"Greater Syria" in the News
by Daniel Pipes
Translations of this item:
Greater Syria: The History of an Ambition is the title of a book I published in 1990 that traces the pan-Syrian movement through from its origins in the mid-nineteenth century to the regime of Hafiz al-Assad. But with Assad's demise in 2000, and his succession by the barely-competent Bashar, Greater Syria has disappeared into the historical shadows. Indeed, two of the outstanding issues, Hatay and Lebanon, seem to be en route to being resolved.
Comments: (1) Snow has it just right, except the marathon sessions began even earlier, in the Nixon and Ford administrations, when Henry Kissinger so memorably fenced with the Syrian president.
(2) Although not expecting a lot of updates, I will post other prominent mentions of this concept as they occur. (July 19, 2006)
May 27, 2007 update: In a letter recently sent by the Al-Qaeda deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, to the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Hamza al-Muhajer (and intercepted by an unnamed Middle Eastern intelligence service), Zawahiri urges supporters to extend their jihad to other Middle Eastern countries. Specifically, he reiterates a goal first outlined two years ago, of an Islamic Greater Syria, consisting of Lebanon, Palestine and Syria.
Jan. 8, 2009 update: Speaking in Hebrew on Israeli television the Israeli Arab member of parliament Azmi Bishara stated: "I don't think there's a Palestinian nation. There's an Arab nation. I don't think there's a Palestinian nation. That's a colonial invention. Since when were there Palestinians? I think there's only an Arab nation. Until the end of the 19th century, Palestine was the southern part of Greater Syria."
Feb. 17, 2009 update: The Syrian Social Nationalist Party is one of the most consequential and malevolent of Middle Eastern political organizations. Founded in 1932, I explained in a scholarly 1988 article, "Radical Politics and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party," it
In recent decades, however, the SSNP has degenerated into a client of the Syrian state, where is seems likely to remain for a while.
I mention it because its thuggery has just affected one well-known Western, Christopher Hitchens (with whom my public feud is now in abeyance). According to As'ad AbuKhalil, an academic at California State University, Stanislaus:
Feb. 18, 2009 update: The Guardian provides more detail on this incident than one needs at "Christopher Hitchens on Beirut attack: 'they kept coming. Six or seven at first'." May 1, 2009 update: Hitchens himself describes the incident at "The Swastika and the Cedar."
Oct. 14, 2009 update: Seemingly out of nowhere, Turki Al-Sudairi, editor-in-chief of the Saudi government daily Al-Riyadh published two articles and gave an interview to Alarabiya.net suggesting that the solution to Lebanon's permanent unrest is to bring it under Syrian control. Sudairi emphasized that this is his personal opinion. For more details, see the MEMRI study linked above.
Oct. 15, 2009 update: A day later, Sudairi retracted his ideas in an article today titled "Yes, I Was Wrong in My Ideas and Statements."
Oct. 25, 2009 update: Again, out of nowhere, Mish'an Jabouri, a former Iraqi MP and owner of the Syria-based Ar-Ra'i television, is raising the Greater Syria dream, but this time its "Suraqiya" variant – a combination of Greater Syria and Iraq. (To see the video, click here.)
Comment: Is this Bashshar al-Asad's idea? A new fantasy for the Syrian government to pursue?
Nov. 1, 2010 update: In a detailed historical study, "The 'Missing Dimension': Britain's Secret War against France in Syria and Lebanon, 1942–45 – Part II," Meir Zamir of Ben-Gurion University shows from newly uncovered documents that the British government was keen during World War II to establish a Greater Syria. Meir writes that, for London, "Restoring Greater Syria and uniting it with Iraq under British hegemony would solve two pressing issues: Iraq's instability in the face of internal and external threats, and the question of Palestine." For proof, see in particular Document 12, "British secret proposal (MacKereth) via Sulh to Jabri," and Document 85, "Quwatli–Shone secret agreement."
July 29, 2011 update: In the course of an article in Ha'aretz about Druze students from the Golan Heights and studying in Syrian universities, it slips out that, just as they receive full scholarships from the Syrian government because they are considered citizens, so do students from Alexandretta benefit from this arrangement. Here is the key passage:
May 31, 2014 update: "As Lebanon and Syria become one" avers Avi Issacharoff in the Times of Israel, implying that the incompetent Bashar has managed to pull off the trick that his brilliant father Hafez never achieved.
June 11, 2014 update: The organization that goes by the name of "The Islamic State in Iraq and Sham" (Arabic: لدولة الاسلامية في العراق والشاما) has intended to combine these two parts of the Fertile Crescent into a single whole since it took on this name at an unclear date a few years ago. Until today, that seemed like a remote dream.
Well, today ISIS took a giant step in this direction yesterday, when it eliminated the border controls at the al-Ya'rubiya crossing on the road between Mosul in Iraq and Qamishli in Syria.
Comment: Until now, the Greater Syria project has had almost nothing to do with Islamism, so this achievement comes as a considerable surprise.
July 2, 2014 update: More on the erasure of the Syria-Iraq border. MEMRI reports (in a mailing that is not online):
Jan. 3, 2015 update: On one level, the news that the government of Lebanon is about to impose visa restrictions on Syrians starting on Jan. 5 is hardly a surprise, given the massive influx, estimated at more than 1.1 million refugees, who have entered Lebanon in the past four years, amounting to about 20 percent of the total Lebanese population.
On another level, however, this is a major development. For nearly a century, since the emergence of Lebanon as an independent country, its governments have always deferred to the Syrian notion that Lebanon should be part of Syria by not antagonizing Damascus with border controls. Lebanese desperation and Assad regime weakness have now combined to change this equation. One does wonder, though, how the Assad regime will respond to this.
Curiously, this occurred just as the Syrian border with Iraq has disappeared. Ironically, then, the very central Syrian claim to Lebanon is failing while the peripheral Syrian claim to Iraq is flourishing.
Reader comments (19) on this item
Comment on this item
Support Daniel Pipes' work with a tax-deductible donation to the Middle East Forum. Daniel J. Pipes