Syria got its independence from the ending of the French Mandate in 17 April 1946. In the aftermath the young independent country witnessed series of military coups.
The first military coup in modern Syrian history was led by the Syrian Army chief of staff, Husni al-Za'im. It overthrew the country's democratically elected government. This coup was engineered by the CIA.
Hashim al-Atassi came to power in 1949 by a coup led by Sami al-Hinnawi who acted as president for one day. It took one year before another coup led by Adib ShishaklI took the power from Al Atassi.
In February 1954 another coup overthrew the government of Adib ShishaklI after he stayed in power for one day.
Syria became the northern region in the United Arab Republic, which unified Egypt and Syria in 1958. In 1961, one more coup broke up the united republic and restored an independent Syrian Republic.
The 1963 coup brought the Ba'ath Party to the power. It is referred to as “the 8 March Revolution” by the Syrian government and was inspired by a similar Iraqi military coup.
The 1966 coup came after events between 21 and 23 February ended with the replacement of the government of the Syrian Arab Republic. The Al Ba'ath Party were removed from power under the leadership of Salah Jadid.
“Governing Syria has never been easy, as the commanders of punitive expeditions from Titus to the Ottomans' last general could attest. Two years into the French League of Nations Mandate over Syria and Lebanon, a Scottish traveler, Helen Cameron Gordon, toured the country and later described conditions that would daunt any sovereign, foreign or local. She wrote:
"Her inhabitants are made up of at least dozen different races, mainly Asiatic, and worse still, of about thirty religious sects, all suspicious and jealous of each other.
Sir Mark Sykes, in his Dar Ul-Islam: A Record of a Journey through Ten of the Asiatic Provinces of Turkey (1904), similarly observed:
The population of Syria is so inharmonious a gathering of widely different races in blood, in creed, and in custom, that government is both difficult and dangerous.”
Hafez al-Assad’s coup on 13 November 1970 was the last coup in Syria. he called it “The Corrective Movement”.
Hafez Al Assad’s coup was not a unique case, in which a coup seizes the power for decades after several previous coups. Many countries witnessed this exact scene, like Iraq, Libya, Venezuela, Algeria, North Korea etc..
This poses a few questions: How could these military governors seize the power all these decades? Did they use special techniques to end the frequent coups phenomena?
How can we explain that they did that almost in the same era? Did they just learn from each other or there are some superior entities supported them with unified recipes?
In my opinion, these leaders and families stuck in power can’t do such a job alone. No matter how charismatic these leaders or how smart they are, Muammar Al Qaddafi, Hafiz Al Assad or Saddam Houssine, Fidel Castro or Hugo Chavez and others can’t do such a complicated job of controlling nations in a semi-royal way without external help.
According to the Newsweek:
“After Nasser’s defeat of the region’s old colonial masters—Britain and France—in the 1956 Suez Crisis, Russian arms and money began pouring into the region. Soviet engineers dammed the Nile at Aswan, and helped construct modern cities in Baath Party-run Syria and Iraq. At the same time, an entire generation of Arab officers, doctors and professionals studied in Moscow—including future Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Haftar, who received training in the Soviet Union in the 1970s after graduating from Benghazi Military Academy. KGB generals helped build the security services of Libya, Algeria, Egypt, Iraq and Syria in the image of the Soviet secret police. Anxious to stop the Communist domino effect in the Middle East, Washington threw money at the problem. Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt—after Nasser’s fall—became major recipients of U.S. military aid. Turkey, a NATO member since 1952, hosted American planes, warships and, most controversially, Jupiter medium-range missiles. […]Moscow’s key ally was Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who earned a doctorate at the Peoples' Friendship University in Moscow in the 1970s. Israeli researchers, citing documents that KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin smuggled out of Russia in 1991, have claimed that Abbas was recruited by the Soviet security service under the code name “Krotov”—although Palestinian officials dismissed the allegation as an Israeli smear. Agent or not, Abbas “likes the Russians, he wants to please them,” says Ziad Abu Zayyad, a former Palestinian minister and negotiator. [...]One by one, Moscow’s clients began to fall. Iraq’s Saddam Hussein—who had at times received U.S. support—was the first to go. [...] Cairo has long been a key military, intelligence and diplomatic partner for Washington. As the recipient of the second-largest amount of U.S. military aid, Egypt continued this partnership even when relations with Obama strained following Sisi’s power grab in 2013. While close ties with Washington have been maintained since then, Egypt has also acknowledged Moscow’s new-found status by hosting an air drill for Russia last year—the Kremlin’s first such exercise in Africa. Last November, Egypt also signaled its support for Putin by becoming one of only four countries to support Russia’s resolution on Syria in the United Nations. Moscow, in turn, has pushed to lift U.N. sanctions on Libya, where Haftar, Sisi’s ally, is still vying to become the country’s military strongman. “Putin will undertake to revoke [sanctions],” Haftar told reporters after his video conference in January with Shoigu on Russia’s aircraft carrier."
