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United for Peace of Pierce County - TRANSLATION: The history of Syria in 5,000 words ('Le Mourre')

Le Mourre is a vast encyclopedic dictionary of history drafted by a single man, Michel Mourre.  --  Mourre devoted the last decades of a brief reclusive life to the drafting of reference works that are perhaps unique in the 20th century for their solitary erudition.  --  Little-known in the English-speaking world, le Mourre, as the work has popularly come to be known, was first published in France in 1978, several months after the author's death at the age of 49.  --  It has gained a certain reputation as a monument of erudition, and has been kept up to date in several subsequent editions.  --  The 1996 French edition runs to 5,884 pages, eight of which, summarizing the enormously complex history of Syria (up to 1991), are translated below.[1]  --  Mourre's imperturbable impassivity and blasé attitude of nil admirari will not be attractive to many readers, but the sober virtues of his prose have an appeal of their own....




Dictionnaire encyclopédique d'histoire
Paris: Bordas, 1996 (original edition 1978)
Vol. 5, pp. 5350-5357

SYRIA.  Middle Eastern state; capital Damascus.  3.5 million inhabitants in 1950, 7.4 in 1975, 17.5 in 2000 (projected).  [22.5 in 2012 (CIA estimate).]  Name also given to a part of Western Asia whose limits have varied considerably across the centuries.  In Antiquity, the name referred to the entire region whose shores were washed by the Mediterranean from the Bay of Alexandretta [now Iskenderun, Turkey] in the north to the Sinai Peninsula in the south, and bordered in the north by the Taurus Mountains, in the east by the Euphrates, in the south by Arabia.  Ancient Syria stretched over a territory shared today among the states of Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan.  A desert in its eastern portions, in which only nomadic shepherds are able to live, but extremely fertile, on the other hand, in the strip along the Mediterranean coast, Syria has been inhabited by man since the Middle Paleolithic [i.e. between 30,000 and 300,000 years ago].


Many vestiges of Neanderthals have been found in the caves of Mount Carmel; going back about 40,000 years.  The Jabroudian culture has also left important remains of the Syrian Paleolithic.  As early as the 8th millennium BCE, the Neolithic Revolution began in Syria, in Jericho and in Ras Shamra [Ugarit], with later developments in Byblos.  In the Copper Age, Tell Halaf, in the north of today's Syria, was one of the first centers of diffusion of the metal in the Near East.  From the beginning of historic times, Syria, the only passageway between Egypt and Mesopotamia, became an essential stake in the rivalry of empires, but also the point of departure for invasions of Mesopotamia and of Egypt.  Encompassed in the 24th century BCE in the ephemeral Sumerian empire of Lugal-zage-si, king of Uruk, then in the Akkadian empire of Sargon of Akkad, the Semites of Syria, who went by the name of Amorites, began to infiltrate Mesopotamia as early as the 3rd millennium BCE, going as far as Babylonia and the region of Sumer; their assault, coming at the same time as that of the Elamites, ended around 2006 BCE in the 3rd dynasty of Ur.  These Syrian invaders were the founders of the first dynasty of Babylon (19th century BCE), which reached its apogee in the following century under Hammurabi.  However, as early as the 23rd century BCE, the pharaohs of the 6th dynasty, to protect the Nile delta from nomadic incursions, occupied southern Syria (the campaign of Weni the Elder, general under Pepi I Meryre).  This Egyptian penetration, which ended with the decadence of the Old Kingdom, was renewed in the Middle Kingdom by the pharaohs of the 12th dynasty.  Between 1950 and 1850 BCE, Senusret I (or Sesostris I), Senusret II (or Sesostris II), and Senusret III (or Sesostris III) undertook expeditions into the land of Canaan.  The end of the Middle Kingdom led to a new pulling back of the Egyptians as Syria experienced the shock of the arrival of Indo-European invaders in Asia Minor.  Among the "foreigners" or Hyksos who invaded the Egyptian delta in the 18th century BCE were many Syrian-Palestinian princes.

