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A Historical Opportunity to Occupy Southern Syria
At the above cited meeting on January 31, 1954 Moshe Dayan went on to outline his war plans. Sharett's note for that day continues:
The second plan-action against the interference of the Syrians with our fishing in the Lake of Tiberias... The third – if, due to internal problems in Syria, Iraq invades that country we should advance [militarily, into Syria] and realize a series of "faits accomplis"... The interesting conclusion to be drawn from all this regards the direction in which the new Chief of Staff is thinking. I am extremely worried. (31 January 1954, 332)
On February 25, 1954, Syrian troops stationed in Aleppo revolted against Adib Shishakly's regime.
After lunch Lavon took me aside and started trying to persuade me: This is the right moment to act – this is the time to move forward and occupy the Syrian border positions beyond the Demilitarized Zone. Syria is disintegrating. A State with whom we signed an armistice agreement exists no more. Its government is about to fall and there is no other power in view. Moreover, Iraq has practically moved into Syria. This is an historical opportunity, we shouldn't miss it.
I was reluctant to approve such a blitz-plan and saw ourselves on the verge of an abyss of disastrous adventure. I asked if he suggests to act immediately and I was shocked when I realized that he does. I said that if indeed Iraq will move into Syria with its army it will be a revolutionary turn which will ... justify far reaching conclusions, but for the time being this is only a danger, not a fact. It is not even clear if Shishakly will fall: he may survive. We ought to wait before making any decision. He repeated that time was precious and we must act so as not to miss an opportunity which otherwise might be lost forever. Again I answered that under the circumstances right now I cannot approve any such action. Finally I said that next Saturday we would be meeting with Ben Gurion ... and we could consult him then on the matter. I saw that he was extremely displeased by the delay. However, he had no choice but to agree. (25 February 1954, 374)
The next day the Shishakly regime actually fell. The following day, February 27, Sharett was present at a meeting where Lavon and Dayan reported to Ben Gurion that what happened in Syria was "a typical Iraqi action." The two proposed again that the Israeli army be put on the march. Ben Gurion, "electrified," agreed. Sharett reiterated his opposition, pointing to the certainty of a Security Council condemnation, the possibility of the use against Israel of the Tripartite Declaration of 1950, hence the probability of a "shameful failure" The three objected that "our entrance [into Syria] is justified in view of the situation in Syria. This is an act of defense of our border area." Sharett closed the discussion by insisting on the need for further discussion in the cabinet meeting, scheduled for the next morning:
Lavon's face wore a depressed expression. He understood this to be theend of the matter. (27 February 1954, 377)
On Sunday, February 28, the press reported that no Iraqi troops had entered Syria. The situation in Damascus was under the complete control of President Hashem Al Atassi. The cabinet approved Sharett's position and rejected Lavon'svehement appeal not to miss a
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historical opportunity. Lavon said "The U.S. is about to betray us and ally itself with the Arab world." We should "demonstrate our strength and indicate to the U.S. that our life depends on this so that they will not dare do anything against us." The premier's victory, however, was to be short-lived.
Until that time the Syrian-Israeli border presented no particular problems to the Israelis. When tensions developed, it was almost invariably due to Israeli provocations, such as the irrigation work on lands belonging to Arab farmers, which was condemned by the UN; or the use of military patrol boats against Syrian fishermen fishing in the Lake of Tiberias. No Syrian regime could afford to refrain from offering some minimum protection to its border citizens against Israeli attacks or the taking away of their livelihoods, but neither did the rulers of Damascus feel stable enough to wish to be dragged into a major conflict with their southern neighbor. Clashes were therefore minor, and essentially seasonal. No security arguments could be credibly invoked to justify an expansionist program, or any other aggression against Syria.
On December 12, 1954, however, a Syrian civilian plane was hijacked by Israeli war planes shortly after its takeoff, and forced to land at Lydda airport. Passengers and crew were detained and interrogated for two days, until stormy international protests forced the Israelis to release them. Furious, Sharett wrote to Lavon on December 22:
It must be clear to you that we had no justification whatsoever to seize the plane, and that once forced down we should have immediately released it and not held the passengers under interrogation for 48 hours. I have no reason to doubt the truth of the factual affirmation of the U.S. State Department that our action was without precedent in the history of international practice.
... What shocks and worries me is the narrow-mindedness and the shortsightedness of our military leaders. They seem to presume that the State of Israel may – or even must – behave in the realm of international relations according to the laws of the jungle. (22 December 1954, 607)
Sharett also protested to Lavon against the scandalous press campaign, which he suspected was inspired by the security establishment and which was aimed at convincing public opinion
that the Syrian plane was stopped and forced down because it violated Israeli sovereignty and perhaps endangered its security. "As a result, the public does not understand why such a plane was released and naturally it concludes that we have here an unjustified concession on the part of the government" (ibid.)
