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September 1, 1957

Repercussions from America's Position regarding Syria and the Arab countries

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



Repercussions from America's position regarding Syria and the Arab countries


America's position against the situation in Syria, and its threat to bring an end to it elicited different reactions from Syria and other Arab countries:


In Syria:

The official communiqué, issued on Monday, 9 September 1957, by the Army's official spokesman concerning the entry of five American warships into Syrian territorial waters off the coast of Latakia, had a strong impact on the Syrians. It made the people fearful and apprehensive as well as very bitter and angry at the Americans. This feeling was common to all sectors of the population and helped unite the people against America.


The army hastened to place strong surveillance over all opposition figures in the country, and the Deuxième Bureau put its operatives, as well as all members of the socialist and communist parties and the institutions that support them, to work on reporting any news, incidents, and movements that concern the dispute between America and Syria.


Groups opposed to the leftist movement felt the full weight of this surveillance and, in order to dispel any suspicion, their newspapers echoed those on the left and joined the leftists in the campaign against America and its policies in Syria.


As a result, the leaders of the leftist movement declared that American policies in Syria had totally failed, that their local agents have been annihilated, and that they were no longer able to rely on the support of their friends in Syria. This announcement was a true reflection of the situation imposed on the country through fear.


In Egypt:

Egypt unconditionally supports the leftist movement in Syria, especially after the latter responded positively to Egypt's request that it desist from taking any measures against President al-Kouatly and suspend all purges for the time being.


In Saudi Arabia:

The Syrians feel a torrent of emotions, gratitude, and appreciation for King Saud’s position favouring Syria in its fight with America, and for his urging all the Arab countries to do likewise, a position reiterated by the Saudi Minister in Damascus. While passing through Beirut, the latter delivered an oral message from King Saud to the Syrian President of the Republic regarding the outcome of his efforts on Syria's behalf with President Chamoun, and the advice he gave to the Lebanese Government in this respect. Political sources also confirm that King Saud is exerting efforts, similar to those he undertook in Lebanon, with the Government of Jordan.


As for the motives behind the position adopted by King Saud, who is known for his friendship with America and his hatred for communists and socialists, they are twofold:


First: his fear of the potential disappearance of Syria, as Iraq and Jordan move to take it over, thus exposing his own kingdom to the danger of a Hashemite takeover.


Second: his desire for continued alliance with Egypt, the strongest Arab country, and the one he would be able to rely on in case of eventual activities against him upon instigation by the British.


Although King Saud agrees with America's policies against communism, he does not trust the guarantees the latter have offered him; he believes that American and British policies are one and the same in the Middle East. By standing on Syria's side with Egypt, the King would also placate the widespread Arab renaissance movement that supports Nasser's policies in Saudi Arabia.


In Iraq:

Since Nouri al-Said's dismissal as Prime Minister of Iraq, a rapprochement between Iraq, Egypt, and Syria has started taking shape.


Mr Abdel-Jalil al-Rawi, Iraq's Minister Plenipotentiary in Syria, has returned to Syria and on Tuesday, 10 September paid a visit to the Syrian President. He declared after the visit that Iraq would like to strengthen its brotherly relations with Syria and join the Arab Economic union between Egypt and Syria. He also stated Iraq's desire to increase Syria's revenues from oil, by increasing the number of pipelines that carry fuel from its sources in Iraq to locations on the Syrian coast, and shifting existing pipelines that currently transport oil to a location near Sidon, to the Syrian coast, so that Syria's revenues from oil would reach 100 million Syrian pounds.


People believe that Iraq's attitude comes upon the orders of the British, and aims to benefit British petroleum companies. The British would like to avoid any action by Iraq that could provoke Syria to retaliate by bombing pipelines and endangering these companies. Iraq's attitude can be also explained by its fear that any interference by Russia in the American-Syrian conflict would expose the country to further danger.


Another reason for Iraq's hesitant position is the collapse of its support group in Syria as a result of the measures, pursuits, and expulsions against them, as well as the stringent surveillance that was placed upon them. This also makes it impossible, at least for the time being, to stage a coup in Syria.