After the expulsion of the Hyksos (first half of the 16th century BCE), the Egyptian New Empire, resolved to prevent a new invasion from Asia, undertook the systematic conquest of Syria, which is a forward march of Egypt.  But this undertaking, achieved by Thutmose III (1504-1450 BCE), always remained precarious, for northern Syria was also coveted by the Mitanni and the Hittites.  The Egyptians and the Mitanni, at first hostile, effected a rapprochement toward the end of the 15th century BCE in the face of the Hittite threat.  Suppliuliuma I, the "Great Hittite" (1380-1346 BCE), took advantage of the religious crisis sweeping Egypt under Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) to impose his authority over all of Syria.  However, around 1340 BCE, the vassal Syrian princes rose up against his successor, Mursili II, offering Egypt a new opportunity to intervene in Syria.  The struggle between Egyptians and Hittites for the domination of Syria remained indecisive; though he declared himself victorious at the battle of Kadesh (1300 BCE), the pharaoh Ramses II had to resign himself to signing a compromise peace with the Hittites (1284 BCE):  Syria was divided into two spheres of influence, one Egyptian and the other Hittite.  The history of Syria in the 14th and 13th centuries BCE is principally known through archives of Amarna and Ugarit.  The Egyptian-Hittite compromise came apart around 1200 BCE with the invasion of the Sea Peoples who, marching along the coasts of Lebanon and Palestine, laid to waste both to the Hittite Empire and to Egyptian domination in Syria, leaving in their place new independent peoples:  the Phoenicians and the Philistines on the coast, the Arameans in the interior, extending to the Euphrates; and the Hebrews, who, in the 12th century BCE, settled in Canaan.

The beginning of the first millennium BCE saw the apogee of the kingdom of Israel, with David and Solomon, and Phoenician ports (especially Tyre).  Syria owed this relatively brief period of prosperity uniquely to the momentary absence of threatening empires on its frontiers.  Thus at the end of the 10th century BCE, the Libyan pharaohs made incursions into Canaan and attempted to retake control of Phoenicia.  The relations between Syria and Mesopotamia continued:  from Aramaic kingdoms of Hamath [modern Hama], Damascus, and Sam'al, the Aramaic language spread to the Assyrian state and all the way to the Persian Gulf, but there remained in upper Syria, especially in Carchemish (or Karkemish), active important neo-Hittite centers.  Assyria, whose first incursions into Syria go back to the 13th century BCE, resumed its struggle to dominate the East with Iiglath-Pileser III, who seized Damascus (732 BCE), partially occupied Israel, and imposed his suzerainty over Judah. Sargon II completed the conquest of Syria by destroying the kingdoms of Israel (722 BCE) and of Hamath (720 BCE), and by taking control of Carchemish (or Karkemish) (717 BCE).  These were ephemeral successes: a century later, the Assyrian Empire collapsed beneath the coalition of the Medes and Chaldeans.  The Neo-Babylonian Empire of Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562 BCE) tried to substitute its domination for that of the Assyrians, but it succumbed in its turn to the blows of the Achaemenid Persians:  the taking of Babylon by Cyrus (539 BCE) brought all of the East, including Syria, under the domination of an Indo-European people for the first time.  Syria, reunited with Palestine and Cyprus, would for two centuries (539-333 BCE) form the 5th Satrapy of the Persian Empire.


Occupied by Alexander in the aftermath of the victory of Issus (33[3] BCE), Semitic Syria was absorbed and changed in form, not without some local resistance (in particular on the part of the Jews) by Hellenistic civilization.  After Alexander's death, Syria fell to Seleucus I Nicator (battle of Ipsus, 301 BCE) and his successors, the Seleucids; but their possession was sharply contested by the Lagides [i.e. the Ptolemiac dynasty], which occupied the southern part of the country, known as Coele-Syria or "hollow Syria."  The Seleucids followed a policy of intensive Hellenization, applied to large cities that were also military colonies:  Antioch, Seleucia, Apamea, Laodicea.  The rivalry with Egypt, the attacks of the Parthians, who deprived the Seleucids of their eastern provinces, the victory of the Romans over Antiochus III at Magnesia ([189] BCE), Judea's revolt led by the Maccabees, and, finally, the incessant dynastic struggles within the royal family led to the total ruin of the Seleucids' power.  Syria was conquered by Pompey in 64 BCE and reduced to a Roman province; in the period to the beginning of the second century CE, it grew by the kingdoms of Commagene, Iturea, Judea, and Nabataean Arabia.