On December 11, the day before Israel set this world precedent for air piracy, five Israeli soldiers were captured inside Syrian territory while mounting wiretapping installations on the Syrian telephone network. A month later, on January 13, 1955, one of them committed suicide in prison. The official Israeli version is, once again, that the five had been abducted in Israeli territory, taken to Syria, and tortured. The result was a violent emotional upsurge in Israel, all the more so as this news arrived shortly after the condemnation in Cairo of members of an Israeli terrorist ring which had been described to public opinion as an anti-Jewish frame-up. The prime minister confided to his personal diary:
A young boy has been sacrificed for nothing... Now they will say that his blood is on my hands. If I hadn't ordered therelease of the Syrian plane [we would have had our hostages and] the Syrians could have been forced to free the five. The boy ... would have been alive ... our soldiers have not been kidnapped in Israeli territory by Syrian invaders as the army spokesman announced ... They penetrated into Syria and not accidentally but in order to take care of a wiretapping installation, connected to a Syrian telephone line ... the young men were sent without any experienced person, they were not instructed what to do in case of failure and the result was that in the first interrogation they broke down and told the whole truth... I have no doubt that the press and the Knesset will cry about torture. On the other hand, it is possible that the boy committed suicide because he broke down during the interrogation and only later he understood what a disaster he has brought upon his comrades and what he did to the state. Possibly his comrades tormented him afterwards. Anyway, his conscience probably caused him to take this terrible step. (3 January 1955, 649)
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Isser [Harel, then Shin Bet chief] warned me of what may happen to me personally as a result of the suicide. A poisonous attack is being organized against me... it is particularly necessary to take care of what is happening in the army and to prevent lawless riots. (14 January 1955, 653).
It is clear that Dayan's intention ... is to get [Syrian] hostages in order to obtain the release of our prisoners in Damascus. He put it into his head that it is necessary to take hostages, and would not let go. (10 February 1955, 714)
Nineteen years later, Dayan, then minister of defense in Golda Meir's government, ordered his troops to move into a school, regardless of the danger to Israeli civilians including children, in Ma'alot, with the sole aim of preventing Palestinian guerrillas from obtaining, through the taking of hostages, the release of their Palestinian comrades jailed and tortured under the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. On that, as on other similar occasions, a virulent and poisonous Zionist campaign, widely echoed in the Western media, declared the Palestinian liberation movement's attempt to free prisonersby taking hostages as intolerable, barbaric, savage, murderous, and terrorist. When did these same media call Moshe Dayan a terrorist?
Israeli plots against Syria in the fifties were not only limited to expansionist and terrorist projects. On July 31, 1955, a senior foreign ministry aide, Gideon Raphael, reported to Sharett on a couple of "interesting meetings" he had held with Arab exiles in Europe. One of these was with ex-Syrian Premier Hosni Barazi:
Hosni wants to get back in power, and is ready to accept help from anyone: from Turkey, in exchange for Syria's futureentrance into the Ankara-Baghdad pact; from the U. S., in exchange for Syria's future alliance with the West, with Israel,in exchange for a peace agreement. (31 July 1955, 1099)
Peace, however, was the last thing Israel was interested in. Israel's support would require another price:
Meanwhile he says to us give-give: money for newspapers, money to buy off personalities, money to buy off political parties. Gideon [suggested to him that] ... he himself is a big land owner, and why won't he get together a group of land owners, initiate a big plan of settling refugees... Hosni listened, said it was a wonderful idea ... but only after he regains power, and until he regains power he needs a payment in advance. (31 July 1955, 1100)
A year later, a week before his final fall from the government, Sharett got a last report on Israel's subversive activities in Syria from his advisor on Arab affairs, "Josh" Palmon:
Our contacts with [Adib] Shishakly [the exiled Syrian dictator overthrown in 1954] have been strengthened. The guidelines for common action after his return to power (if he returns!) have been established. We have decided on guidelines to contact the U.S. in regard to this issue. (12 June 1956, 1430)
None of these "historical opportunities" regarding Syria actually materialized at that time, nor, however, did Israel ever abandon its plans to install a puppet regime in Damascus. But in Lebanon as well, the precise operational blueprints elaborated in 1954 waited two decades before being put into action. 
