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effect here. It is interpreted as a successful German diplomatic prelude to military action which virtually deprives Great Britain and Greece of effective Turkish support when and where they might need it most. It has given fresh impetus to the belief long current in Syrian and Lebanese circles that Turkey's so-called alliance with Great Britain 46 was nothing but a hollow sham which the Turks merely exploited in order to be able to annex the Hatay.47 There is also the firm belief in French circles that Soviet diplomacy is at least as tricky as Hitler's and that consequently Turkey's freedom of action will always be paralyzed by the necessity of placating Moscow.

ENGERT

740.0011 European War 1939/8635 : Telegram The Consul General at Beirut (Engert) to the Secretary of State

BEIRUT, February 26, 1941–9 a. m.

Received 10:05 a. m.] 49. My 42, February 19, 1 p. m. In high French military circles there is now no longer any doubt but that Germany is about to strike at Greece through Bulgaria 48 without any opposition from the latter or from Turkey. They believe that unless Great Britain establishes immediately and succeeds in holding a front in Greece it will not only be difficult to win the war in the Eastern Mediterranean but it will be impossible to win the war in Europe because they do not think another foothold can be gained anywhere else on the Continent. And without the possibility of landing large forces on the Continent it is futile to try to defeat Hitler.

Such views are held even in circles which are not anti-British and which do not underrate British and American resources and character. They are nervously watching the next phase of what they fear is Hitler's march towards world conquest and seem to forget that there may still be an active part for Frenchmen to play. For when I intimated that Syria was doubtless a definite factor in Axis plans in the Eastern Mediterranean I was told that “weak people must pursue a cautious policy” and was given to understand that the attitude of the French authorities overseas would be largely decided by the development of events. So long as Turkey's position remains equivocal in the event of a German attack against Greece the French here will have little faith in an ultimate British victory.

46 Treaty of Mutual Assistance, signed at Ankara, October 19, 1939, League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. cc, p. 167.

47 For correspondence on this subject, see Foreign Relations, 1939, vol. IV, pp. 832 ff.

For correspondence on this subject, see vol. II, pp. 733 ff.

48

In the course of these conversations I referred to the strategic position of Syria as a stepping stone between Turkey, Palestine and Iraq and hinted at the possibility of the Axis having marked out a course for the use of Syrian submarine and air bases. Replies I have received leave me under the impression that the French authorities here would not permit the Axis Powers to use such bases nor would they give any other direct or indirect assistance to the Axis in the prosecution of possible political or strategic objectives.

The situation seems less clear as regards their attitude in the event of a British request for transit facilities should Turkey become involved. A feeling of real sympathy for Great Britain is growing and there is also a revival of courage and hope. It is therefore possible that if at the crucial moment the United States could express an interest in preventing the Axis from using Vichy as a catspaw for further aggression the French here would be inclined to offer a certain amount of passive resistance to instructions from Vichy which they would know had come from Berlin. They are even now desperately anxious to find an honorable compromise between their sense of duty and their desire to contribute something toward the preservation of the French Empire. Repeated to Vichy and Angora.

ENGERT

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8900.00/800 : Telegram

The Consul General at Beirut (Engert) to the Secretary of State

BEIRUT, March 6, 1941–9 a. m.

[Received 3:55 p. m.] 61. There has been some rioting in Damascus during the past few days in course of which one student is reported to have been killed, a number of people were wounded, and about 130 were arrested. All shops are closed also at Aleppo and Homs and armored cars are patrolling the streets.

Demonstrations started ostensibly as protest against rise in price of bread, but the High Commissioner who has just returned from Damascus told me last night that he suspected German agents among the Moslem Syrians were at the bottom of it. Although Von Hentig himself-see paragraph 2, my telegram 34, February 12, 10 a. m.49_left several weeks ago he told people that he expected to return soon with his wife and make a more prolonged stay. He [apparent omission) much printed propaganda in Arabic and some money among Germanophile Syrians and fictitious commercial agents who, in turn, are stirring up the masses by spreading all kinds of false rumors.

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The most significant thing in this connection is the fact that General Dentz ascribed the troubles to German activities. I feel quite sure that 6 weeks ago he either would not have mentioned the Germans at all or would have accused the British of fomenting the disturbances. Repeated to Vichy.

ENGERT

740.0011 European War 1939/8963 : Telegram

The Consul General at Beirut (Engert) to the Secretary of State

BEIRUT, March 11, 1941–3 p. m.

[Received March 12—11:10 a. m.] 70. My 42, February 19, 1 p. m. The same informant states that

m [with] two armies at the gates of Greece and Thrace, he doubted whether the Eastern Mediterranean could withstand the impending grandiose attempt to obtain control of its shores. He went on to say it was obvious that Germany was now in a position to exercise terrific pressure on Turkey and Greece and the French here felt the communiqué issued at the end of Eden's 50 stay in Athens was so pathetically weak that it did not deceive anybody.

