Page images

contrary the Department will recall (see my telegram 14, January 18) that the High Commissioner told me at our first interview that his instructions were to defend Syria against all aggression. But it seems to me the time is past when we can take it for granted that this includes defense against the Axis. As the Nazi military colossus is watching from one victim to another we must be prepared for violent surprises. Thus I do not exclude the possibility that German troop carrying planes may some day arrive in Syria and I should like to make sure that General Dentz would not feel he had to consult Marshal Pétain before he took decisive action against them for by then it would be too late.

I believe our enormous cultural and material interests in Turkey and Syria entitle us to know what their attitude would be in case of German aggression. The Middle East still forms a well nigh impregnable bloc stretching from the Bosphorus to the Persian Gulf and from the Caucasus to Libya. It would be folly to permit portions of it to submit tamely to Axis blackmail, flattery or coercion and thereby endanger the safety of the whole. A form of tacit informal and purely local Anglo-French understanding in the event of an attack on Syria is therefore imperative if the Axis is to be kept out of the Middle East. Thoughtful Frenchmen admit it but they would rather do it with Pétain's or at least Weygand's 64 blessing than without it. Repeated to Vichy.


500.C 001/1508: Telegram

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

BEIRUT, April 28, 1941-9 a. m.

[Received 10:10 a. m.] 122. Official withdrawal of the French Government from the League of Nations has been given no publicity beyond the bare announcement of the decision. Informal local reactions are to the effect that legally it may have far-reaching results for the Levant States under French mandate but that practically the situation is not materially altered because the League really ceased to function when the war broke out. The French are trying to minimize the importance of the step while the natives are inclined to emphasize its significance in order to weaken France's standing still further. See also numbered paragraph 4 of my 89, March 28.

One of the Syrian leaders, Sheik Taj-ed-Din, whom the French recently brought back from France by plane, has told friends that Hitler forced the Vichy Government to withdraw from the League in order to be able to offer Syria to the Turks in return for their benevolent neutrality. He also said France was no longer interested in Syria and would let the Axis and Turkey do with it what they liked.

** Gen. Maxime Weygand, Delegate General of the French Government in North Africa.

It would be very helpful to me to learn what Vichy's attitude with regard to Syria has been during the past 3 or 4 months in order to be able to interpret present local feeling more intelligently. Repeated to Vichy.


740.0011 European War 1939/10505.: Telegram

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

BEIRUT, April 30, 1941–2 p. m.

[Received May 2—10:12 a. m.] 124. My 112, April 21. In conversation with the High Commissioner this morning I referred to the many wild rumors which were now current and which had obviously been put about by Axis propaganda for the purpose of creating the usual atmosphere of crisis as a preliminary to some major Nazi move. I said I was responsible for a large American colony and much valuable property and I felt I knew him well enough to ask him a straightforward question.

I mentioned the report that Germany was about to land troops by air and/or small naval craft via Greek Islands and Rhodes. Should that happen what would he do about it? General Dentz looked extremely uncomfortable and replied lamely he did not think it would happen because the Germans have already succeeded in putting Turkey in a strategically hopeless position and did not have to come to Syria to get what they wanted. I said that even if Turkey's position were hopeless—which I did not believe--the Axis would doubtless find a foothold at Turkey's back extremely useful for the purpose of coercing her definitely into the Axis orbit not to mention Syria's convenient location as a springboard for Nazi ambitions in the direction of the Mosul oil fields and the Suez Canal.

The High Commissioner admitted this and added smilingly that German and Italian spheres of influence were doubtless already being staked out. I then reverted to my first question and he said textually: "I do not believe the Germans would come here without first conferring with Vichy. My present instructions are to defend the territorial integrity of Syria and I shall do so whether it be against Turkey, Germany, Italy or-". I am sure he was about to say England but

stopped abruptly.

The General went on to say it was much more likely that the Axis Powers would intensify their political activities in this part of the

world, rather than attempt unwise incursions. I warned him that the Nazis had always very cunningly blurred the border line between political pressure and military intervention and he might find some morning that they had captured Syria from within. Dentz laughed and asked if I was preparing to evacuate my colony. I said I was not but that I trusted him to give me plenty of warning knowing he thought I should and in the meantime I hoped he would not close his eyes to the fact that the Axis Powers loved unresisting victims and could always be tempted by the prospect of an easy kill. Repeated to Vichy and Ankara.


740.0011 European War 1939/10640 : Telegram

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

BEIRUT, May 4, 1941–10 p. m.

[Received May 6–12:14 p. m.] 128. A few days ago the British Consul General communicated to me the Department's instructions to our Ambassador at Vichy regarding British views on the subject of possible Axis aggressions against North Africa and Syria. He also communicated substance to the High Commissioner.

