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He thought Hitler would like to use Syria as a convenient jumping off place in connection with his plans for an offensive to obtain control of Eastern Mediterranean. Now that he had Bulgaria and Yugoslavia he would try and overawe Greece and Turkey and with a military mission in Syria he would have made a further step forward.

In reply to my question whether he did not think Turkey's position had been strengthened by the recent Soviet declaration 59 he said that he had never trusted the Bolshevik and least of all now. He had found evidence of Soviet propaganda even in Syria chiefly in the Armenian communities and although they are disguising Bolshevik aims they are encouraging a Pan-Arab front which is both anti-French and anti-British. Repeated to Vichy and Ankara.


740.0011 European War 1939/9255 : Telegram

The Acting Secretary of State to the Ambassador in France (Leahy)

WASHINGTON, March 26, 1941–4 p. m. 261. Beirut's No. 85, March 21, 9 a. m. Please investigate report that Germany desires to send a military mission to Syria. If the report appears correct, you are requested to bring the matter to Marshal Pétain's 60 attention and to make clear to him this Government's interest in preventing Syria from being brought directly or indirectly under German control. You may say that you are convinced the French Government's desires in this regard coincide with our own, and point out the dangerous implications of such a mission as indicated in Beirut's telegram under reference and previous telegrams from Engert repeated to you.

For your information and appropriate use, the British Government adopted a policy some time ago of seriously restricting Syrian foreign trade, in an endeavor to bring about a more accommodating attitude by the French authorities in Syria. The Department questioned the advisability of this policy, and has brought the matter to the British Government's attention on several occasions, 61 pointing out that the policy was likely to drive Syrian trade into German hands. The British Government has now been persuaded to change its policy with regard to Syrian trade, and has approved the export of principal Syrian commodities to the United States, including silk, wool, tobacco, casings, hides and skins, and olive oil, and the export of American commodities, notably foodstuffs, to Syria. You may point out to the French authorities that the American Government's action in this regard has been in accord with the requests of the French High Commissioner in Syria and that we desire to be able to continue this policy of cooperation. Any evidence of German activity or control in Syria would render our policy most difficult to maintain.

58 March 24, 1941; see telegram No. 79, March 24, 1941, 6 p. m., from the Ambassador in Turkey, p. 836.

© Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain, French Chief of State. 61 For correspondence on this subject, see pp. 668 ff.


740.0011 European War 1939/9431 : Telegram The Consul General at Beirut (Engert) to the Secretary of State

BEIRUT, March 28, 1941–2 p. m.

[Received March 29–11:30 a. m.] 89. I learn now that in the course of the disturbances referred to in the first paragraph of my 88, March 26, some 8 or 10 people including 3 gendarmes were killed in Aleppo, between 40 and 50 were wounded and about 300 arrests were made. Six were killed at Homs and one at Damascus. Martial law has been proclaimed at Damascus, Aleppo, Homs and Hama and no natives are permitted to travel between those cities. Beirut is quiet.

The following bazaar rumors have for the past month been current in Damascus and elsewhere. The French authorities have traced them to German and Italian sources and believe them to be largely responsible for the riots.

1. Most Syrian wheat and other foodstuffs are being shipped to France while the British blockade permits nothing to come in.

2. Some 20,000 French refugees from Lorraine will be settled in Syria on land to be expropriated from the Syrians.

3. In return for Turkish support the British Government has promised Turkey a free hand in Syria (this report was officially denied by the British Consul General).

4. The League of Nations being defunct the French mandate in Syria no longer has any raison d'être. Besides how could a defeated nation pretend to rule over other races?

5. Germany is in favor of Arab unity and will see that Syria is given independence and that Palestine is handed over to the Arabs.

6. The British will make of Syria first a battlefield and then a colony. The countries of the Near and Middle East should therefore look to Germany if they want prosperity and peace.

7. It is useless to expect the United States to do anything for Syria; they did nothing after the last war and besides they will this time not be in a position to do anything because Germany will have won the war long before help from America can possibly become effective. Repeated to Vichy.

ENGERT 740.0011 European War 1939/9885 : Telegram

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

BEIRUT, April 9, 1941–8 p. m.

[Received April 12–6:25 a. m.] 105. During a recent visit to Damascus I had an opportunity of conferring with Khaled Azem, the new head of the Syrian Government; [delegate] of the High Commissioner, M. Lavastre; the Commander-in-Chief of French troops in Syria, General Delhomme; as well as four of the principal nationalist leaders including Shukri Kuwatly. The following is a summary of my impressions.

1. There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that the recent disturbances in Syria and Beirut were engineered by Germans with the active and particularly official support of the Iraqi Government (see also second paragraph of my 88, March 26). The Iraqi Consul General in Damascus 61* is openly boasting that the Syrian Nationalists are “allies of Iraq” and that their policy and activities are directed by him. He is also reported to have said that the recent events in Baghdad 62 all form part of same program.

