Sunday, December 7, 2014

A People's History of Syria--Part 18: 1961 to 1967 Period

A few months after Syria’s secession from the United Arab Republic [UAR] of Nasser’s Egyptian regime, a Syrian parliamentary election was held in December 1961 in which 10 parliamentary seats were won by elected Syrian Muslim Brotherhood members, which had functioned underground during the three years that Syria was part of the UAR.

Among the anti-imperialist, secular nationalist Syrian parties that politically opposed Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood during the 1950s was the pan-Arab nationalist Baath Party which, according to Alan George’s Syria: Neither Bread Nor Freedom, “was hardly a mass movement” because “by the early 1950s the membership totaled only 4,500,” including a high school student in Latakia named Hafez al-Assad.” Yet in the early 1960s, the Baath Party’s “aim was to seize power directly by a military coup” and, utilizing the Baath Military Committee, “this they executed in alliance with Nasserist and independent nationalist” Syrian military “officers on the night of 7-8 March 1963,” according to the same book.

Following the March 1963 Baath military coup in Syria, a “State of Emergency” in Syria was declared on March 9, 1963 by “Decree 51,” all politically independent and politically competing non-Baath party journals were prohibited, the previously-elected Syrian parliament was dissolved and, according to Dilip Hiro’s Holy Wars, Syria’s Muslim “Brotherhood and other parties” in Syria “were banned in March 1963” (at the same time Syrian banks were nationalized along with a limited number of Syrian industrial firms). So, not surprisingly, in 1964 members of the now-outlawed Syrian Muslim Brotherhood “led anti-Baath riots in Syria under the slogan `Islam or Baath,’” according to Robert Dreyfuss’s Devil’s Game: How The United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam.

Yet despite the post-1963 Baath military coup regime’s policy of repressing opposition political parties in Syria, according to Holy Wars “the Baath Party in Syria” in the 1960s initially “proved popular with underprivileged classes and sectarian and religious minorities” such as “the Alawites…who had been the favorite military recruits of the French during their rule from 1920 to 1946.”

But by 1966, leftist members of the Baath Party had apparently become dissatisfied with the slow pace of anti-capitalist economic transformation and economic development in Syria since the 1963 Baath military coup. So on Feb. 23, 1966 a more radical leftist faction of Baath Party members led by Salah Jadid—which was then also backed by a member of the Baath Military Committee named Hafez al-Assad—staged a successful intraparty Baath military coup in Syria. And following the February 1966 coup, the now more leftist Baath regime changed the Syrian government’s planned economic policies. As Syria: Neither Bread nor Freedom recalled:

“A comprehensive development program was elaborated in which state investment was to be the main driver of all economic sectors…Agricultural output was to be boosted by state-run irrigation schemes, particularly the giant Tabqa hydroelectric dam on the Euphrates…Large sums were allocated for the construction of new roads and railways. The Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc states became key partners in many of the new projects…”

And, not surprisingly, the Syrian Communist Party endorsed the more leftist Baath regime’s new economic policies.

The post-February 1966 leftist Baath regime that Salah Jadid’s faction led also ended the less leftist, previous post-1963 Syrian  Baath regime’s policy of not allowing the resistance fighters of the Palestinian liberation movement—the Fedayeen—to freely move across Syria’s borders into their former homeland of Palestine/Israel and wage guerrilla warfare against Israeli government troops. As the Palestine Book Project’s 1977 book Our Roots Are Still Alive: The Story of the Palestinian People recalled:

“…In early 1966 a left-wing military government took power in Syria. It immediately announced that it would no longer act as a `guardian for Israel’s interests.’ It opened its borders to the guerrillas and began to publish the communiques which the guerrilla groups put out after each operation. The number of raids increased dramatically…"

But the Israeli government responded to this change in Syrian government policy in the following way, according to the same book:

“That summer [of 1966] the new Syrian government began to pay the price for its support of the Palestinians…As the Fedayeen stepped up their attacks, Israeli troops began regular `reprisal raids’ across the Syrian border. After a flurry of guerrilla operations in early July [1966], the Israeli Air Force bombed targets in Syria…In January 1967, the Fedayeen began a new round of raids…The Syrians and Israelis clashed regularly in the demilitarized zone on their common border…In April [1967] the Israelis defied the Syrians by cultivating land inside the demilitarized zone…There were artillery exchanges across the border. Then Israel launched a major tank and air attack on Syrian border villages. Israeli planes shot down six Syrian MIGs and penetrated as far as the suburbs of the capital, Damascus...On…June 5, 1967, [Israeli General] Moshe Dayan ordered the attack…The Syrian defenses crumbled rapidly…Even after the cease-fire, Israeli troops pushed through Syria until they captured the Golan Heights…The Israelis expelled 35,000 people from the Golan and sacked the provincial capital of Quneitra. By the end of the war, Israel had captured Syria’s Golan Heights.”

And, coincidentally, as the U.S. based Genie Energy Ltd. notes on its website, in April 2013 its Afek Oil and Gas subsidiary “received an oil and gas exploration license from the State of Israel to explore a 396.5 sq. km. area in the Southern Golan Heights” and “the Company believes, based on its preliminary analysis and interpretation of existing geological data, that the license area may contain significant quantities of…oil and gas.”

(end of part 18)

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