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Let Us Create A Maronite State in Lebanon
The February 27, 1954 meeting among Ben Gurion, Sharett, Lavon and Dayan has already been mentioned in connection with Israel's invasion plans of Egypt and Syria. In that same meeting a concrete proposal was outlined to disrupt Israel's most peaceful neighborat that time, Lebanon. In this case, Israel's hegemonic ambitions did not evenpretend to wear the phony fig leaf of security or defense.
Then he [Ben Gurion] passed on to another issue. This is the time, he said, to push Lebanon, that is, the Maronites in that country, to proclaim a Christian State. I said that this was nonsense. The Maronites are divided. The partisans of Christian separatism are weak and will dare do nothing. A Christian Lebanon would mean their giving up Tyre, Tripoli, the Beka'a. There is no force that could bring Lebanon back to its pre-World War I dimensions, and all the more so because in that case it would lose its economic raison-d'être. Ben Gurion reacted furiously. He began to enumerate the historical justification for a restricted Christian Lebanon. If such a development were to take place, the Christian Powers would not dare oppose it. I claimed that there was no factor ready to create such a situation, and that if we were to push and encourage it on our own we would get ourselves into an adventure that will place shame on us. Here came a wave of insults regarding my lack of daring and my narrow-mindedness. We ought to send envoys and spend money. I said there was no money. The answer was that there is no such thing. The money must be found, if not in the Treasury then at the Jewish Agency! For such a project it is worthwhile throwing away one hundred thousand, half a million, a million dollars. When this happens a decisive change will take place in the Middle East, a new era will start. I got tired of struggling against a whirlwind. (27 February 1954, 377)
The next day Ben Gurion sent Sharett the following letter:
To Moshe Sharett The Prime Minister
Sdeh Boker February 27, 1954
Upon my withdrawal from the government I decided in my heart to desist from intervening and expressing my opinion on current political affairs so as not to make things difficult for the government in any way. And if you hadn'tcalled on me, the three of you, yourself, Lavon and Dayan, I would not have, of my own accord, expressed an opinion on what is being done or what ought to be done. But as you called me, I deem it my duty to comply with your wishes, and especially with your own wish as Prime Minister. Therefore, I permit myself to go back to one issue which you did not approve of and discuss it again, and this is the issue of Lebanon.
... It is clear that Lebanon is the weakest link in the Arab League. The other minorities in the Arab States are all Muslim, except for the Copts. But Egypt is the most compact and solid of the Arab States and the majority there consists of one solid block, of one race, religion and language, and the Christian minority does not seriously affect their political and national unity. Not so the Christians in Lebanon. They are a majority in the historical Lebanon and this majority has a tradition and a culture different from those of the other components of the League. Also within the wider borders (this was the worst mistake made by France when it extended the borders of Lebanon), the Muslims are not free to do as they wish, even if they are a
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majority there (and I don't know if they are, indeed, a majority) for fear of the Christians, The creation of a Christian State is therefore a natural act; it has historical roots and it will find support in wide circles in the Christian world, both Catholic and Protestant. In normal times this would be almost impossible. First and foremost because of the lack of initiative and courage of the Christians. But at times of confusion, or revolution or civil war, things take on another aspect, and even the weak declares himself to be a hero. Perhaps (there is never any certainty in politics) now is the time to bring about the creation of a Christian State in our neighborhood. Without our initiative and our vigorous aid this will not be done. It seems to me that this is the central duty, or at least one of the central duties, of our foreign policy. This means that time, energy and means ought to be invested in it and that we must act in all possible ways to bring about a radical change in Lebanon. Sasson ... and our other Arabists must be mobilized. If money is necessary, no amount of dollars should be spared, although the money may be spent in vain. We must concentrate all our efforts on this issue ... This is a historical opportunity. Missing it will be unpardonable. There is no challenge against the World Powers in this ... Everything should be done, in my opinion, rapidly and at full steam.
The goal will not be reached of course, without a restriction of Lebanon's borders. But if we can find men in Lebanon and exiles from it who will be ready to mobilize for the creation of a Maronite state, extended borders and a large Muslim population will be of no use to them and this will not constitute a disturbing factor.
I don't know if we have people in Lebanon – butthere are various ways in which the proposed experiment can be carried out.
D.B.G. (27 February 1954, 2397-2398)
Sharett responded a few weeks later:
Mr. David Ben Gurion
March 18, 1954 Sdeh Boker.
.... A permanent assumption of mine is that if sometimes there is some reason to interfere from the outside in the internal affairs of some country in order to support a political movement inside it aiming toward some target it is only when that movement shows some independent activity which there is a chance to enhance and maybe to bring to success by encouragement and help from the outside. There is no point in trying to create from the outside a movement that does not exist at all inside ... it is impossible to inject life into a dead body.
