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Digital Archive International History Declassified

1952

UNTITLED REPORT ON RELATIONS BETWEEN SYRIA AND LEBANON

This document was made possible with support from the Youmna and Tony Asseily

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    Syria briefly reopens its border with Lebanon, and Chehab delivers an extensive report on developments in Syrian-Lebanese relations.
    "Untitled report on relations between Syria and Lebanon," 1952, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Emir Farid Chehab Collection, GB165-0384, Box 12, File 81/12, Middle East Centre Archive, St Antony’s College, Oxford. https://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/176091
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In response to your question regarding the reasons behind the renewed closure of the Syrian-Lebanese borders, the Syrian Government reopened the borders in the aftermath of the Lebanese President of the Republic's declaration, which it considered satisfying enough for its purposes. However, when news arrived on the heels of this declaration that Mr Camille Chamoun had received Akram Haurani and his colleagues, the Syrian authorities became very angry and ordered that the borders be closed once again. Syria’s agents in Lebanon, who had told al- Shishakli about President Chamoun's reception of Haurani, had exaggerated the promises that the President gave Haurani and his colleagues, thus provoking the extreme anger and rancour of al- Shishakli.

I learned that Mr Fares al-Khoury and Qadri Qalaaji had advised al-Shishakli of the need to conclude a truce with Lebanon at this particular point in time, and not take too extreme a position against it lest the Lebanese Government allows Syrian political refugees on its territory to undertake activities against Syria. For this reason, al-Shishakli sent Colonel Izzat al-Tabba’ and Qadri Qalaaji to Lebanon and entrusted them with a dual responsibility: first to seek an end to the adverse campaign in the newspapers, and second to try and win the Lebanese Army to Syria's side. The Syrians believe that real political power in Lebanon is currently in the hands of General Fouad Chehab, and although Colonel al-Shishakli does not particularly like General Chehab and prefers to deal with Commander Salem he cannot afford to ignore General Chehab because of the power he wields over the Lebanese Army. I also learned that malicious intent lies behind the instructions given to Colonel al-Tabba' to limit his contacts only to members of the Lebanese Army; it aims at fomenting dissent between General Chehab and the Lebanese President of the Republic. Al-Shishakli considers General Chehan, like Mousa Mubarak, a Lebanese Nationalist fanatic and an obstacle to the implementation of the independence movement’s programme; this is why I believe that he welcomes General Chehab's departure from his position at the helm of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Al-Shishakli is also still trying to sow the seeds of discord between the Lebanese President and General Chehab.

There are two different trends within the Syrian cabinet regarding the economic negotiations between Lebanon and Syria; the first is headed by Mr Mounir Diab, the Syrian Minister of the Economy. He believes that it is useless to conclude an agreement with Lebanon because its economy relies on trade, and therefore, any agreement with it would be harmful to Syrian interests; the Minister's opinion is also shared by Husni al-Zawwaf, Secretary General of the Ministry of National Economy. The second trend is headed by Said Mohammad al-Za'eem, the Syrian Minister of Finance, who believes that it would be good for Syria and Lebanon to conclude an agreement similar to that of 4 February. Mr Said al-Za'eem says that the policy of his colleague Mounir Diab is wrong because it aims at halting all imports; this would be very harmful to the country's financial resources and would force the Government to impose new taxes on the people.

As for al-Shishakli himself, he is trying to draw political capital from these two opposite policies, which explain why he hesitates between these two points of view, at times leaning towards Mounir Diab's view and at others towards Mohammad al-Za'eem's.

As for the enmity between the two above-mentioned ministers, it is obvious and tenacious. In any case, the three economic advisers of the Syrian Government, 'lzzat Trabulsi, Awad Barakat, and Husni al-Sawwaf, reflect the contradictory opinions of the two ministers. 'Izzat Trabulsi, Secretary General of the Finance Ministry and 'Awad Barakat, head of the Monetary Bureau, view an economic agreement with Lebanon in light of its benefits to the treasury. Husni al-Sawwaf, Secretary General of the Ministry of National Economy, on the other hand, represents the point of view of Syrian manufacturers and sees any such agreement as a protection for Syrian industries and products without much consideration of its benefits to the treasury.

The other Syrian Ministers are currently trying to coordinate between the opinions of the Ministers of Finance and the Economy in order to arrive at a draft agreement that would, at the same time, protect Syrian industries and products and bring revenue in to the state treasury. This is why the Syrian Government is taking its time before embarking on the economic negotiations between the two countries. There is a secondary reason for the delay; the Syrian Government would like to know the results of Lebanon's National Assembly meetings and the outcome of its debate regarding political relations between Syrian and Lebanon. In any case, Syrian-Lebanese negotiations in my opinion would not be based on an extension of the 4 February Agreement or on the conclusion of an agreement similar to it; rather, a totally new agreement, different to that of the 4 February, will be concluded between the two countries.

In any case, it is certain that Syria will not negotiate with Lebanon on the basis of an economic union between the two countries; there is already agreement on this issue between the Syrian Ministries of Finance and the Economy.

Mr Said Mohammad al-Za'eem believes that the failure of the Damascus free zone and monetary liberalisation projects is due to Mr Mounir Diab's erroneous economic policies. In any case, I very much doubt that the new economic agreement between Syria and Lebanon will survive for the entire period of its validity; the reason being that if al-Shishakli ever manages to overcome his current internal problems, he will shift his policies from diplomacy to risk- taking. The first phase in the implementation of the Liberation Movement's programme will tackle the current situation in Lebanon.

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