Under the Roman peace, Syria once again flourished, despite the incursion of the Parthians in 40-38 BCE.  Via its great caravaneer cities of Palmyra, Petra, Damascus, Antioch, via the Greek, Phoenician, or Jewish ports of the coast, Laodicea, Berytus, Sidon, Tyre, Caesarea, Jaffa, Syria constituted the inevitable intermediary in commercial relations between Rome and the East; its wealth was also due to its natural products (wines, fruits, olives) and its industries (purples and glass of Phoenicia, linen cloth, silks); the population certainly numbered more than today (Antioch was, after Alexandria, the leading city of the East).  The Syrian élite was less Romanized than Hellenized (in Beirut, however, was an important law school whose fame would endure until the 5th century CE); the people continued to speak Aramaic and the other Semitic dialects.  The annexation by Aurelian of the important caravaneer center of Palmyra (272 CE) completed the establishment of Roman authority over all of Syria, which was protected on the side of the desert by a limes that was maintained up to the Arab conquest.  Preserved until the 6th century CE, Syria, which had given to Rome many empresses during the time of the Severuses (193-235 CE), played an important role in the live of Christianity in the 3rd and 4th century.  After the conversion of St. Paul on the road to Damascus, it was in Antioch that the Church reached beyond the Jewish world and began to evangelize the Greeks.  The Syrian monks of the 4th century distinguished themselves by an almost excessive ardor for mortification: Syria was the land of the stylites, ascetic individuals living constantly perched on the top of a column.  The great figure of the Syrian Church in this period was that of St. Ephrem the Syrian, a classical writer of Syriac [a dialect of Middle Aramaic] literature.

After the condemnation of monophysitism at the Council of Chalcedony (451), the Syrian Church remained, in opposition to Byzantium, faithful to the heresy, and a Monophysite Church of Syria, known as the Jacobite Church [Syriac Orthodox Church] from the name of its founder, Jacob Baradaus, was organized in the 6th century; a minority of Christians remained faithful to Constantinople, receiving the name of "Melkites."  Politically, Syria would be part of the Byzantine Empire until the beginning of the 7th century, but it endured the invasions of the Sassanid kings of Persia (Chosroes or Khosrau I in 540, Chosroes or Khosrau II in 611-628).  The reconquest waged by Heraclius I was without result, since the Syrian Monophysites, preoccupied by their religious quarrel with Constantinople, were ready to accept any master in order to escape from the Byzantines.  The Muslims, victors at the Yarmuk (636), encountered no resistance on the part of the population and by 640 completely dominated Syria.


Having become the fief of Muawiyah I, the head of the house of the Umayyads, Syria seceded after the assassination of Uthman ibn Affan (656).  In 660, Muawiyah proclaimed himself caliph, in Jerusalem, and, in the following year, after the death of Ali, he established the Umayyad Caliphate (661-750), whose capital he placed in Damascus.  Syria thus became the center of the Islamic community, which continued to expand to the east and the west.  But after the advent of the Abbasids, the caliphate was transferred to Baghdad, and Syria found itself reduced to the status of dependent province.  From the 9th century on, it was subject to Egyptian dynasties, the Tulunids (879-905), the Ikhshidids (953-69), finally the Fatimids (after 969).  Over Aleppo reigned the Hamdanids (944-1003), who could not prevent the Byzantines from retaking Antioch (969).  Under the Fatimids, Syria remained fragmented into many principalities, and the unification realized by the Seljuk Turks from 1078 to 1095 did not mark the region deeply.  To the political chaos was added an extreme religious diversity.  The Christians were divided into Jacobites and Melkites.  Among the Muslims of Syria appeared, in the 11th-12th centuries, many heretical sects:  the Nusayris [or Alawites, or Alawis], the Druses, and the Assassins.

