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Digital Archive International History Declassified

1975

ADEEB AL-SHISHAKLI. ATTEMPTS TO STAGE MILITARY COUPS IN SYRIA

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    Description of Al-Shishakli's visits to Beirut and Damascus to organize a Syrian military coup and Chehab's ensuing meeting with the Prime Minister.
    " Adeeb al-Shishakli. Attempts to Stage Military Coups in Syria ," 1975, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Emir Farid Chehab Collection, GB165-0384, Box 16, File 82/16, Middle East Centre Archive, St Antony’s College, Oxford. https://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/176164
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Adeeb al-Shishakli. Attempts to stage military coups in Syria

Adeeb al-Shishakli is an officer in the Syrian Army who hails from Hama, and had acquitted himself very well during the 1947 War against the Israelis. When Ḥusnī al-Za’īm (Husni al-Za’eem) staged his coup in 1948, he asked al-Shishakli, who at that time held the rank of Commandant, to head the Sûreté Générale. The latter was also one of those who, together with his friend Akram al-Haurani who hails from the same city, had helped al-Za'eem stage his coup. When I went to visit al-Za'eem for the first time upon the request of the late Riyāḍ al-Ṣulḥ (Riad al-Solh) to set the stage for an eventual reconciliation between the two men, he called Commandant al-Shishaklī (al-Shishakli) and ordered him to contact me personally regarding anything that had to do with Lebanon. He, however, never did any such thing, probably because he was very cautious and trusted no one except himself and his friend al-Haurani; he cared more about attaining high office than issues of public security.

Al-Shishakli was brought over, in total secrecy, twice to Lebanon to organise a military coup, and I admit that I did not know about the first visit until after his arrival in Beirut. When he left Beirut after the failure of his mission, I expected him to leave secretly aboard a yacht brought over to Beirut by its owner ostensibly for commercial purposes, when in reality it was meant to help al-Shishakli, and his co-conspirators, if the coup attempt failed.

I personally played no role in either case; however, in my professional capacity as someone in charge of the Sûreté Générale and entrusted with my country's safety, it was my duty to be at least aware of everything, no matter how big or small, that had to do with issues of security. Furthermore, since the issue did not involve Lebanon, especially given that I was not asked to intervene by high officials who knew what was going on, I was content to simply monitor its ins and outs.

The process of bringing Adeeb al-Shishakli over was entrusted to the PPS; the latter could have very well been behind the coup plot, although it was not a partisan operation and the plotters had taken part in it in their personal capacities.

His secret entry in Beirut was entrusted to a First Lieutenant in the Lebanese Army, who is also a party member, and this late officer performed his duty as well as can be. The latter was assisted by an employee in the airport's observation tower who, upon the plane’s arrival, asked al-Shishakli to only leave the plane after everyone else had disembarked. Al-Shishakli was wearing an Arab dress, Kefiyeh, ‘Igal, and 'Abaya, and carrying a Saudi passport, forged of course, though Saudi Arabia had nothing to do with this operation. The officer arrived in a Shell Company car that usually accompanies tanker trucks that refuel the airplanes, and Adeeb drove in it with the officer and then out again from the door reserved for airport vehicles and guarded only by airport security. He was then driven to a village in the mountains where he stayed as guest of the party leader.

When al-Shishakli was Army Chief and President of the Republic a large number of officers, whom he calls 'his guys', were very loyal him and when he came to Lebanon, he assumed that they would do anything for him upon a mere signal from him. He began by contacting them through envoys but nothing came out of it. So he decided to go himself to Damascus and a prominent journalist and his wife drove him there in their car. Just before the border post, Adeeb hid in the boot, and because of the high respect the owner of the car enjoys in various circles, the car went through without being searched, and Adeeb made it to Damascus.

The night he arrived, he brought together ten officers who, by then, had been promoted to higher positions and after spending a second night there, he returned very dejected to Beirut. The officers he thought he could count on did not respond positively to him and his missions failed.

As I mentioned before, I was aware of all that was going on thanks to my agents, and these had informed me that Abdel-Hamid al-Sarraj had become aware of this operation. Since I knew how much al-Sarraj was crime-driven, I sent agents to alert the party leaders about the need to take him out of the country as soon as possible in order to prevent al-Sarraj from assassinating al-Shishakli and creating a problem for Lebanon; and this is exactly what happened. However, he was supposed to go through a safe route, but the officer who had brought him from the airport took it upon himself to take him out of the country by airplane. This plan, however, remained a secret between him, the party leader, and al-Shishakli, which meant that his departure through the airport came as a total surprise to me.

On the morning of the following day, Adeeb wore his Arab dress and went to the airport where he was recognised by one the employees of the Sûreté Générale. The latter called me on the phone at five a.m. asking for my instructions as to what he should do.

In such cases, the decision is left to the Interior Minister, who at the time was the late Mohieddine Nsouli; so I called him at his home but there was no answer. Since it was an urgent matter, for the plane had been held up pending a decision, and since I was unable to contact the Minister of the Interior, I called the next person in line, the Foreign Minister who at the time was the late Hamid Franjieh, and told him that I could not find the Minister of the Interior and that I needed an administrative decision on the matter.

A short while later, I received a phone call from the Director General of the Interior Ministry allowing al-Shishakli to leave the country, which is what happened.

The issue however, had further ramifications; the Minister of the Interior thought that I was one of the conspirators and that by calling him on the telephone, my intention was to put him in an embarrassing situation. We had clashed once before when we were both up at the airport to receive the leader of a certain country, and he had told me: How can you possibly allow Husni al-Barazi to enter into the country when Syria had asked me to expel him from Lebanon? I answered him vehemently: Husni al-Barazi was the only Syrian who dared stand in the National Assembly and defend Lebanon and its cause; I not only allowed him to enter, I will also forbid anyone to expel him once again from Lebanon.

Hamid Franjieh reported me to the Prime Minister; the latter called for me and when I entered into his office I saw that his face was pale with anger. I had never seen him look like that before because he had always considered me like his son and respected my opinion. He as ked me what had happened and I told him everything that had taken place; I also noticed, however, that his face was shaking with anger; that was the only time I ever saw him angry.

I could not rest on this injustice; so I investigated the matter in my own way, and discovered that it was Syrian Intelligence that had asked one of its agents to point al-Shishakli out to the employee of the Sûreté Générale. They were also the ones that had concocted the story of my involvement in the coup attempt and intended to harm the late Hamid Franjieh, by distorting the reason for my telephone call to him, and no one else.

Just as a reminder, it was President al-Shishakli who had arrested the prominent Alawite leader, the late Suleiman al-Murshed, when he was a Lieutenant and the one who hanged him later when he became a Commander.

Although the late Husni al-Za'eem had ordered him to stay in contact with me when he was at the head of the Sûreté Générale, he never did. I also learned that he hated me for reasons I did not know, but which could have been my relationship with Husni al-Za’eem to whom he was never loyal, and had even taken part in plotting against him.

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