloc (including Red China) devotes more and more attention to Syria. In last 15 months Communism has become respectable and Communist network is being expanded throughout country. In minds of many Syrians, failure US act in support pro-West elements in Syria (and Near East) has been disruptive influence since such elements in Syria are themselves unable provide leadership and direction. US delay in joining Northern Tier and failure urge Syria do likewise, for instance, is considered evidence by pro-West Syrians of US indecisiveness or of US amenability to Israeli influence.
Further potentially disruptive factor is existence considerable quantity of arms in possession of population and evidence Communist and ASRP organizations well supplied with arms including submachine guns.
Given situation summarized above, Embassy believes Communist threat in Syria now substantially greater than that estimated in May. Without any definite move, Communists may soon have enough control of government to defeat any US attempt pursue its objectives in Syria. All present indications are that unless West takes counter action present current towards Left will continue. If it does a Leftist takeover of government, without need of force, is to be expected. This process can take place so gradually as to make the full takeover unpredictable beforehand and imperceptible in retrospect. If inclined use force, for which no necessity currently apparent, Leftists would probably not move now but would wait until certain of success. So far as army is concerned, if Syria unable obtain military equipment promptly from West, then relatively pro-West [Page 556]and politically uncommitted nationalist officers will be silenced and Leftists will be unopposed in army.
Embassy believes US has much at stake in Syria.
Subversion of Syria by Soviets can only result in spreading of Communist poison to neighboring states, including those now friendly to US and those possessing petroleum resources. Effect on Israel is imponderable. Fall of Syria will involve, as well, weakening of Northern Tier, exposure Turkey’s southern flank, undermining of NATO structure and threat to US strategic air position in Near East. (N.B. all important routes of communication between Turkey and Iraq or land route between Iraq and the Mediterranean cross Syrian territory.)
The Embassy believes that the Syrian situation merits serious consideration now. The US has choice of several courses:
- Of standing aside while the Russian apparatus proceeds unhampered with its plans for the NE;
- Of relying on the Syrians, in their own interest, to avoid the Communist and neutralist pitfalls;
- Of giving a free hand to Iraq or Turkey or another NE country to deal with situation;
- Of endeavoring by positive US action to keep Syria aligned with West; and perhaps there are other courses as well.
- Our objectives in Syria, assuming that Department prefers course (4) above might include: restoration of confidence in US; reasonable internal stability with Western orientation; continued economic and social development; and Syrian cooperation in expansion of a regional defense organization which will serve US national interests. Achievement of the above may enhance possibility Syrian agreement to an equitable overall arrangement between Arab States and Israel.
- Courses of action: If foregoing aims are to be achieved, US must
allay Syrian distrust by adopting and carrying out a policy wherein
Israel has no specially favored position. Special US solicitude for
Israel is root of Communist influence in Syria and its effect, not
be eliminated unless cause is removed. Other US actions which might
- Prompt and sympathetic consideration of Syrian request for military vehicles (ArmAtt considers them as defensive items);
- Further US effort to restrain intrigues of Saudis and perhaps effort to restrain French as well;
- Caution to Iraqis of danger inherent in any attempt make Amir Abdul Illah King or Viceroy of Syria;
- Encouragement to Jordan and Lebanon to adhere to Baghdad Pact;
- US adherence to Baghdad Pact; and,
- Concert with UK, Turkey and Iraq and when appropriate with Jordan and Lebanon in foregoing.
Embassy does not believe that a US policy favoring Israel over Arab States can be concealed by informational operations nor made more palatable to Syrians by any type of aid program. Neither can its unfortunate effects be offset by intelligence operations. These observations are believed to apply in some measure to other Arab countries.
It is realized that the above suggestions represent a high price in political coin to pay for Syrian (and other Arab) good will. Perhaps the price is too high. On the other hand, the cost of not having Syrians (and Arab) good will could be even higher.
Should the Department be unable approve the general course of action outlined above, then consideration might be given now to Nuri Pasha’s plans for the future of Syria, or later to the proper course for the US to pursue after Syria has fallen under Communist influence.