As far as I know, in Lebanon today exists no movement aiming at transforming the country into a Christian State governed by the Maronite community...
This is not surprising. The transformation of Lebanon into a Christian State as a result of an outside initiative is unfeasible today ... I don't exclude the possibility of accomplishing this goal in the wake of a wave of shocks that will sweep the Middle East... will destroy the present constellations and will form others. But in the present Lebanon, with its present territorial and demographic dimensions and its international relations, no serious initiative of the kind is imaginable.
The Christians do not constitute the majority in Lebanon. Nor are they a unified block, politically speaking or community-wise. The Orthodox minority in Lebanon tends to identify with their brethren in Syria. They will not be ready to go to war for a Christian Lebanon, that is for a Lebanon smaller than it is today, and detached from the Arab League. On the contrary, they would probably not be opposed to a Lebanon united to Syria, as this would contribute to strengthening their own community and the Orthodox community throughout the region .... In fact, there are more Orthodox Christians in Syria than in Lebanon, and the Orthodox in Syria and Lebanon together are more numerous than the Maronites.
As to the Maronites, the great majority among them has for years now supported those pragmatic political leaders of their community who have long since abandoned the dream of a Christian Lebanon, and put all their cards on a Christian-Muslim coalition in that country. These leaders have developed the consciousness that there is no chance for an isolated Maronite Lebanon and that the historical perspective of their community means a partnership with the Muslims in power, and
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in a membership of Lebanon in the League, hoping and believing that these factors can guarantee that the Lebanese Muslims will abandon their longings for a unification of Lebanon with Syria and will enhance the development among them of a feeling for Lebanese independence.
Therefore, the great majority of the Maronite community is liable to see in any attempt at raising the flag of territorial shrinking and Maronite power a dangerous attempt at subverting the status of their community, its security and even its very existence. Such an initiative would seem disastrous to them because it could tear apart the pattern of Christian-Muslim collaboration in the present Lebanon which was created through great efforts and sacrifices for an entire generation; because it would mean throwing the Lebanese Muslims into the Syrian embrace, and finally, because it would fatally bring about the historical disaster of an annexation of Lebanon to Syria and the annihilation of the former's personality through its dilution in a big Muslim state.
You may object that these arguments are irrelevant as the Plan is based on tearing away from Lebanon the Muslim provinces of Tyre, the Beka'aand Tripoli. But who can predict that these provinces will actually give up their ties to Lebanon and their political and economic connection to Beirut ? Who can assure that the Arab League will be ready to give up the status that Lebanon's affiliation confers to it ...? Who will vouch that the bloody war that will inevitably explode as a result of such an attempt will be limited to Lebanon and not drag Syria into the battlefield immediately ? Who can be sure that the Western Powers will look on as observers and will not intervene in the experiment before a Christian Lebanon will have been realized ? Who can guarantee that the Maronite leadership itself will not become aware of all the above considerations and will therefore back out of such a dangerous adventure ?
... There are also decisive economic arguments against it. We are not discussing the issue in 1920/21... but 30 years later. Mount Lebanon has meanwhile integrated into one organic unit with the coastal plane of Tyre and Sidon, the Valley of Baalbeck and the city of Tripoli. They are commercially and economically interdependent and inseparable. Mount Lebanon was not a self-sufficient unit even before World War I... The annexation of the three regions plus the city of Beirut to the Lebanese State has rendered possible the creation of a balanced economy. A return to the past would not just mean a surgical operation but also a disintegration leading to the end of Lebanon...
I cannot imagine, even from this viewpoint alone, that any serious organization would collaborate with a plan that in my opinion would entail Lebanon's economic suicide.
When all this has been said, [I should add that] I would not have objected, and on the contrary I would have certainly been favorable to the idea, of actively aiding any manifestation of agitation in the Maronite community tending to strengthen its isolationist tendencies, even if there were no real chances of achieving the goals; I would have considered positive the very existence of such an agitation and the destabilization it could bring about, the trouble it would have caused the League, the diversion of attention from the Arab-Israeli complications that it would have caused, and the very kindling of a fire made up of impulses toward Christian independence. But what can I do when such an agitation is nonexistent ? ... In the present condition, I am afraid that any attempt on our part would be considered as lightheartedness and superficiality or worse – as an adventurous speculation upon the well being and existence of others and a readiness to sacrifice their basic good for the benefit of a temporary tactical advantage for Israel.
Moreover, if this plan is not kept a secret but becomes known – a danger which cannot be underestimated in the Middle Eastern circumstances – the damage which we shall suffer... would not be compensated even by an eventual success of the operation itself...