In Lebanon and Jordan:

The leftist movement in Syria sees the Lebanese Government, and especially President Camille Chamoun and Foreign Minister Charles Malek, as their personal enemies. They believe that Chamoun and Malek played a leading role in inciting America against Syria and convincing it chat Syria revolves in the communist orbit. The movement also believes that the Lebanese are preparing, together with the Turkish Government and Minister Samir al-Rifai, for a coup to oust the leftist movement from power in Syria and replace it with another loyal to America. So far Lebanon has chosen to remain silent regarding the crisis between America and Syria; the Syrians believe, however, that the report published in newspapers quoting the Egyptian al-Goumhouryia newspaper regarding Lebanon's and Jordan's role in inciting America to use violence to change the status quo in Syria, is correct.


Under the title ‘The Syrian authorities obtain ominous information regarding Henderson’s talks in Turkey and Lebanon’, Syrian newspapers printed the following, on 9 September 1957:


The rulers of Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Turkey agreed during their talks with Henderson to implement the following measures:


Armies in countries neighbouring Syria will conduct simultaneous military manoeuvres on the Syrian borders using American weapons.


President Chamoun will convince the rulers of Jordan to announce their country's accession to the Baghdad Pact in return for an American financial assistance of US $50 million.


Jordan will provoke Syria on the borders and then seek a way to get America to intervene based on the Eisenhower Doctrine.


I overheard a conversation recently, about the subject, between two people; one of them said to the other: 'this information was brought from Amman into Syria by Jordanian officers who work at the palace; it is an excerpt from two reports sent respectively by Mr Abdel-Mun'em Rifai, Jordan's Ambassador to Lebanon, and Sharif Hussein bin Nasser, Jordan's Ambassador to Spain, about the results of their talks with Henderson in Turkey and Lebanon.'


He also said that as a result of this information being made public, messages appeared at the royal palace in Amman threatening to kill anyone who helps Jordan accede to the Baghdad Pact. A number of suspect officers were dismissed from the palace and were arrested, and explosives were thrown in different locations and near ministers' homes.


Pamphlets were distributed all over Jordan and the Muslim Brotherhood abandoned its support for the government, turned against it, and launched a campaign to discredit it. As a result the Brotherhood's newspaper in Amman (Islamic Struggle) was closed and its owner Yousef al-Azm, the Brotherhood's deputy president, and Deputy Abdel-Baqi Jammo, who represents the Muslim Brotherhood in Amman at the Jordanian Parliament, were arrested.


Mr Issam al-'Attar, member of the Executive Office of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Leadership Conference in the Arab Countries, said that the Brotherhood's turning its back on the Government in Jordan was to be expected.


The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, which was the first to fight against the British and took part in the operation to oust Glubb, cannot accept that Jordan exchanges British tutelage for American tutelage, or becomes a base for colonialism and its schemes.


The above information (about Jordan's and Lebanon's positions vis-à-vis the talks with Henderson and about his statement to the effect that Syria's neighbours had requested America's assistance in keeping their respective governments in power and foiling Syria’s conspiracies against them), was the object of heightened interest at the Syrian Foreign Ministry. The leftist movement in Syria also launched a strong campaign against the governments of Jordan and Lebanon. The Syrian cabinet remained in session for two whole days, 10 and 11 September.


The Syrian cabinet decided to ask the Foreign Minister to send a memorandum to Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq requesting them to clarify their positions regarding what was published about their talks with Henderson and the decision of the American Government. Although the memoranda were very strongly worded, they delayed sending them when their existence became known to allow Jordan and Lebanon time to state their clear positions regarding the American-Syrian crisis, just like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq had done.


The reason behind postponing the memoranda was the desire to wait for the outcome of King Saud's mission to Lebanon and Jordan, and the increasing internal tensions in Jordan that had forced the Government to delay the announcement of the country’s accession to the Baghdad Pact. The Jordanian Government had also cancelled celebrations planned to coincide with the arrival of a shipment of American weapons by air to the airport in Mafraq, imposed stringent security measures around the airport, and received the weapons in secret. It also reneged on its decision to cancel the state of emergency, remove all censorship imposed over newspapers, and allow individuals and parties to operate freely.


The Syrians expect to hear a positive announcement out of Jordan soon, similar to the one made by Iraq, regarding its position towards Syria.

America sends warships into Syrian territorial waters, and regional powers calibrate their postures.


Document Information


Emir Farid Chehab Collection, GB165-0384, Box 15, File 35B/15, Middle East Centre Archive, St Antony’s College, Oxford.


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Youmna and Tony Asseily