As there have been pro-Iraq street demonstrations in Beirut and the British Consulate in Damascus had many of its windows broken by a mob I went to Damascus today to discuss the situation with the head of Government and the principal Syrian leaders in the light of events in Iraq and the Department's point of view. I talked to them along the lines of my 112, April 21, and 124, April 30, and stressed the necessity of resolute action to counter Axis machinations if they did not wish to compromise the future of all Arab countries forever.

I again saw Shukri Kuwatly—see my 105, April 9—who said everything could be arranged if only Great Britain would make a definite statement promising Syria her independence after the war. But when I asked him whether, in the event of such a promise and the failure of the French to resist a German invasion of Syria, the Syrians would ask the British Government to defend their country he said "you do not expect me to invite the British to turn Syria into a battlefield (?)” (Please compare this statement with numbered paragraph 6 of my telegram 89, March 28). I replied, it seemed to me it was the Axis that was trying to turn the whole world into a battlefield by the most arrantly high-handed proceedings any nation has ever been guilty of. Syria instead of being the keystone of a peaceful and happy Middle Eastern arch was about to be used by the Axis as a wedge with which to split the arch asunder and open the way for fresh crimes.

I also saw Fakhri el Baroody, a popular Nationalist leader, and told him practically the same thing. I asked him how his followers would like the idea of having Syria's future decided by Hitler whose views on “inferior races” were well known. His answer was that in the past the fate of the Arabic speaking countries had been in the hands of London and Paris and the results had not been happy either.

The only leader who seemed to be genuinely anxious to keep the Axis out of Syria was Sheik Taj-ed-Din-see paragraph 2 of my 122, April 28—who is pro-French and told me frankly he was prepared to cooperate with the British if they should decide to protect Syria against Axis aggression and the Vichy Government ordered the French here not to resist. He requested me to pass this on to the British and I have done so.

On the whole I found that events in Iraq have had a deplorable effect on the Syrians. Even in circles which are not anti-British the belief is gaining ground that they may herald the decline and fall of British power and influence in the Middle East and that at this most critical juncture in the war Great Britain may find it impossible to spare enough troops to save Syria. And the moment one mentions American assistance people repeat parrot-like and ad nauseam the German refrain that it will come too late (see also last paragraph of my 89, March 28).

While Syria is still outside the power of the Axis it seems incredible that Great Britain should permit Germany to take advantage of Vichy's subservience to Berlin and again instigate new bases for military, naval and air action. It seems to me the complete disintegration of the French Empire especially in Indochina and West Africa would be a matter of vital concern not only to the British, but also to American security, and the Achilles heel of overseas France today is Syria. Repeated to Vichy and Cairo.


740.0011 European War 1939/10761 : Telegram

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

VICHY, May 9, 1941—noon.

[Received May 9–9:15 a. m.] 526. We were told in confidence by a Government official yesterday that instructions have been sent to the High Commissioner in Syria that in the event German planes fly over Syria toward Iraq they should not be fired upon; that if any of them should land in Syria they should not be permitted to depart pending instructions to be requested from Vichy. If on the other hand British planes should fly over Syria the High Commissioner's instructions are to endeavor to shoot them down. Repeated to Beirut.


740.0011 European War 1939/10840 : Telegram The Consul General at Beirut (Engert) to the Secretary of State

BEIRUT, May 12, 1941—noon.

[Received May 12–9:45 a. m.] 136. According to reliable sources at Dier ez Zor an unknown number of airplanes of unknown nationality were heard flying east at great height on May 8 at 10:30 p. m. Observers feel reasonably certain they were German. Repeated to Vichy and Jerusalem.


740.0011 European War 1939/10859 : Telegram The Consul General at Beirut (Engert) to the Secretary of State

BEIRUT, May 12, 1941–4p.m.

[Received May 13–8 a. m.] 139. My 136, May 11 (12]. I am reliably informed that three German planes landed at Aleppo Friday night.

Ten planes identified as German and Italian flew over Beirut early this morning presumably en route to Iraq.

Six French field guns and ammunition are being shipped by rail to Iraq possibly with the connivance of the Turkish authorities.

I have communicated the above to the British Consul General.
Repeated to Vichy.


740.0011 European War 1939/10881 : Telegram

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

VICHY, May 13, 1941–3 p. m.

[Received 4:20 p. m.] 543. Embassy's telegram No. 526, May 9, noon. The Embassy learned in strict confidence this morning from an official source that German planes for the past 3 days have been arriving at Damascus and Palmyra on the way to Iraq; that 14 have arrived at Palmyra and

« PreviousContinue »