The crusaders, who undertook the conquest of Syria in 1098, did not at first encounter much resistance.  They made themselves masters of the entire coastal region and founded Latin states:  the County of Tripoli, the Principality of Antioch, the County of Edessa.  This implantation of Latins provoked an economic renaissance in Syria, which had been in a deep slump since the fall of the Umayyads.  The Muslim resistance was led at first by the atabegs of Mosul, who annexed Aleppo (1125).  In 1146, the crusaders lost the County of Edessa, and the very existence of the Latin states of Syria was imperiled by Nur ad-Din Zangi, atabeg of Aleppo, who seized Damascus (1154) and united under his authority Syria and Egypt by imposing his lieutenant Saladin on the declining Fatimids (1169).  Saladin (1174-93), rival and heir to Nur ad-Din, won over the crusaders the great victory of Hittin (1187), but the Third Crusade saved the Latin states (1190-91).  Syria shortly saw descend upon them the Mongols, who sacked Aleppo (1260) but were stopped by the Egyptian Mamluks.  The Mamluk sultans Baybars (1260-77) and Kalavun [Saif ad-Din Qualwun as-Salihi] (1277-90) drove out the Latins completely, but Syria would see four more Mongol invasions and long remained ruined by the ravages of Tamerlane [or Timur] (1400-01).

The annexation of Syria to the Ottoman Empire, by Selim I, in 1516-17, revived the mercantile cities, like Aleppo and Damascus, which were on the Mecca pilgrimage route, but the rest of the country suffered from a growing anarchy.  The masters of Egypt have frequently tried to dominate Syria:  so was it in the time of the ancient pharaonic empires, in the time of the struggles of the Ptolemies against the Seleucids, in the time of the Mamluks' domination (13th-16th centuries).  This constant was again verified with Bonaparte's expedition against Acre (1799), and again with the conquest of Muhammad Ali of Egypt (1831-41).  The latter furnished the pretext for the intervention of Western powers in Syria.  After the bloody struggles between the Druses and the Maronite Christians, France, which, because of the Capitulations of the Ottoman Empire had long enjoyed a privileged position in the Ottoman Empire, intervened militarily in 1860 and forced Constantinople to grand a certain autonomy to Lebanon.  The years preceding the First World War were marked in Syria by the birth of an Arab nationalism that bore with a growing impatience the inert yoke of Ottoman Turkey.


It was in Syria that were formed the first secret organizations that were at the origin of modern Arab nationalism.  While the "El-Kahtaniya" (1909) and "El-Ahd" (1914) committees had only a limited, ephemeral activity, the Young Arabs or "El-Fatat," founded in 1911 in Paris and which later organized clandestinely in Syria, would exert a lasting influence.  In May 1915, during a secret meeting held in Damascus, the members of the El-Ahd and El-Fatat committees and the emir Faisal, son of the Hashemite Hussein, Sharif of Mecca, agreed to unleash the Arab revolt against Turkey, which was allied with Germany and at war with England.  This "Damascus protocol" required from England, however, a guarantee of Arab independence from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf and from the northern frontier of Syria to the southern Arabian Peninsula.  On the British promises, the Arabs rose up against Ottoman domination (summer 1916).  However, the London cabinet granted to the Zionists the famous "Balfour Declaration" (1917) concerning the establishment of a "national Jewish home" in Palestine.  After the entry of Anglo-Arab troops in Damascus (September 1918), Emir Faysal established a government in Damascus, and a national congress designated him (March 11, 1920) as king of a "Greater Syria" that was to encompass Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan.  But England began to abandon the cause of Arab independence, ceding to pressure from its ally, France, which was laying claim to a mandate over Syria and Lebanon.  Despite the opposition of Syrian populations, this French mandate was confirmed by the San Remo Conference (April 25, 1920), and General Gouraud, French high commissioner in the Levant, occupied Damascus and expelled Faysal (July 1920).  But first Syria was administratively divided into four "states": the States of Damascus and Aleppo (regrouped under the name of Syria in 1925), the State of Jabal Druse, which benefited from an autonomy that was quickly reined in, and the Alawite State, which would become, in 1930, the Government of Latakia.

