Greater Syria

For the greater part of the twentieth century one Arab leader after another has tried to secure his position of power by giving his subjects an enemy upon which all of their own personal failings and the failings of their regimes could be blamed. The enemy of choice was the State of Israel and was used to rally the people behind a common cause, namely the destruction of Israel. After many hugely disastrous attempts at defeating Israel in combat, the Arab leaders began to get rather embarrassed by their failures and their people got tired of hearing the same old song. 1970 saw a change in the leadership of Syria which imposed, for the first time since independence in 1946, a strong, durable, and stable government. Over the next few years the Middle East started to go through rapid changes, there was yet another military disaster for the Arabs. Lebanon experienced a complete breakdown of order, Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel, Iraq became wholly consumed by war with Iran, and the oil exporting countries lost power as their revenues declined. Internal conflicts plagued the PLO. For the minority government of Syria something new was needed, and this was to be expansion under the banner of Pan-Syrianism. For over 30 years this rather strange ideology has caused Syria to be involved in just about every problem in the Middle East. On 30th July 1980 the commander of the South Lebanon Army, Major Saad Haadad, explained on the Voice of Hope radio, 'When Almighty God bestowed riches and resources on the Middle East, he placed Syria in the region so that it could assume the role of the devil. We ask Almighty God to divide Syria into hundreds of pieces so that the world at large may rest in peace.' Pan-Syrianism, the intention to piece the together the countries of the Middle East and form one large country, a Greater Syria, has been the driving force behind Syrian foreign policy for decades, and lies behind much of the recent conflict in the region. Furthermore, for many years Syria has been directly sponsored and used international terrorism in an attempt to achieve its goals. So as to justify their actions a vague claim is often made that the countries of the Middle East used to be one happy country. However no such country ever existed.

With the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, the hastily assembled and widely extended Alexandrine empire fell to pieces. His generals scrambled the best pieces and for years the Lebanese cities and large chunks of the Near East passed like a football from one general to another. Finally by 296 BC things settled down as Seleucus, the ablest of Alexander's generals managed to forge a kingdom that stretched from European Thrace to the borders of India with Antioch, so named after his father, serving as its capital. In 64 BC what was left of the Seleucid Kingdom passed to the Romans and entire area from the Taurus to Sinai was incorporated into a single province, and officially Phoenicia the nation ceased to exist. This province which was a frontier district bordering on Parthia, Rome's only rival then and formidable enemy, was placed under a proconsul, seated in Antioch and in control of a strong military force of four legions. His responsibility included the security of Roman possessions throughout south-west Asia. A chain of military posts was established along the fringe of the region to protect the cultivated and cultured areas against nomads and other intruders. A name was needed for this province which incorporated the ancient lands of the Phoenicians, the Hebrews, the Philistines, the Hyksos, the Aramaeans, the Hittites, and the Amorites.

By far the most significant city in the region at the time was Sur (Tyre). This Lebanese city had for years been the centre of  Phoenician resistance against one invading army after another, it was a city as famed for its riches as it was for its colonies. It seemed logical that the new Roman province should be named after this city, Sur, and so the entire province came to be called Surya, or Suriya, westernized to Syria. The word Sur itself meaning 'the enclosure' or 'the fortification', the defensive walls of the city rising as if from the sea giving the name to the ancient city.

Strabo (d. A.D. 24) was the first geographer to use the term Syria in its official meaning: "those regions of the Near East between Asia Minor and Egypt which belonged to the Roman Empire.", although Herodotus, centuries before writing about 440 B.C., used the word Syria loosely in the Histories to refer to Cappadocia. The Byzantines subsequently adopted the Roman usage, but the subdivided the region into six districts, and the area that roughly equates to modern day Lebanon was called Phoenicia Prima. None of the boundaries of the six districts resembled those of  modern state of Syria, which would have covered three of these districts, Phoenicia Secunda, Syria Prima, and Syria Secunda. The Arabs conquered the region in the seventh century A.D. and although they brought with them new names such as Ash-Sham (the North), Bilad ash-Sham (the country of Sham), Barr ash-Sham (the land of Sham) they exactly retained  the Romans meaning.

Europeans however disregarded the new terms and continued to use the name Syria (or Surie) through the centuries. (By similar token, they retained the names Persia, Egypt, and Albania for what local peoples called Iran, Masr, and Shqiperia.) With the expansion of European influence, the term Suriya was introduced in Arabic and Turkish, Probably by Protestant missionaries. As early as 1825, a farewell letter of Jonas King to his "brethren in Palestine and Syria," used the word Suriya. The term gained currency in the mid nineteenth century. Thus, the Syrian Society for the Acquisition of the Sciences and the Arts (Jam'iya Suriya li-Iktisab al-'Ulum wal-Funun) came into existence in 1847 and lasted until 1850. Founded by three American missionaries, it consisted only of Christian members. The Syrian Scholarly Society (al-jamiya al-Ilmiya as-Suriya), founded in 1868, included Muslims as well. Butrus al-Bustani, a leading figure in the development of Syrian consciousness, published a newspaper in 1860 called Nafir Suriya ("The Trumpet of Syria"). A book titled Kharabat Suriya ("The Ruins of Syria") appeared in Beirut in 1861. Thus word then took hold. Muhammad Abu's-Su'ud al-Hasibi referred to Syria in a history written sometime after 1868. Ilyas Dib Matar wrote a History of the Syrian Kingdom in 1874, and Jurji Yanni wrote a History of Syria seven years later. Though nonpolitical in outlook, these books concentrated attention on the concept of Syria and in so doing encouraged the emerging Syrian national consciousness. Ottoman officials initially opposed the use of the term Syria, but eventually they, too, accepted it and even used it.

