Middle Eastern country bordering Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Israel and Lebanon, as well as the Mediterranean Sea. Original owner of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The country has been independent from the League of Nations mandate administered by France since 1946. For a brief period starting in 1958 it was part of the United Arab Republic with Egypt but that dissolved by 1961.

Modern Syria was created from the Ottoman Empire in 1918, and awarded to Prince Faisal, son of Sharif Hussein of Hejaz. He became king, but in 1920 the Allied Powers had a better idea and divided up the Ottoman Empire again. Syria became a French mandate, and Faisal was transferred to the throne of Iraq. Lebanon was made a separate territory.

Syria had various forms of autonomy under French rule, and an agreement for full independence was reached in 1936. But this was not ratified, and in the War it was liberated by Allied forces. It was declared an independent republic on 16 September 1941. But this was disputed by the Free French and the last French troops were not withdrawn until 1946, when full independence was achieved on 12 April..

The presidents of Syria since 1941 have been:

  1. Taj Addin al Husni 1941-1943 (a)
  2. Jamil al Ushi 1943 (b)
  3. Ata al Ayoubi 1943 (b)
  4. Shukri al Kuwatli 1943-1949 (c)
  5. Husni az Zaim 1949 (c) (d)
  6. Hashim al Atassi 1949-1951 (c)
  7. Adib ash Shishakli 1951
  8. Fawzi Silo 1951-1953
  9. Adib ash Shishakli again 1953-1954 (c)
  10. Hashim al Atassi again 1954-1955
  11. Shukri al Kuwatli again 1955-1958
  12. union with Egypt as United Arab Republic 1958-1961
  13. Nazim Kudsi 1961-1963 (c)
  14. Loay Atassi 1963
  15. Amin al Hafez 1963-1966 (c)
  16. Nureddin al Atassi 1966-1970 (c)
  17. Ahmed Khatib 1970-1971
  18. Hafez al Assad 1971-2000 (a)
  19. Bashar al Assad 2000-
Key: (a) = died in office; (b) = acting only; (c) = overthrown; (d) = executed

The one thing you have to say about Hafez al Assad is that he certainly brought stability. The 1963 coup brought the Baath (Renaissance) Party to power and subsequent shifts have been internal.

The capital is Damascus; its official name is the Syrian Arab Republic; its flag is horizontally red-white-black with three green stars on the white; its... (yawn)... population is about 10 million; it has Kurdish, Armenian, and Assyrian minorities; other towns are Aleppo, Hama, and the port of Latakia; the currency is 100 piastres = 1 pound; ...

Say hello to the newest member of the Axis of Evil.

I think that we believe there are chemical weapons in Syria, for example, and we will — each situation will require a different response, and of course we're — first things first. We're here in Iraq now, and the second thing about Syria is that we expect cooperation.
- George W. Bush, April 13, 2003
Syria has all the prerequisites to be on America's shit list. Their dominant political group is the Ba'ath Party, the party of Saddam Hussein. They hate Israel. And to top it all off, they used to be part of France. What could be more perfect to arouse American anger?

How this all got started

France took over Syria afer the Ottoman Empire fell during World War I. At first, the government and military were all French, and this made many Syrians resentful of the West. Starting in the 1930's, France began planning its withdrawal from Syria, which was completed in 1946 following a brief period of Vichy rule.

Right after this happened, the Balfour Declaration came out, and Syrian irregulars began sporadic raids on mandatory Palestine across the Golan Heights. The conflict intensified over the next year, culminating in a Syrian invasion of Israel in May of 1948. When the dust subsided the next year, Syria was humbled by the Israeli forces, and ended up signing an armistice. The agreement was very vague, however, and sporadic fighting continued along the border over minor issues such as fishing rights.

After the Sinai War of 1956, where Syria basically twiddled its thumbs as Egypt fought, Syria decided that the way to defeat Israel was through a union with Egypt. The United Arab Republic was proclaimed in 1958, and ended in 1961 without a grand invasion of Palestine: indeed, the Syrians and Egyptians had gone their separate ways for six years before they finally got around to attacking Israel in the Six Day War of 1967.

The name of the war, and the fact that Israel is still around today, should give you an idea of how Syria and Egypt did. They sucked. Syria lost the Golan Heights for good. The flip side of this defeat was that it intensified Syria's bond with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

In 1970, King Hussein of Jordan launched an attack on PLO forces within his country, seeing them as a threat to the Jordanian government. Syria responded by supporting the PLO troops for nearly two weeks. Israel and the United States were threatening to get involved at that point, and so Soviet advisors managed to persuade Syria to back off. In response to the perceived gutlessness of their administration, Syrians overthrew the government in a bloodless coup and installed Ba'ath Party defense minister Hafez al Assad as president.

Syria and Egypt regrouped again, and again tried to invade Israel, this time in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The invasion caught many Israelis in synagogue, but before long, the IDF was fully mobilized and easily beating the Arabs back over the border. Syria lost another 800 square kilometers of territory in the Golan Heights, as well as a large amount of materiel and more than a few soldiers.

The rematch, in the 1982 Lebanon War, was a partial victory for Syria as Israeli troops were halfway contained on their way to Beirut. In the meantime, the Camp David accords had taken Egypt out of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and left Syria largely fighting solo against the Jewish Menace. Syria compensated for the loss of Egypt by bolstering its alliance with the USSR. Not exactly a smooth move, but it worked for the time being.

In the last few years, Syria and Israel have occasionally gotten close to beginning the very start of a deal to sort out the entire Golan Heights mess, but their constant jockeying over Lebanon has made such efforts more or less fruitless. Bashar al Assad, who took over from his father in 2000, got to witness the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, which has left the Syrians more or less in control there.

Syria today

The Syrian economy is slowly improving thanks to trade with Europe, although reforms have been slow. Another complicating factor is that Syria really doesn't get along with any of its neighbors (unless you count Lebanon, which is pretty much under Syrian control anyway). Their problems with Israel and Jordan have already been explained. Syria's border with Turkey is disputed.

As for Iraq, there's some bad blood there, too. In the Iran-Iraq War, Syria supported Iran, thanks to friendly shipments of Iranian oil: this has made Syria and Iraq quite distrustful of each other, despite their common political roots. Bashar al Assad's administration has tried to improve their relations with Iraq in recent years, going so far as to allegedly open a closed pipeline from Iraqi oil fields.

Which brings us to the crux of all this: how did we get from Saddam to Syria? Well, there are a number of reasons. We've already mentioned Syria's friendship with the PLO, their ongoing conflict with America and Israel, and their circumventing of the Iraqi oil embargo. Syria is also a temporary member of the United Nations Security Council, and was the most outspoken opponent of the Coalition of the Willing in the prelude to Gulf War II.

The current allegation coming out of the White House is that Syria is harboring former Iraqi leaders. This makes sense, seeing as there's really no other way they could have gotten out of Iraq without running an enemy blockade. However, Syria denies these allegations. It's difficult to tell whether Syria is really engaged in some nefarious scheme, or whether America just wants its revenge on a pesky regime in the Middle East.

In response to the weapons of mass destruction claims brought up by the US, Syria has proposed a 22-nation agreement to remove all WMD from the Middle East. The catch to this proposal is that it would involve getting rid of Israel's nuclear weapons as well. American diplomats have publicly smiled and nodded at this scheme, and then cursed it out in private.

Since I posted this, HongPong has noded his views on the matter in Attack Syria!

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