The establishment of the French mandate caused immense disappointment among Arabs, who had hoped to accede immediately to independence when the Ottoman Empire fell.  France had to put down several revolts, the most important of which was that of the Jabal Druse (1925-27); martial law was maintained until 1928.  The Constituent Assembly elected in 1928, with clearly nationalist leanings, was dissolved in 1930.  The Constitution of May 14, 1930, remained a dead letter.  Nevertheless, the size of the nationalist movement led the Blum government to promise that Syria would be free within three years (Viénot accords, Sept. 9, 1936), but this treaty, ratified by the Syrian parliament in December 1936, was never ratified by the French parliament.  In July 1939, the French high commissioner, Puaux, suspended the Constitution of 1930 and assumed all powers.  After the 1940 defeat, French authorities in Syria rallied to Vichy.  Named high commissioner (December 1940), General Dentz, in May 1941, agreed to allow Luftwaffe aircraft to use Syrian aerodromes.  British troops, supported by elements of the Free French Forces, then invaded Syria (June 8, 1941).  An armistice was signed on July 14, and almost all the troops faithful to Vichy were able to return to France.

Under British pressure, General Catroux, the representative of General de Gaulle, solemnly promised independence to the countries of the Levant (September 1941), but French authorities -- who, moreover, intended to go no further than the 1936 accords -- then temporized, despite the victory in the elections of 1943 of the nationalists, led by Shukri al-Quwatli.  In May 1945, after demonstrations for complete and immediate independence, de Gaulle even sent troop reinforcements to Lebanon and French planes bombed Damascus (May 29).  But after a veritable ultimatum from the British commander-in-chief in the Near East and a message from Churchill, de Gaulle had to order a cease-fire (May 31).  French and British troops evacuated Syria simultaneously in March-April 1946.


Newly independent, a member of the United Nations and of the Arab League, Syria would long suffer, more than any other state of the Near East, from political instability and military coups d'état.  The year 1949 alone was marked by three putsches, by General Husni al-Za'im (March), General Sami al-Hinnawi (August), and General Chichakli (December).  Gen. Chichakli at first established a parliamentary regime, then imposed his personal power in a new coup d'état (November 1951).  After he was overthrown, in February 1954, the Constitution of 1950 was reestablished, and elections allowed political parties to express themselves.  The most important among them was the Ba'ath, founded in 1943 by Michel Aflaq and Salah al-din al-Bitar; both socialist and nationalist, this movement took root outside of Syria, notably in Iraq.

The Ba'ath quickly asserted its supremacy and worked for union with Egypt.  This was realized in February 1958 by Colonel Nasser and Syrian President Shukri al-Quwatli.  Within the United Arab Republic (UAR), Syria and Egypt now formed two regions, each provisionally keeping its laws, its economic and social system, its own diplomatic representation; but the presidency of the new state fell to Colonel Nasser, and in reality the Egyptians enjoyed a clear preponderance.  In order to protest against Nasserian hegemony, the Ba'athists left the common government at the end of 1959, and in September 1961 a new Syrian military coup d'état led to the break-up of the United Arab Republic.  Syria resumed its complete independence, but again experienced internal instability until the coup d'état of March 1963, which brought to power a Ba'athist government under the leadership of General Hafiz.  He tried, unsuccessfully, to create a Syrian-Iraqi-Egyptian union, then returned to policies more and more hostile to Egypt.  Domestically, he undertook the nationalization of industry, commerce, and oil, even as he attempted to cooperate with private capital.  The moderate Ba'athists, with Salah al-din al-Bitar, succeeded to power in January 1966, but they were almost immediately driven out by the putsch of Feb. 23, 1966.  Now left-wing military Ba'athists, with Yusuf Zuayyin, took control of the country; they brought for the first time Communists into the government and veered sharply toward a socialist orientation, while maintaining a foreign policy of rapprochement with Egypt and close cooperation with the USSR.  Syria took part in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, in the course of which Israeli troops occupied the Golan Heights, and later was hostile to any compromise with Israel (total support for Palestinian resistance, even against King Hussein of Jordan; opposition to the 1970 cease-fire accords).