Assad’s family belongs to a minority sect which used to be highly discriminated against throughout their history. The Syria community is a complicated one, which contains a lot of contradicting sects, tribes and clans. In a country like Syria, where people are very racist, a family like the Assad family has no chance to govern the Syrians in a semi-royal way for decades without very intelligent techniques.
The danger in such a situation comes from the fact that the president becomes completely dependent upon the entities which train, qualify and update the capabilities of his services and directorates. The power of the president relies merely on the organizational capabilities of these entities which are created and updated by a foreign power. The president’s chance to say “no” to any instruction that comes from his “Godfather” is almost zero. Qualifying the capabilities of the security services is a constant work and not a one-time job. It needs to always update according to the local and global developments and non-stop overseeing of all kind of updates.
However, if the sponsor has pledged to protect the president and keep his family in power or prosperity, why would such a family say “no” or even think about it, no matter how crazy the instructions actually could be?
In this chapter, I will describe some techniques that the Assad regime used to minimize the possibilities of any coup that could take him out of power and guaranteed that the Assad’s family govern Syria in a semi-Royal way for decades.
Multiplying the security services agencies
Hafez Al Assad had many security services agencies. He inherited some from past regimes, and created others. The main 4 security directorates are:
· The General Intelligence Directorate (Amn Addawlah) was formed few months after Hafiz Al Assad came to power.
· The military intelligence service of Syria (Al-Mukhabarat al-'Askariyya) was established in 1969. Hafez Al Assad was the minister of Defense at the time. Its roots go back to the French mandate period (1923–1943).
· “The Political Security Directorate (Idarat al-Amn al-Siyasi) conducts surveillance within the country, looking for signs of opposition political activity. Its role overlaps to some extent that of the General Security (or Intelligence) Directorate (Idarat al-Amn al-'Amm), the principal civilian intelligence agency in the country. The latter also has an external security division equivalent to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, as well as a Palestine division, which oversees activities of Palestinian groups in Syria and Lebanon.”
· The fourth intelligence service, the Air Force Intelligence Directorate (Idarat al-Mukhabarat al-Jawiyya) is only nominally tied to the air force. Its role as the most powerful and feared intelligence agency in Syria comes from the fact that Hafez al-Assad was once air force commander, and later turned the air force intelligence service into his personal action bureau. In addition to intelligence work, the directorate has assisted numerous terrorist operations abroad.”
Each of the above directorates has a branch in every one of the 14 Syrian provinces, except for several platoons in big cities.
It is expected that there is a sort of distribution of roles between these directorates, but this is not the situation. Each of these services was given unrestricted power to oversee and report everything that was happening. For instance, the role of “Palestine division” was not really overseeing “activities of Palestinian groups in Syria and Lebanon “. It has been known as the most brutal division that tortured thousands of Syrians who were not necessarily connected to Palestine nor to Lebanon.
In my opinion, the aim of creating multiple divisions was to make these services observers of not only the activities of any potential threaten of the regime’s power, but rather to oversee each other as well.