Though universally recognized for more than two thousand years as a cohesive region, geographical Syria was not a polity. It never acquired political form as a single state containing only Syria and nothing else.  For centuries, Aleppo and Damascus even served as capitals of rival regions. The closest a state came to covering precisely the area of Syria was for some years in the second century B.C. under the Seleucid kings even then it fell under Egyptian suzanarity after some ten years. The area as a whole, with the exception of Lebanon, was only ruled from within for ninety years, A.D. 660-750, though it was then but a corner of the immense Umayyad Empire. Except for these two brief periods, Syria was usually the province of an empire based elsewhere, though parts were occasionally independent. From 1516 to 1918, Syria made up a small portion of the Ottoman Empire, the state based in Constantinople that extended from central Europe to southern Arabia. Ottoman rulers divided Syria into a variety of administrative districts during those four centuries. After 1864, these consisted of three vilayets (Aleppo, Damascus, and Beirut); the province of Jerusalem; and the mutasarrifiya of Mount Lebanon.27 Except for Lebanon, which enjoyed a special cohesion and autonomy, these units had little more than administrative significance. They had no greater political meaning than the circuit court districts in the United States. Nor did they interfere with communications; people and goods freely traversed administrative lines. Not only does Syria have no history as a state, but its residents historically did not consider themselves members of a Syrian nation. The area's unique features militated against any sense of common purpose. The location of Syria makes it a crossroad for conquering armies; the mountainous terrain makes it a refuge for vanquished and oppressed peoples; holiness makes it a destination for pilgrims and pioneers. These factors go far to explain the region's characteristic religious and ethnic diversity. Syria hosts an extraordinarily full representation of the three major monotheisms; a remnant of almost every Middle East schism and heterodoxy lives on there. There are the Muslim groups which include Sunnis and Shi'is, the latter dividing into the Twelver and Sevener branches, known locally as Mutawalis and Isma'ilis, there are the Christian groups which consists of over ten branches and there are the Jews which can also be subdivided.

Historically therefore, the name Syria refers to a region far larger than the one presently contained by the state called Syria. At minimum, that Syria includes an irregular rectangle bounded by the Mediterranean Sea in the west, the Taurus and Anti-Taurus Mountains in the north, and the Syrian, Arabian, and Sinai deserts in the east and south. In terms of today's political units, the region Syria comprises all of four states: Syria, Jordan, Israel, and Lebanon, as well as the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and substantial portions of south-eastern Turkey. Some observers, mostly those of Middle East origins, saw geographic Syria as a yet larger entity. According to an Egyptian historian, Abd ar-Rahman al-Athar, writing in the early nineteenth century, a person born in El Arish (at the north of the Sinai Peninsula) is one of the Syrians. The General Syrian Congress of 1919 defined Syria to include large parts of Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The French government at that time included Cilicia in Syria, as did Benoit Aboussouan, writing in 1925. Antun Saady, founder of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), initially defined Syria within the minimal borders; later he added the Sinai Peninsula, all of Iraq, and even Cyprus. With one exception, these larger boundaries attracted little support and had no practical importance; that exception was the joining of Iraq and Syria into a single unit, dubbed the "Fertile Crescent."

The territorial concepts in existence today, such as Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Syria, and the Arab world, did not appear until very late in the Ottoman period. By contrast, In the region Lebanon is unique in the region. The history of Lebanon as a separate entity from its neighbours began many thousands of years ago, long before the modern state was born. In fact it is doubtful whether any country in the Middle East apart form Egypt can claim such a long and continuos history as a separate political entity. Many features of a state had appeared as far back as the Byzantine Empire when the Maronite army of the Patriarch Yohanna Maroun defeated the Byzantine army sent against them so broke from Byzantine rule, however the modern Lebanese entity emerged in the late 16th century during the rain of Fakhr al-Din II when within its territory an evolving form of political authority and direct rule continued without interruption to our own time, giving Lebanon and the Lebanese by far the longest tradition as a political entity.

With the entry of the Ottomans into the fighting against the Allies in World War One, the British and French governments were profoundly worried about the effect of a proclamation of a holy war by the sultan-caliph of the Ottoman Empire on the large Muslim populations in India and North Africa. On November 14 the sultan-caliph did, in fact, issue a call to holy war but the sharif of Mecca, Hussein, who should have joined in the appeal, kept his silence. The British now hoped that the sharif could be persuaded to join the Allied cause, which would at least mitigate the threat of a Muslim revolt. This was the basic aim behind the correspondence between the British government on the one hand and on the other the sharif of Mecca, the so called Hussein-McMahon Correspondence, which set the terms upon which some of Arabs entered the war on the Allied side. In the first letter in the series of eight, dated July 14, 1915, Sharif Husain, in return for siding with the allies, demanded British recognition of the independence of the Arab provinces in an area now divided between Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and a part of Turkey. These demands were countered in a letter from McMahon, dated October 24, 1915, which excluded as not "purely Arab" the districts of Mersin and Alexandretta and the entire area lying to the west of the districts of Damascus, Horns, Hama, and Aleppo. The British also reserved their position, established by treaty, with other Arab chiefs and in Basra and Baghdad. Further restrictions were made in the series of letters to protect the interests of France. The last letter was dated January 30, 1916, and after agreeing the conditions an Arab army was formed in Hejaz under the command of Hussein's son, the Prince Faysal. The Arab Revolt began on June 5, 1916.