However, extremist Ba'athists would be driven from power in November 1970 by General Hafiz al-Assad's coup d'état.  Elected president with 99.2% of the vote on March 12, 1971, he proceeded to liberalize cautiously; he released several hundred political prisoners, developed a collaboration with other parties, and had a new constitution approved by referendum (March 12, 1973).  This defined Syria as "a democratic, popular, socialist state"; although it was specified that the head of state be a Muslim and that legislation conform to Koranic law, Islam was not mentioned as a state religion, which provoked Sunni riots in Homs and Hama and strengthened the opposition of the Muslim Brotherhood.  Abroad, while maintaining his alliance with the USSR, which furnished the Syrian army with up-to-date matériel, President Assad made an effort to break his country's regional isolation.  In 1971-72 he effected rapprochements with Lebanon and with Iraq.  In March 1972 he accepted, as the basis for a political settlement with Israel, Resolution 242, voted in November 1967 by the U.N. Security Council, pending a complete evacuation of territories occupied by the Israelis and recognition of the political rights of Palestinians.  Allied to Egypt, Syria unleashed, on Oct. 6, 1973, a new Arab-Israeli War, in hopes of reconquering the Golan Heights; despite the good performance of the Syrian army and the efficiency of Soviet anti-aircraft weapons, the Israelis came to within 40 kilometers [25 miles] of Damascus.  With American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger mediating, Syria agreed to an accord with Israel for the exchange of prisoners (May 29, 1974).  Détente in its relations with the West was marked by the visit of President Nixon to Damascus (June 15, 1974).  Close ties were established with Saudi Arabia, which brought Damascus financial and military aid.  In 1976, Syrian intervention played a decisive role in the Lebanese civil war; Syria was led to revise its attitude of unconditional support to Palestinian partisans and acquired a dominant position in Lebanon.


The decision made by President Assad to intervene in the civil war in Lebanon impacted Syria's politics for years.  After having first been directed against the Palestinian partisans, it was against the Christians that, beginning in 1978, the Syrian military concentrated its power; practicing a swing politics with respect to the various communities and political forces of Lebanon, Damascus again took on, in 1984, the Palestinians of Yasser Arafat, who threatened the Syrian "protectorate."  Forced to break, in 1979, with his Egyptian ally and won over to peace with Israel, President Assad tried to link up again with the rival regime in Baghdad; but too much mistrust remained between the two Ba'ath parties for a political union to be born.  These vicissitudes of foreign policy contributed to increasing domestic discontent in the country, especially since most of those in power were accused of corruption and the cost of living had increased by 300% between 1971 and 1979.  Political opposition and religious opposition fed on one another.  The Muslim Brotherhood, belonging to a Sunni fundamentalist tradition, partisans of an Islamic state, and the declared enemies of the Alawite minority (traditionally Shiite, 12% of the population) who held political and military power, contributed to a spectacular renewal of religious propaganda.  This often took on an activist cast; Sunni extremists were blamed, in 1979, for the massacre of 63 cadets in Aleppo.  VIsible tensions throughout the country led to bloody clashes and seditious movements in the army, created a climate of civil war, and put the government on the defensive.  President Assad tried to address these problems through repressive measures.  On July 7, 1980, a law passed by parliament made membership in the Muslim Brotherhood a capital crime.  Little by little the repression directed against the fundamentalist movement was ratcheted up, and many Islamist militants, "hunted wherever they were," preferred to come over to the government's side.  But in April 1981 the government in Damascus had to confront a violent rebellion of the Muslim Brotherhood in Hama:  the crushing of this revolt was long and difficult and is said to have caused more than 10,000 deaths.