2. The leader of the Nationalists, Shukri Kuwatly, assured me that he and his party were really not pro-German but admitted that German propaganda was in a very strong position because both the German and the Italian Governments had officially and in writing informed the Iraq Government that they were in favor of Syrian statutes and of an Arab confederation. The British on the other hand had not only refused to make a similar statement but had apparently promised Turkey slices of Northern Syria and Iraq in return for Turkish military support. To my question whether he had any proof of this he replied in the negative but said it was "common knowledge and the British Government has never officially denied it." He felt the most effective way of counteracting German propaganda was for the British to express sympathy with the Arab cause by making definite promises, preferably in consultation with the American Government. I told him it was much easier for irresponsible governments to make extravagant promises than for governments like the British and American who are in the habit of taking their promises seriously.

3. From other remarks he and Jahrfi Haffar who was present made I could see that the bluster and lies of the German and Italian broadcasts in Arabic had raised serious doubts in their minds whether any democratic nation including the United States could successfully compete with totalitarian methods. I made some obvious remarks about the unlimited resources of the United States and the British Empire

61a Tashin Qadri. 62 See pp. 486 ff.

and explained that the very methods employed by the Axis Powers during the past 3 years placed us with no illusions as to the true nature of their intentions. I said I hoped the recent acts of brutality and injustice perpetrated against small and relatively helpless peoples would suffice to prevent Syrian patriots from playing into the hands of the Nazis. They assured me that was the case but I question their sincerity.

4. I came away with the uneasy feeling that, unlike the irresponsible groups of excitable young men whose emotional rhetoric need not be taken seriously—these mature men did not regard the European war as a calamity for the simple reason that like Stalin they hoped it would still further lower the prestige and reduce the power of the West as a whole. With their narrow nationalistic outlook they seemed only very dimly conscious of the great moral issues at stake and were merely wondering from which side of the ideological fence they could expect most by political support for their vague ambitions for the future. And the people of course are even less able than their leaders to differentiate between the West as a military political factor and as the creator and home of culture and ideals and they are therefore at the mercy of every paid agitator. I have pointed out to the contemporaries that my experience in China and South America has taught me that it was always far easier to provoke a revolution than to apply constructive thinking to the consolidation of a new government.

5. Opposition to the French is on the increase among all classes, especially in Syria but even in the Lebanon. Although after the collapse of France no immediate advantage was taken of it to embarrass the French authorities here because it was realized that France herself was facing an uncertain international future, Shukri Kuwatly tells me that the people are not willing to wait until the end of the war before obtaining from the French a definite declaration re Syrian independence. It appears therefore that the extremists will not be satisfied with the present concessions but will tolerate them as a transitional arrangement to test the good faith of the High Commissioner. They accuse the French, with some justice, of having done little in the last 20 years to promote ordered and systematic progress or to create a responsible governing class, while the French administration was itself marred by petty corruption, intrigue and gross inefficiency.

6. French official circles continue to live in the atmosphere of confusion and defeatism described in my 42, February 19, 46 [49], February 26, and 70, March 11. They believe the recent disturbances in Syria and Iraq were part of the successful Nazi plan to immobilize Turkey and that the present campaign in the Balkans will lead to further dangerous developments which may well involve Syria. My answer to such observations has consistently been that all French Mediterranean interests will be safe only if Britain wins the war and that I felt sure the French in Syria would not wish to do anything that might endanger British security at a critical moment. Repeated to Vichy.


740.0011 European War 1939/10201 : Telegram The Consul General at Beirut (Engert) to the Secretary of State

BEIRUT, April 21, 1941–4 p. m.

[Received April 23—9:50 a. m.] 112. The delegate of the High Commissioner at Damascus Monsieur Lavastre-see my 105, April 9, especially paragraph 6-came to see me this morning. He is friendly disposed toward Great Britain and the United States and spoke with apparent frankness. He said the arrival of British troops in Iraq had a steadying effect in Syria because the Arabs admired nothing more than force, and this was evidence that the British were prepared to use force although German propagandists in Baghdad and Damascus had told everybody that Britain could now be flouted with impunity. He added that the natives were distinctly frightened by German successes in the Balkans and by Turkey's obvious inability or unwillingness to help stem the Nazi tide which is moving further and further east. He thought the situation was most critical as there were indications that the Axis Powers were making all preparations for an open attack. I told him I agreed the situation was critical but it was by no means hopeless. Of course if all parts of the world which could still offer resistance allowed to be demoralized by an atmosphere of alarm created by Germany, they would naturally one by one have their throats cut as was the case in Southeastern Europe. But he should remember Hitler had already roused against himself and his new order the most powerful spiritual forces the world had ever mustered against any individual or doctrine and they would surely prove his undoing in the end.

I have advised them [?] of the substance of this conversation to my British colleague 63 but I feel that the presence of British forces in Iraq should be immediately taken advantage of to stiffen French morale and to counter Nazi activities in Syria before they become dangerous and cause the disintegration from within with which we have become so familiar in other countries. To accomplish this it would not be necessary for the French authorities to join the Free France movement or even to disobey the Vichy Government. On the

63 Godfrey T. Havard, British Consul General at Beirut.


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