Under the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, France was to be free to establish its administration in Lebanon and on the coast and to provide advice and assistance to whatever regime existed in the interior; Britain was to have similar rights in Transjordan and Iraq. Palestine was to be under international control, but France later agreed that it should be in the British sphere, while Britain had already, by the Balfour Declaration of November 1917, pledged conditional support for the establishment of a Jewish national home. Therefore, at the end of the war, the British divided the area into three military administrations, called Occupied Enemy Territory Administrations (OETAs). Britons ran a zone roughly equivalent to what later became Israel; the French ran the coastal region between what are now Israel and Turkey; and Prince Faysal as per the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence and agreements set up a military government in Damascus and controlled Transjordan as well as the rest of the interior. Despite this sharing of duties, there was no doubt of ultimate power; the commander of the British forces, General Edmund Allenby. Faysal however wanted to gain control of the entire area including the zones under British and French administration. Faysal formally announced this intention just two days after arriving in Damascus in October 1918, "I proclaim in the name of our master, King al-Husayn, the formation of an absolutely independent, constitutional, and unblemished Arab government in Syria that includes the whole of Syria."

For the next 18 months or so Faysal tried through various diplomatic means to take control of the regions excluded under the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence, when he found himself unable to do so, he convened a General Syrian Congress in Damascus in March 1920. Delegates from all parts of Syria not only proclaimed Faysal king of Syria but specifically included the British and French zones within his realm, they stated: "We unanimously proclaim the complete and unconditional independence of our country Syria, including Palestine, within its natural boundaries." The congress also declared independence for Iraq and the twenty-nine Iraqis at the meeting proclaimed Prince 'Abdallah, Faysal's elder brother, king of Iraq. Faysal, now king, made negotiations with Britain and France contingent on acknowledgement of the unity between Syria and Palestine. This had little consequence however, as both imperial powers did not recognize his authority and rejected the whole of the congress's proclamation. Paris instructed the French high commissioner in Beirut to tell Faysal that the French government considered the declaration "null and void." The British foreign secretary huffed that "Great Britain does not recognize that any committee in Damascus has the right to speak about Palestine and Iraq." At the San Remo conference in April 1920 France was given mandate over Lebanon and Syria. The principle of mandate is expressed in Article 22 of the covenant of the League of Nations:

'Certain communities formerly belonging to the Turkish Empire have reached a stage of development where their existence as independent nations can be provisionally recognized subject to the rendering of administrative advice and assistance by a Mandatory until such time as they are able to stand alone. The wishes of these communities must be a principal consideration in the selection of the Mandatory.'

An International Commission of Inquiry, know as the King-Crane Commission, was established a year earlier and found that although the Lebanese greatly favoured the arrangement of mandate, the Syrians opposed it and wanted immediate independence. Faysal would not accept the mandate with its principle of independence and refused to negotiate. The French and the British made preparations to remove Faysal and in July 1920, the French army entered the Kingdom of Syria crushing Faysal's forces and forcing him to flee.

When the Conference of San Remo established the French mandate for Syria and Lebanon in 1920, it gave the British a mandate in Palestine, including Transjordan. When the French overthrew Faysal and his Arab regime in Damascus, his brother Abdullah recruited a private army in the Hejaz and announced his intention of marching on Syria to expel the French. On his way north, in January 1921, he entered Transjordan and established political dominance over its tribes and villages, with his seat in the city of Amman. The British recognized him as amir (prince or governor), and in return he affirmed the British mandate, subsequently split from the rest of the Palestine mandate in 1923, and renounced his declared intention of invading Syria. Faysal as installed as king of Iraq by the British. Thus the modern states of Syria, Jordan, and Iraq emerged from the Ottoman empire, to join Lebanon on the list of the world states.

Syria became fully independent in 1944 with Shukri al-Kuwatli as president but civilian government in Syria was not to last long. The end of the short-lived civilian order came in March 1949 when Col. Husni az-Zaim overthrew the Kuwatli government in a bloodless coup. Zaim was himself overthrown in August by Col. Sami al-Hinnawi. A third coup, led by Col. Fawzi Salu in conjunction with Col. Adib ash-Shishakli, followed in December; by November 1951 Shishakli had removed his associate by a fourth coup.

The first four military dictators of Syria were officers of no particular ideological commitment, and the regimes they led may be described as conservative. All four ruled in association with veteran politicians of the former civil- ian regime. Among the politically minded army officers at the time, many were Ba'th Socialists, while others were followers of the Arab Socialist Union of Akram al-Hourani. Colonel Shishakli was a first cousin to Hourani and came to power with his assistance. Opposing the Ba'th and pro-Hourani Socialist officers were officers of a radically different political persuasion, who followed the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (the Parti Populaire Syrien, or PPS), an authoritarian party of the Fascist type devoted to the establishment of a pan-Syrian national state that would include Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Transjordan, Iraq, and Cyprus. Because its concept of the Syrian nation included Iraq, it received strong backing from the Iraqi government. After coming to power, Shishakli parted company with Hourani and turned to the PPS for support.

Shishakli was overthrown in February 1954 by a military coup led by Col. Faisal al-Atasi. The PPS forthwith lost its influence in Syrian politics, and an attempt to regain it by violence in the following year led to the suppression of the party and the purging of PPS elements in the army. From that time the Ba'thists in the army had no serious rival, although the party was not yet in a position to take power alone. In the four years that followed, it had to associate itself in rule with civilian leaders of the old school and also with the Communists.

