Syria

August 13, 1957 – Syria Ousts American Diplomats

Afif al-Bizreh

Syrian Army Chief of Staff Afif Al-Bizreh, assassination target

On August 13, 1957, the government of Syria expelled three American Embassy officials, Vice Consul Francis J. Jeton, Second Secretary Howard E. Stone, and Army Attaché Colonel Robert W. Molloy.  The previous day, Syria had announced their discovery of an undercover plot by the United States to assassinate top government officials and overthrow their regime.  Jeton, Stone, and Molloy, they alleged, had contacted dissident members of the Syrian military and offered money in exchange for their assistance, including purging leading loyalist officers in the Syrian army.  They had also allegedly promised the US would block Israeli aggression, settle the Arab-Israeli conflict, end the arms race in the Middle East, and provide substantial unconditional economic aid.

Syrian Director of Intelligence Abd al-Hamid al-Sarraj, assassination target

Following the Suez Crisis in 1956, when Egypt’s attempt to nationalize the Suez Canal led to an invasion by Britain, France, and Israel, and hard on the heels of the USSR’s invasion of Hungary, President Eisenhower promulgated his Eisenhower Doctrine in January of 1957.  The Doctrine, in an effort to halt the spread of communism, offered American military and economic aid to nations in the Middle East who wanted help to resist the advances of nations dominated by “international communism.”  Developments in the Middle East had led President Eisenhower to fear that Syria was becoming a Soviet “outpost,” an escalation of the Cold War, and had acted accordingly.  Internal government reports informed Eisenhower that Syria was “more inclined to accept Soviet influence than any other country” in the Middle East and that “the Soviets are making Syria the focal point for arms distribution and other activities.”  He believed the Syrian government was dominated by a radical, pro-Soviet faction, that direct Soviet control was imminent, and ordered the CIA to execute Operation Wappen, spearheaded by Jeton, Stone, and Molloy.

On the day following the expulsion of the three embassy officials, Eisenhower responded by denying U.S. participation in an anti-Syrian government plot and expelling the Syrian Ambassador and his second secretary.  The American ambassador to Syria, home on leave, would remain in the United States.  Did the Eisenhower administration order Operation Wappen?  In The United States and Arab Nationalism: The Syrian Case, 1953-1960, author Bonnie F. Saunders states, “Other documentary evidence indicates almost certain State Department knowledge of the plot and perhaps its cooperation with the CIA in perpetrating it.”  From Encroachment to Involvement: A Documentary Study of Soviet Policy in the Middle East, 1945-1973, offers the same conclusion by author Yaacov Ro’i.  “The fact of the establishment and maintenance of secret contacts by the American Embassy in Damascus with a number of Syrian military personnel as well as with political dissident groups, with the possibility in mind of overthrowing the regime, seems proven.”

Image Credits: syrianhistory.com

August 6, 1957 – The USSR and Syria Reach an Agreement

 

Syrian Defense Minister Khalid al-Azm with Chief of Staff Afif al-Bizreh, 1957

On August 6, 1957, a Syrian delegation led by Minister of State and National Defense Khalid al-Azm and a Soviet delegation led by Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers Iosif Kuzmin reached an economic (and possibly military) aid agreement.  According to The United States and Arab Nationalism: The Syrian Case, 1953-1960, by Bonnie F. Saunders, the agreement included $570 million in Soviet bloc credits for weapons which Syria would pay for with future grain production.  President Eisenhower and the United States’ government were deeply concerned about the increasing influence of the USSR on the Arab nation.  “The Soviet Union had already given Syria about $60 million worth of military aid in 1956,” Saunders writes.  “Early in 1957, rumors about even greater Soviet military penetration into Syria circulated in London and Washington.  Supposedly, hundreds of Soviet technicians and military personnel were busy setting up and manning Soviet air and naval bases in Syria.  The Soviet Union was ostensibly providing the Syrian army with huge numbers of new Soviet weapons, furnishing the Syrian air force with two dozen sophisticated MiG jets and Soviet trainers, and creating a small Syrian navy armed with Soviet-built ships.”

A joint communique regarding the agreement was published on August 6, 1957, according to From Encroachment to Involvement: A Documentary Study of Soviet Policy in the Middle East, 1945-1973, by Yaacov Ro’i. Ro’i reprints the communique, signed by Azm and Kuzmin,  in his book.  It stressed the friendly, frank exchange between the delegations, the sympathy of the USSR for Syria’s efforts to escape colonialism, and the desire of the USSR to participate in the economic development of the Arab nation.  The USSR promised support in the areas of railroad and road construction, irrigation, hydroelectric stations, geological prospecting, research, and industrial plants.  The Soviets would supply specialists, equipment and materials.  Credit would be granted to Syria, in an amount to be determined, “without any conditions of a political or analogous nature, on a basis of equality and reciprocal economic advantage, of non-interference in internal affairs and complete respect for the national dignity and sovereignty of the Syrian Republic.”  The Soviet Union hoped to purchase grain, cotton, and other commodities, and both countries believed the amount of potential trade between the nations had yet to be fully exploited.  According to the communique, delegation visits and discussions would continue.

Image Credit: syrianhistory.com