I asked him whether he thought that Darlan's 51 defiant warning to the British yesterday was due to his belief that the British could not win. He said it was partly that but chiefly because Berlin probably insisted he must say something to counteract the effects of the Lease and Lend Bill.52

He then asked me if I really believed passage of the bill would make any difference to the outcome of the war. I replied that I most emphatically thought so and hoped he would tell the High Commissioner that I thought so. I added that we were the last people in the world to allow ourselves to be bullied or frightened. As for Syria we realized that Germany was seeking a new road for her ambition to gain unobstructed access to the Middle East. refused to believe that the French and natives in Syria were ready to fall in with German plans and I begged him to remind the High Commissioner that the Nazis feared only those who were determined to defend themselves. The penalty of subservience was contempt at the hands of the aggressors and in Syria could only end in loss of honor for the French and every hope of independence for the natives.

But we

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51

Anthony Eden, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.

Adm. Jean François Darlan, Vice President of the French Council of Ministers, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Interior, and Navy.

52 Approved March 11, 1941; 55 Stat. 31.

I felt it necessary to be very outspoken because the spirit of defeatism referred to in my 49, February 26, 9 a. m., has been growing, apparently both as a result of recent instructions from Vichy and ceaseless German propaganda in connection with the situation described in my 61, March 6, 9 a. m. Element of coercion seems to be ever present and I therefore consider it important that we constantly point out possible serious consequences if matters are allowed to drift. Passage of the Lease and Lend Bill should enable us to say to men like General Dentz that we have entered into a new relationship with all enemies of aggression and that every inch one of us surrenders also weakens the position of the rest. He should therefore give thoughtful consideration to his opportunities. Repeated to Vichy.

ENGERT

740.0011 European War 1939/9255 : Telegram

The Consul General at Beirut (Engert) to the Secretary of State

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BEIRUT, March 21, 1941–9 a.m.

[Received March 23–3:30 a. m.] 85. My 74, March 13.53 I learn from a reliable source that Vichy has informed the High Commissioner that Berlin desires to send a military mission to Syria. I understand High Commissioner is opposed as it would weaken his position here.

The proposed move is interpreted as an indication that since my 70, March 11, Hitler's diplomatic strategy in the Balkans and Turkey may not have been as successful as anticipated and that he is obliged to seek a fresh means of outflanking the British forces which it is now believed are being moved into Greece. The presence of a German military mission could doubtless be used to influence Syrian and Lebanese opinion in an anti-British sense and to cajole or browbeat the French authorities into a more submissive attitude. By means of large-scale bribery it could easily establish an extensive propaganda and espionage system with agents boring from within the country and gradually demanding complete collaboration with Germany.

The British could not, of course, tolerate such activities but as they may soon have their hands full elsewhere I understand they would prefer not to have to deal with Syria immediately. Considering that Vichy had apparently ordered the High Commissioner to give all facilities to Von Hentig and other German agents but refused Colonel Donovan permission to enter Syria I am wondering if we could not

Ante, p. 677. 64 Col. William J. Donovan, unofficial observer for the Secretary of the Navy in the Near East and Southeast Europe, December 1940–March 1941.

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53

informally intimate to Vichy that to allow a German military mission to come to Syria would be a great mistake as it may have the most serious consequences for France's position in the Levant. We might also perhaps refer to the Department's 37, March 19, 8 p. m.56 to me and say that Great Britain and the United States are obviously interested in forestalling German efforts to bring Syria even indirectly under Nazi control. Repeated to Vichy.

ENGERT

740.0011 European War 1939/9334 : Telegram

The Consul General at Beirut (Engert) to the Secretary of State

BEIRUT, March 26, 1941–10 a. m.

[Received 11:58 a. m.] 88. I had a long conversation with the High Commissioner last night. After referring to the matter reported in my No. 87 57 of this morning he said he had spent most of his time in Damascus during the past fortnight but had not made much headway with the Syrian Nationalists and more serious rioting had taken place a day or two ago both there and in Aleppo.

I asked whether the news of the virtual abandonment of the British blockade had not helped him. He said it had theoretically but in practice it made little difference because the present disturbances had ceased to be economic and had become purely political. He then repeated the statement he had made to me on a previous occasion (see my No. 61 58) that the Germans were stirring up trouble presumably to annoy the British and that the Iraqis were helping the Germans. Both were using the Italians in Beirut and Baghdad and he had discovered the distribution of 40,000 gold pounds through the Italian Armistice Commission in Beirut. Unfortunately Syria was full of people willing to allow themselves to be either scared or bribed and although Italian prestige had completely vanished the Germans were now using Italians to do their bidding in the Middle East.

This gave me a chance to ask whether there was anything in the rumor of a German military mission mentioned in my telegram number 85, March 21. The General looked alarmed and said textually “I sincerely hope not! It would be a disaster and I might as well pack up and leave.” He went on to say that Von Hentig had given him enough trouble and if a military mission arrived the shadow of the Gestapo would soon spread over the whole of Syria.

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