The union with Egypt, 1958-61. The years that followed the overthrow of Shishakli in Syria saw the rise of Pres. Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt to uncontested leadership of the pan-Arab unity movement. As a party committed to pan-Arabism, the Ba'th could not dissociate itself from this movement; and the veteran pan-Arab Syrian politicians found themselves in the same position. The Arab world was meanwhile being drawn into the Cold War. The continued interference of pro-Western Iraq in Syrian affairs forced the coalition regime in Syria to turn more and more to Egypt for support and also to establish the first friendly contacts with the Communist countries. By 1958 the fear of Iraq and its Western involvement, on the one hand, and a growing reluctance to become committed to the Communist countries, on the other, convinced the Syrian coalition that the only way out was union with Egypt. In February 1958 Syria gave up its sovereignty to become, for the next three and one-half years, the "Northern Province" of the United Arab Republic (U.A.R.) of which Nasser was president.

The union of Syria with Egypt, though widely acclaimed, proved a bitter disappointment. Far from accepting the Syrians as full partners, the Egyptians tended to treat them as subordinates. In September 1961 a coup led by rightist Syrian army officers, in league with a coalition of civilian leaders, re-established Syria as a sovereign and independent state.

The coup of 1961 paved the way for a return of the old class of notables to power. Parliamentary elections were held, and Nazim al-Qudsi of the People's Party was chosen president. The "secessionist" regime, though civilian at the surface, was still under army control, and in the army the Ba'th was still powerful. The regime had made hardly any concessions to the Socialism of the Ba'th and the pro-Nasser pan-Arabists. While the latter approved of the Socialist measures introduced under the union with Egypt (such as the land reforms and the nationalization of banks and large business enterprises), the secessionist regime set out quickly to undo or at least amend them, thus playing into the hands of the Ba'th. In March 1963 the Ba'th and their supporters in the army seized power.

The new government was a coalition that included pro-Nasser elements who demanded reunion with Egypt. A month before the Ba'th coup in Syria, however, the Iraqi branch of the party had seized power in Baghdad. A Ba'thist union between Syria and Iraq seemed imminent, but it was opposed by Egypt and by the pro-Nasser Arab unionists in Damascus and Baghdad, and the Ba'thists were unable to establish a union that would exclude Egypt. The Ba'th leaders of Iraq and Syria flew to Cairo for unity talks with President Nasser, but Nasser would agree to a union only on his own terms, and the talks failed. The Ba'th regime in Iraq did not outlive the year. In Syria the pro-Nasser Arab unionists were thrown out of power by an eighth coup in October 1964, and a Ba'th military dictatorship was established.

The Ba'thists in Syria were soon faced with a serious problem. Although their party was led by Syrians, it was pan-Arab in ideology and organization and had branches in Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan. Non-Syrian Ba'thists were members of the central committee of the party, which had its headquarters in Damascus; the continued sub ordination of the Syrian branch of the party to the central committee gave non-Syrian Ba'thists a considerable say in Syrian affairs. Thus it was necessary for the Syrian branch of the party to become independent of the pan- Arab central committee. In May 1965 the party split. A ninth coup in February 1966 set up a new military regime in the name of the Syrian Ba'th. The central organization of the Ba'th was reconstituted in Lebanon.

For some years the Syrian branch of the Ba'th party. with its 'Alawite leadership, successfully maintained itself in power. Nureddin al-Atassi, a Sunnite notable from Horns, served as chief of state until November 1970, while Col. Salah al-Jadid wielded ultimate power. Salah al-Jadid was then deposed in a coup in favour of Hafez al-Assad, who on March 14, 1971, was sworn in as president.

For years Syria had been so politically unstable that coups were no longer news, change of leadership was almost as common as the change in seasons. In 1970 Assad changed all that. He need an ideologically tinged expansionist cause with which to buttress his legitimacy. Many Syrians had turned away from Pan-Arabism after the UAR's failure and favored, instead, an emphasis on Syria's domestic evolution. The rise of the 'Alawis brought to power a community that had special reasons to mistrust Pan-Arabism where they would be such a small minority that they would be ttotally powerless. 'Alawi rulers could more readily dominate Greater Syria than they could a large Arab nation. The Assad regeem therefore needed an outward-looking ideology to divert attention from internal problems and mobilize support for the government,  Assad had dreams of domination and his ambition of Syrian expansion needed some kind of justification to enable him to act in a manner that would not be too aggressively resisted. With Pan-Arabism discredited, Assad turned to Pan-Syrianism. So as to make the Pan-Syrianism argument sound convincing a new history had to invented to support statements that were to be made and the actions were to be taken. Syria by then had become a totalitarian police state, no more political parties, no more freedom of speech, no more freedom of press, no more freedom. One of the first victims of of such a policy is the truth, even school history books had to be worded in a way that was acceptable to the government, a practice still carried out in the majority of middle east countries today.

Calls such as Faysal's to unite Syria, Jordan, and Iraq under one rule, that had remained dormant for for some fifty years suddenly sprung up, Assad had made the expansion of Syria state policy. Speech after speech were made to tell the people of an non existent past where Syria and its neighbours were one happy country. In the claims that were made regarding Lebanon, Palestine/Israel, Jordan, Iraq and Alexandretta, Syrian leaders used virtually identical terms with regard to the countries they aspire to control: "We and Lebanon are one country" and "We and Palestine form one entity" also "We and Jordan are one country."1

With many armed Palestinian groups being armed and funded by Syria and being directly under its command, Syria found many agents willing to spread the Greater Syria dream. Syria even went so far as to claim that only it was the representative of the Palestinian people and that PLO had no authority. On many occasion Syria used its client Palestinian faction to fight the PLO and so bring it into line.