After a trip he made to Moscow in October 1979, Hafiz al-Assad obtained tanks and planes, and refrained from condemning the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan.  Strengthening his ties to the USSR (Syrian-Soviet treaty of October 1980), then with Gaddafi (plan for union with Libya), he attempted to bring Jordan and Lebanon to heel while Iraq was completely tied up with its war against Iran.  Threatening in turn King Hussein, accused of sheltering Islamist terrorists (November 1980), and the Lebanese forces who had taken root in the Bekaa Valley in spite of its occupation by the Syrian army, he pounded Zahle, occupied the ridges of Mount Lebanon, and installed anti-aircraft missiles in the Bekaa, which Israel at once threatened to destroy.  The escalation continued until May 1981 when Israel downed two Syrian helicopters and the Syrians downed three Israeli planes; the intervention of Saudi Arabia and then Philip Habib, President Ronald Reagan's envoy, was needed to reduce tensions that were threatening to provoke a fifth Arab-Israeli war.  On June 30, Syrian troops evacuated Zahle.

The Arab oil states, irritated by Syria's support for Iran in the Iran-Iraq War, reduced their financial support to Damascus.  In 1981 Syrians received half of the payments they had been promised, and still less in 1982.  Syria then began to struggle with the most serious financial crisis of its history, which was accentuated when the closing of the pipeline bringing Iraqi oil to the ports of Baniyas (Syria) and Tripoli (Lebanon) deprived the Syrian government of much-needed receipts as well as the source of supply for its own refineries.

Israel's intervention in Lebanon beginning in June 1982 put Syria in a difficult position.  But while the Israelis cracked down on the Palestinians, Syria received massive support from the Kremlin after the advent of Yuri Andropov.  Strengthened by Soviet ground-to-air missiles with a 250-km range (155 miles) that covered Israeli airspace, it began by driving the PLO from Lebanon while supporting Palestinians opposing Arafat, who, along with his army, was surrounded in Tripoli (September 1983).  President Assad, who had never accepted American policies in Lebanon and the sending of the American-French-Italian-British peacekeeping force, arrived at his goals at the beginning of 1984 when the United States abruptly withdrew its contingent from Beirut after having briefly threatened Syria with direct intervention.  To achieve this he had recourse to the practice of state terrorism; there is hardly any doubt any longer, for many observers, that the bloody attacks of October 1983 against American and French forces were at the very least authorized by the Syrians.  Having inflicted a stinging defeat upon the Westerners, Hafiz al-Assad then tried to strengthen his protectorate over Lebanon by forcing on the country's different political forces a government of national unity; this government had little room for maneuver but gave the population a sort of respite.  Beforehand, he had required that the Israeli-Lebanese peace agreement of May 17, 1983, be annulled.  Syria's forceful return to the international chessboard came at a great cost and resolved neither its issues with Israel nor the fate of the Palestinians.  Its military expenses in 1981 were the third-greatest in the world in percentage terms (16% of GNP).  Nevertheless, the Lebanese war did not have, for some Syrians, only drawbacks.  Smuggling through Lebanon had become so great that the Syrian pound was threatened; Assad had to harshly repress it beginning in June 1984.  In Lebanon itself, the Israeli withdrawal in the spring of 1985 and the new outbreak of civil war left Syria in charge on the ground and of its alliances.  In 1988, Syria resumed relations with Jordan which had been broken off in 1980.  In Lebanon, the Taif Agreement, signed by Lebanese elected representatives on Oct. 22, 1989, legitimized Syria's presence.

With the development of its own oil production beginning in 1987 and the prospect of natural gas attracting Western companies, Syria could hope to make up in part for the ten-year stopping of Arab aid dating from 1978, as well as the probable suspension of low-cost Iranian shipments of oil.  Syria's participation in the anti-Iraq coalition in the Gulf War allowed it to overcome its relative international isolation.  Thus thanks to loans obtained from the Gulf monarchies and Westerners, Damascus improved markedly its financial situation.  With American backing, Syria began in 1991 a laborious process of negotiation with Israel whose main objective was the recovery of the Golan.

Translated by Mark K. Jensen
Associate Professor of French
Department of Languages and Literatures
Pacific Lutheran University
Tacoma, WA 98447-0003
Phone: 253-535-7219
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