M. S. (18 March 1954, 2398- 2400)
On April 24 a fleeting note in the Diary, informs us that "contacts with certain circles in Lebanon" had been discussed that day between the premier and some of his collaborators in the foreign ministry. The next time Lebanon is mentioned is on February 12, 1955: Neguib Sfeir, "an adventurer and a visionary" whom Sharett had known since 1920, had just paid a visit to the Israeli ambassador in Rome, Eliahu Sasson,
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apparently on behalf of Lebanon's President Camille Chamoun. Lebanon would be ready to sign a separate peace if we accept the following three conditions: (a) guarantee Lebanon's borders; (b) come to Lebanon's aid if it is attacked bySyria; (c) buy Lebanon's agricultural surplus. Sasson ...suggested a meeting between himself and Chamoun during the latter's next visit to Rome. (12 February 1955, 723)
On May 16, during a joint meeting of senior officials of the defense and foreign affairs ministries, Ben Gurion again raised the demand that Israel do something about Lebanon. The moment was particularly propitious, he maintained, due to renewed tensions between Syria and Iraq, and internal trouble in Syria. Dayan immediately expressed his enthusiastic support:
According to him [Dayan] the only thing that's necessary is to find an officer, even just a Major. We should either win his heart or buy him with money, to make him agree to declare himself the savior of the Maronite population. Then the Israeli army will enter Lebanon, will occupy the necessary territory, and will create a Christian regime which will ally itself with Israel. The territory from the Litani southward will be totally annexed to Israel and everything will be all right. If we were to accept the advice of the Chief of Staff we would do it tomorrow, without awaiting a signal from Baghdad.
... I did not want to bicker with Ben Gurion... in front of his officers and limited myself to saying that this might mean ... war between Israel and Syria... At the same time I agreed to set up a joint commission composed of officials of the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the army to deal with Lebanese affairs... [According to Ben Gurion] this commission should relate to the Prime Minister. (16 May 1954, 966)
The Chief of Staff supports a plan to hire a [Lebanese] officer who will agree to serve as a puppet so that the Israeli army may appear as responding to his appeal "to liberate Lebanon from its Muslim oppressors." This will of course be a crazy adventure... We must try to prevent dangerous complications. The commission must be charged with research tasks and prudent actions directed at encouraging Maronite circles who reject Muslim pressures and agree to lean on us. (28 May 1954, 1024)
The "prudent actions" continued. On September 22, a mysterious incident occurred. A bus was attacked in Galilee, near Safad. Two persons were killed and ten wounded. Even before an investigation could establish where the aggressors came from (and there were, at that moment, three contradictory hypotheses), Dayan demanded a reprisal action against Lebanon. A Lebanese village suspected to be the attackers' base had already been chosen. Its population would be evacuated in the night, its houses blown up. Sharett objected to Israel'sopening a new front along a border which had been totally peaceful since 1948. But this was exactly what Dayan sought: the destabilization of Lebanon and the search for a forerunner to Major Sa'ad Haddad who declared a Maronite state in 1979. Thefulfillment of his disruptive plans would have found an ideal point of departure in this terrorist action.
Sharett, however, vetoed an immediate action. At this point the Israeli plot against Lebanon was suspended for other reasons. On October 1, 1955, the U.S. government, through the CIA, gave Israel the "green light" to attack Egypt. The energies of Israel's security establishment became wholly absorbed by the preparations for the war which would take place exactly one year later. In the summer of 1956, in preparation for the Sinai-Suez operation, the close military and political alliance with France was clinched. It would last practically until the eve of the 1967 war, and would prevent Israel, especially following De Gaulle'srise to power in France in 1957, [actually 1958] from implementing its plans for the dismemberment of a country Paris considered as belonging to the French sphere of influence. Israeli bombings of South Lebanon, specifically intended to destabilize that country, were to start in 1968 after the 1967 war, after Dayan's nomination as defense minister in Levi Eshkol's cabinet,and after Israel's definite transition from the alliance with France to that with the United States.  From that moment on, this unholy alliance was to use every possible means constantly to escalate terrorist violence and political subversion in Lebanon, according to Israel's blueprints of the fifties. All this, it is hardly necessary to recall, was hatched when no Palestinian guerrillas were remotely in view.  If anything, the difficulties Israel encountered throughout all these years in consummating its long-standing ambition to divide Lebanon and separate it from the Arab world constitute one more proof of the external and alien nature of these plots in respect to the authentic aspirations of the Lebanese people regardless of their religious faith.
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