Syria had many ways of pressuring and controlling Jordan, power was exerted over Jordan by helping antigovernment elements within the country and by using and threatening to use Syria's much larger military forces. Backing the PLO, which threatened the Jordanian monarchy in the late 1960s, gave Syria a great source of leverage. Direct military pressure offered another; in September 1970, Syrian armored units participated in the PLO revolt against the Jordanian government, as Syrian tanks poured across the border into jordan only direct Israeli military intervention on the side of Jordan prevented all out invasion. Israelis signalled its displeasure by using the Israeli airfore to over fly the invading Syrian tank units. In November 1980, Assad mobilized thirty-five thousand soldiers near the border with Jordan. The next month, Syrian jets attacked suspected Muslim Brethren bases in central Jordan.

Over and over, Syrian officials talked about the lack of difference between Syria and Jordan. Assad made the following remarks during a period of great stress with Jordan in late 1980:

'The Jordanian army is our army. It includes officers, NCOs and soldiers who are our brothers and sons, exactly like our soldiers and officers. We do not distinguish between the Syrian and the Jordanian soldier. . . . Our Jordanian soldier is exacly the same as our Syrian soldier.. . . The Jordanian army is our army; the Jordanian people are our people. When we attack the Jordanian citizens, we attack the Syrian people; when we attack the Jordanian Army, we attack the Syrian Army.'2

'Abd al-Halim Khaddam called the Jordanian monarchy an "alien" regime "which was imported from outside this country in order to be planted and to be a tool in the hands of the British and Americans." To impugn Husayn's legitimacy, Khaddam argued that the monarchy "remained alien to this nation" because "its heart and mind remained outside the boundaries of the homeland."3 A newspaper editorial went further: "King al-Husayn's regime has switched loyalties from British imperialism to the CIA."4

In November 1980, at a time of acute tension between Syria and Jordan, Syrian radio presented the dispute as "between one Arab people in Syria and Jordan and King Husayn's regime."5

Starting in early 1981, the Syrian government began a campaign calling for the overthrow of the Jordanian monarchy. It began obliquely; for example, an editorial on 18 February noted that disagreements between the two countries could not be overcome "except by putting an end to the agent instruments which foment sabotage campaigns and wallow in conspiracies."6 Three days later, a commentary described Husayn's overthrow as "a pressing Pan-Arab responsibility."7

In March 1981, the Syrians rejected the very existence of an independent Jordan. Calling Jordan an "artificial entity," one of the state-run Syrian papers argued that the territory Jordan controls "is the land of Syria, a part of natural Syria. History has never recognized the presence of an international, or even an administrative entity separate from Syria," making the Jordanian monarchy "illegitimate."8 Foreign Minister 'Abd al-Halim Khaddam reminded an interviewer that "not long ago, and before the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the Jordanian people were always a part of us, and they will always remain so."9

In April 1981, the Syrian-backed Ba'th Party of Jordan called on the masses to establish "a democratic, progressive" government in Amman that would cooperate with Damascus.10 Then, a few days later, Assad made a remarkably candid speech explicitly calling for the elimination of Jordan. That country, he said, was primarily established to dismember Syria. We and Jordan are one country, one people, and one thing. The British brought the grandfather of King Husayn, carved up a part of Syria for him and told him, "You are now prince of this piece of land. ..." But have they been able to separate us from our people in Jordan? Certainly not. Our people in Jordan are a great, noble people. Nothing links them to that king. . . . The Jordanian people now have nothing to do with the decision made by the Jordanian regime. But the day will come, perhaps very soon, when the Jordanian people will regain their right to make decisions. . . . King Husayn will discover that we are one people and that his majesty was no more than a passing, dark and rainless cloud in our historic march.11

The Syrian government employed other methods of verbal attack on Jordan, asserting, for example, that the regime lacked the support "of even a minority of Jordan's masses for the acts it committed."12 Assad even had the temerity to claim that "the Jordanian rule has led to the treacherous murder of hundreds of people from all sectors of the Syrian population.. . . Such acts had been unknown to Syria in its entire history."13

Amman was even subject to systematic use of terror by Damascus. On 11 February 1985, King al-Husayn and Yasir 'Arafat announced an agreement that the Syrian and Soviet governments strongly opposed. Eleven days later, four months of terrorist attacks began, including a bomb at the American Research Center in Amman; an explosion in an airliner of the Jordanian carrier. Alia; a hand-grenade attack on Alia offices in Athens; a rocket attack on the Jordanian embassy in Rome; a rocket attack on an Alia plane in Athens; an Alia plane hijacked in Beirut and blown up; a bomb attack on Alia offices in Madrid; and the assassination in Turkey of a Jordanian diplomat who also happened to be the brother-in-law of the Jordanian commander-in-chief. Syrian agents also attacked Jordanian diplomats in India and Lebanon.

In response, a Jordanian radio commentary remarked that "the Damascus regime has set up special apparatuses for terrorism, assassination, and crime against those who oppose it in the Arab arena."14 Jordanian radio had on an earlier occasion gone even farther: "The fascist sectarian regime in Syria is not satisfied with the slaughter of Syrian citizens domestically . . . but is creating armed terrorist groups whose aims are ... to carry out its terrorist acts outside Syria and throughout the Arab arena."15

Assad's ability to get his way with King al-Husayn was dramatically demonstrated in November 1985, when the king wrote an open letter apologizing for Jordan's having harbored Syrian members of the Muslim Brethren. He also promised to throw them out of Jordan, which he did. Assad then rewarded Husayn with an invitation to Damascus, and this was quickly accepted.

Nowhere however were Syrian plans more successful than in Lebanon. Lebanon is small and weak and so Assad moved quickly to create an atmosphere to facilitate Syrian expansion into Lebanon. Assad began by making a vague comment in August 1972: "Syria and Lebanon are a single country. We are more than brothers."16 and from that point on words of unity were to flow from past his lips on countless occasions. Assad made almost the same point a year later, announcing that Syria and Lebanon "are one land and one nation with two governments."17 More ominously, the Syrian minister of information explained in January 1975, "Lebanon will not escape from the destined unity of Syria and Lebanon."18 The entry of Syrian troops into Lebanon in June 1976 prompted a spate of Syrian claims. Assad proclaimed a month later that "through history, Syria and Lebanon have been one country and one people. Our history is one, our future is one and our destiny is one."19 Days later, a Syrian general was quoted as saying that "what is taking place presently in the region is the undoing of the Sykes-Picot agreement."20 Syria's prime minister expressed the same claim in asserting that "Southern Lebanon is like southern Syria."21

In May 1982, Assad referred to Lebanon as an "Arab land that belongs to us."22 A Ministry of Information official asserted that "Lebanon and Syria are the same"23 in August 1983. Assad declared that "Lebanon and Syria are one single people, one single nation" whose feeling of kinship "runs deeper than it does between states in the United States."24 Interviewed by a French newspaper in May 1985, the Syrian foreign minister reminded its readership that "until the beginning of the century, we formed a single country. It is true that we are now two different states, but we cannot ignore the fact that we form a single people with the same language and a common history."25 A British diplomat recalled senior Syrian officials referring to the Biqa' Valley of Lebanon as "the usurped lands" (al-aradi al-mughtasaba}26 Defense Minister Mustafa 'Ahd al-Qadir Tallas told a German interviewer that "Lebanon belongs to our Great Syrian family" (grossen syrischen Familte).27 When some groups in Lebanon brought up the possibility of dividing the country into Christian and Muslim sections, Syrian foreign minister Abd al-Halim Khaddam responded in a proprietary fashion:

'We will not permit the division of Lebanon. Any attempt at division will lead to our immediate intervention. Lebanon was part of Syria and we will recover it at the moment of an effective effort at partitioning. It should be made clear that this does not refer only to the four districts, but to Mt. Lebanon as well. Lebanon can either be united or return to Syria.'28

Raymond Edde, a leading Lebanese critic of the Syrian intervention, interpreted this declaration as a Syrian statement of intent to annex the Biqa' Valley, the town of Tripoli, and the Akkar, an area to the north of Tripoli.29 Indeed, Khaddam specified in August 1981 that "we consider Tripoli an extension of the muhajirin quarter of Damascus."30 Statements such as these were truly masterful in their deception as Lebanon was never part of the state of Syria.

The statements, claims and rhetoric continued, at another point, Khaddam (who was known in Lebanon as the "Syrian High Commissioner") declared that "Syria had not consulted anyone when it entered Lebanon, nor would it consult anyone when it decides to withdraw from Lebanon."31 Assad went even farther, remarking to a group of Lebanese parliamentarians in February 1978 that while the Lebanese army amounted to no more than gangs, Syrian troops in Lebanon constituted the legal army of Lebanon.32 He reiterated this point in October 1983, telling a Swiss journalist that "there is only one foreign army in Lebanon, namely Israel's. The Syrians and Lebanese are one people, they are Arabs. We have the same language and the same history."33 Once more, in July 1986, Khaddam told reporters in Paris that "the Syrian forces are present in Lebanon legitimately. These forces can be present at any place they want and do not have to get permission from anybody."34

Knowledgeable observers across the globe agree on the profound importance of Greater Syria for the government of the late Hafiz al-Assad. A prominent Syrian dissident, the former ambassador to Paris, wrote that "Assad's objective, even when he was but minister of defense [1966-70], was to inherit 'Abd an-Nasir's place in the Arab world, to create the Greater Syria which 'Alawis keep on dreaming about, and to group Jordan, Palestine and Lebanon under his banner."35

Lebanese across the political spectrum were convinced of Syrian ambitions toward their country. Major Saad Haddad, a former commander of a South Lebanon Army, saw the Syrian goal as declaring Lebanon "an inseparable part of Greater Syria."36 Accordingly, he believed that "Syria does not want to withdraw from Lebanon. Why? Because Syria came to Lebanon not to help this or that party. It entered Lebanon to annex it to Syria on the premise that Lebanon is part of Syria."37 Haddad's successor. General Antoine Lahd, assessed Syrian intentions similarly: "Syria is my foremost enemy. The Syrians have always wanted to annex or dominate my country."38 Bashir Gemayel charged that Damascus kept troops in Lebanon to make Lebanon part of Greater Syria. His brother Amin, the president of Lebanon during 1982—88, accused Assad of wanting to annex Lebanon.39 Samir Geagea, the Phalangist military leader, feared that Syria "aims to create a Greater Syria" and doesn't believe Syrian statements that Lebanon is a sovereign state.40 Karim Paqraduni, deputy to Geagea, noted that "Syria has not been content with occupation. It has begun annexing occupied Lebanese territory."41 Kamal Junbalat, leader of the Lebanese Druze observed that "in Damascus, they are always dreaming of Lebanon."42

Crown Prince Hasan of Jordan acknowledged Syrian hopes for a Greater Syria and observed that "the Syrians say there are no Palestinians, Jordanians, Lebanese, that they are all southern Syrians."43

The Palestinians also explicitly discussed Pan-Syrianism. An Arabic newspaper published in Jerusalem observed accurately: "Some say that the Syrian leaders want to revive the Greater Syria plan, provided it is 'made in Damascus', having always rejected it in the past when it was 'made in Amman' or 'made in Baghdad.'"44 At a time when the PLO operated out of Lebanon, Yasir 'Arafat argued that "the Syrian army wants to stay in Lebanon not to combat the Phalanges or defend the National Movement, but to dominate the PLO, and more especially Al-Fat'h."45 "Arafat's assistant Salah Khalaf maintained that Damascus aimed "to establish Greater Syria on the ruins of Lebanon."46

Egyptian leaders viewed Assad's ambitions in the same light. Anwar as- Sadat accused Assad (whom he often called "the lion of Greater Syria")47 of carting the Lebanese crisis to create a Greater Syria. Husni Mubarak explicitly stated his opposition to Assad's Greater Syria plans. "For a Greater Syria to be established," he told a French newspaper, "Lebanon has to accept its disappearance and Jordan has to accept its disintegration. Lebanon and Jordan definitely cannot accept such a thing. Moreover, Egypt will absolutely not accept Lebanon and Jordan becoming part of Syria. Egypt is not alone in rejecting this; the whole Arab world will reject it."48 Shortly after the Syrian invasion of Lebanon, the newspaper Al-Ahram published a political cartoon on this subject; it showed a fat figure with "Imperialism" written on it charm- ing a cobra snake labeled "Suriya al-Kubra" arising out of a basket dubbed "Fascism." The humor lies in a pun: Suriya al-Kubra means both "Syria the Cobra" and "Greater Syria."49 A dozen years later, an editorial in the same paper pointed to Syrian plans "to liquidate the Palestinian entity by dispersing it and annexing it to the plan of Greater Syria."50

Israelis of all persuasions agreed on Syrian intentions. Among Likud politi- cians, Yitzhaq Shamir stated in July 1983 that "Syria wants to control all of Lebanon and will not settle for the control it now has over a large part of this territory."51 Moshe Arens repeatedly brought up this matter. He understood the Syrian objective in Lebanon to be "to control Lebanon and turn it into a satellite or perhaps a part of Greater Syria."52 Benjamin Netanyahu wrote that the Syrian government had "methodically pursued" Greater Syria for decades.53 A foreign ministry spokesman termed Syria's tactics for building Greater Syria "slicing the salami."54 On the Labour side, Shimon Peres believed that Assad was "striving to attain leadership in the Arab world and to realize the age-old Syrian dream of a Greater Syria."55 The president of Israel (and a former chief of intelligence), Chaim Fierzog, termed these Pan-Syrian ambitions "most troublesome to Syria's Arab neighbors."56

Despite the great success that Syria has had over the past 25 years in establishing control over its neighbours, sooner or later its efforts are bound to fail. To the average man the issues of boundaries among states are not as important as issues of  democratic government, human rights, economic development, and other matters that are of directly concern his well being. Syria has one of the lowest standards of living in the region and at the end of the day most Syrians are more concerned about feeding their families than in expanding their borders.

It has been shown that a Greater Syria never existed as a nation or polity at anytime in the past but those who champion Greater Syria will always turn to the argument that most of the area was a single Ottoman administrative area. However, one has to ask question to what degree are political and administrative arrangements set up by the Ottoman authorities, other imperial governments, sound foundations for deriving political legitimacy? If these territories were parts of an Ottoman governorate what relevance does that have to the present day? Texas belonged once to Mexico and Gdansk belonged to Germany; so what? Does any state have clear historical boundaries? Take for example the cases of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan: what would the historical record say about their boundaries? For years King Abdallah Jordan had claims on Syria, so if one is to make up a new country why not make up Greater Jordan or why not Greater Israel, an Israel that encompasses Syria? At least then Syrians might get introduced to democracy and freedom of speech. Pan-Syrianists will argue that  the people of the Near East have things in common such as language and history and so should all be Syrian, but does that mean that a New Zealander is a Canadian or South African because he speak the same language, and does that mean the English are Americans because they have common history? According to many modern political philosophers following John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Ernest Renan, states are the results of a social contract and exist as the expression of the direct or indirect will of the people. From that perspective states enjoy a right to legitimate existence and independence if their constituent members have the wish that such a state exist. In this most fundamental of modern liberal views of politics, the legitimacy of a state is based, first and last, on the will of its citizens. The people of the countries that have fallen victim to Syria's expansionist ambition simply do not want to be Syrian. Many books will say that at then end of the First World many people did not want the Ottoman district broken up but the views of the people 80 years ago are not the same as those today. A Jordanian is proud being a Jordanian, as is an Iraqi proud of being Iraqi. Stop a Palestinian in the street and ask him what he is, he will not tell you that he is a Syrian, he will tell you that he is Palestinian.

What of Lebanon? Lebanon has suffered more than any other country due to the ambitions of its much larger neighbour. As has been shown, Lebanon has the longest and most continuos history as a separate political entity going back thousands of years. Lebanon enjoys a far higher standard of living than any of its neighbours. Lebanon plays an important role as an example of pluralist and democratic politics in an otherwise authoritarian Arab world. It was the only polity in which constitutional government, power sharing, and other aspects of democratic politics were practised regularly. Lebanon plays an important cultural and intellectual role as a centre for education, free press, and a vigorous marketplace of ideas. Lebanon adopted a free market economy and plays a fairly important role as a centre for economic services within an otherwise fairly socialistic environment characterized by closed economies. Finally, but importantly, Lebanon played an important role by embodying Christian-Muslim coexistence, co-operation, equality, and mutual respect; and it enhanced dialogue between Christianity and Islam at critical junctures and provided a forum for East-West interaction. So should Lebanon fall to the predator that is Syria? Do the inhabitants Lebanon wish to be constituent members of the state of Lebanon in its current boundaries? Do they wish to set up separate mini-states or do they wish to merge with any other states in the region? There is little doubt that, despite various apprehensions, the overwhelming majority of Lebanese inhabitants would endorse the Lebanese nation-state over any other option. The Greater Syrian nation never existed in the past, nor does it have the right to be created through the destruction of its neighbours.
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1. Minister of Defense General Mustafa Tallas, Ar-Ra'y al-'Amm, 1 October 1983;idem, Radio Damascus, 9 September 1980; Hafiz al-Assad, Ar-Ra'y al-'Amm, 6 Decem-ber 1980.
2. Ar-Ray al-'Amm, 6 December 1980.
3. Radio Damascus, 9 January 1981.
4. Ath-Thawra, 14 January 1981.
5. Radio Damascus, 30 November 1980; also Tishrin, 4 December 1980.
6. Ath-Thawra, 18 February 1981.
7. Tishrin, 21 February 1981.
8. Tishrin, 26 March 1981.
9. Al-Khalij, 15 March 1981. See also Ath-Thawra, 14 July 1981.
10. Radio Damascus, 15 April 1981.
11. Radio Damascus, 26 April 1981.
12. Ar-Ray al-'Amm, 6 December 1980.
13. Radio Damascus, 10 June 1975; also Radio Amman, same date.
14. Radio Amman, 25 July 1985.
15. Radio Amman, 6 February 1981.
16. Al-Anwar, 10 August 1972.
17. Jaysh ash-Sha'b, 28 August 1973. Quoted in Moshe Ma'oz, Assad, The Sphinx ofDamascus: A Political Biography (New York: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1988), p. 89.
18. Ahmad Iskandar, January 1975. Quoted in Anne Sinai and Alien Pollack, eds.,The Syrian Arab Republic: A Handbook (New York: American Academic Associationfor Peace in the Middle East, 1976), p. 148.
19. Radio Damascus, 20 July 1976.
20. Le Monde, 27 July 1976.
21. 'Abd ar-Ra'uf al-Kasm, Radio Damascus, 14 April 1982.
22. Al-Mustaqbal, 8 May 1982.
23. The Christian Science Monitor, 18 August 1983.
24. The New York Times, 24 December 1983.
25. Le Monde, 24 May 1985.
26. Quoted in David Roberts, The Ba'th and the Creation of Modern Syria (NewYork: St. Martins Press, 1987), p. 14.
27. Der Spiegel, 22 September 1986, p. 163.
28. Ar-Ra'y al-'Amm, 7 January 1976.
29. Naomi Joy Weinberger, Syrian Intervention in Lebanon: The 1975—76 CivilWar (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), p. 212.
30. Quoted in Gerard Michaud, "Terrorisme d'etat, terrorisme contre 1'etat: Le Cassyrien," Esprit, October-November 1984, p. 199.
31. Quoted in Antun Khuwayri, Al-Harb fi Lubnan 1976 (Junya: AI-Bulusiya,1977), p. 154.38. As-Safir, 10 February 1978.
32. As-Safir, 10 February 1978.
33. Quoted in Erish Gysling, "An Assad fuhrt kein Weg vorbei," Schweizer Mon-atshefte 64 (1984): 232.
34. Radio Damascus, 17 July 1986.
35. Quoted in Malley, "Hafez El-Assad," p. 13.
36. Voice of Hope, 25 March 1983.
37. Voice of Hope, 30 July 1983. For a more alarmist analysis, see the statement quoted in Nicolas Nasr, Faillite syrienne au Liban, 1975-81 (Beirut: Dar el-Amal, 1982), Vol. 1,pp. 169-70.
38. La Vanguardia [Barcelona], 25 May 1986.
39. Le Journal de Dimanche, 24 April 1988.
40. Reuters, 19 March 1985. See also Voice of Lebanon, 15 June 1987; Radio Free Lebanon, 29 August 1987; Voice of Lebanon, 15 September 1987.
41. Radio Free Lebanon, 30 September 1987.
42. Joumblatt, Pour le Liban, p. 167; also pp. 31, 37, 48, 49, 181-91.
43. Quoted by Lally Weymouth, The Los Angeles Times, 7 August 1983.
44. Al-Quds, 21 June 1976.
45. Quoted in Pakradouni, La Paix, manquee, p. 229.
46. Voice of the PLO, Baghdad, 12 December 1986.
47. Sadat usually expressed this mock title in French (le Lion de la Grande Syrie). See Joseph Kraft, "Letter from Egypt," The New Yorker, 28 May 1979, pp. 97-98; United Press International, 4 June 1981.
48. Le Figaro, 15 October 1986.
49. Al-Ahram, 9 June 1976.
50. Al-Ahram, 14 November 1988.
51. Ma'ariv,22July 1983.
52. Reuters, 5 April 1981.
53. The New York Times, 10 November 1983.
54. The Washington Post, 1 September 1978.
55. IDF Radio, 17 December 1985.
56. Reuters, 20 November 1983; see also The New York Times, 17 November 1983.


Greater Syria, Daniel Pipes
The Arab World Today, William R. Polk
The Making of the Modern Near East, M.E. Yapp