Every general or director of these directorates could be a victim of reports written by a small spy in another directorate. With this technique, the Assad regime could minimize the possibility of any potential coup or rebellion. It created horrifying directorates which terrorized the citizens. However, terrorists were themselves terrorized by the ghosts of their counterparts and colleagues.
The above-described directorates were the secret police. There was the regular police directorate which was responsible for the regular issues and enjoyed much less power than the secret police. Other secret police divisions were added in Bashar Al Assad’s era like the Anti-terrorism division or Anti-drugs division. Again, they were just a replication of the main directorates with different names and same function.
This is the other tactic which modern security services developed to complete their control over the nations. It is one step further. It implies not waiting until the opposition arise before facing it. Rather, the security services predict this raise and breakthrough any “potential” movement in the very early stages. In each potential rebellion there should be insider agents, and, in some cases, these agents even play the main role in starting the rebellion itself. This is a very advanced tactic but very smart as well. During the Syrian revolution’s years, thousands of such double-agents were discovered. Some of them were the main triggers and leaders of the rebellion.
In some advanced stage of this process, the services started to create some factions and movements in parallel with the natural ones and give them power or legitimacy. I mentioned some examples and will mention others throughout the book. Important here: These “Trojan horses” don’t necessarily need to be aware of this game. They play their role naturally. The services gave them possibilities in many ways. They trigger the media to create some Aurora and noise around them. It prevents their competitor to appear by assassinating them, arresting or using any other tools. The modern strategy is: There should be always opposition and we can’t prevent that. Let’s then create some opposition to keep it under control, while minimizing the influence of any other opposition which we have less control over it.
This is a common method which is applied by almost all international intelligence agencies. Throughout this book I mentioned many examples of this technique, applied by United States, the Syrian regime, Iraqi regime and others…
The third technique which guaranteed the exceptional position of Assad’s family was mind control. I will not go through this as it needs another book to describe it. However, reading George Orwell’s 1984 could describe the scene to a large extent. There were not “telescreens”, but the Syrians had the impression that they did exist. There was a popular saying which said “Don’t speak, walls have ears”.
The Syrian regime controlled all media sources. In Hafez Al Assad’s era there were 3 main newspapers belonging exclusively to the government and Al Baath Party. They were directed by the intelligence services. Photos of the “Big Brother” and his inspired sayings were everywhere: on walls, on the first page of every single publication, even children’s school books.
Praising the “Correction Movement” was inserted in each curriculum, including 3rd grade biology books . During the first 2 decades of Assad’s power, the Syrians had one single TV channel which broadcasted 12 hours a day. Later, another one in the English language would be launched, which broadcasted around 6 hours a day. Until the end of the last century, the Syrians barely had any other source of visual media or news. Assad’s exclusive channels broadcasted only the materials which praised “Big Brother” the government’s one-sided view. The Soviet fingerprints were clear in creating such a media control system in the exact way that it was created in sister countries like Iraq, Libya, Algeria and so on.
The extreme brutal events of Hama 1982 guaranteed the necessary fear to keep the Syrians away from any oppositional thinking. Using quick and intensified brutality secured afraid and reluctant nations from any political activity against the government. They also were keen to teach their children from their early childhood to “love the homeland and its Master, the Big Brother”. Abstaining from that could mean losing these children in unknown places, where “they wish to die, but can’t”.
No matter how much the exact causalities of the events of the ‘80s, or what exactly happened there, the rumors that the Syrians believed were enough to domesticate them for decades with no troubles.
The international weakness during the Syrian existence in Lebanon renewed the Syrians’ conviction. It assured them that the whole world was complying with their dictator. Some of the Syrians started to link this power with divine powers and became convinced that Assad was just a Frankenstein Monster which couldn’t be defeated or toppled.
By the time the Internet and satellite receivers came to life it was too late. The Assad already achieved a full generation of a brainwashed nation. Even when part of the nation started to be informed and enlightened, the majority of the nation stayed loyal to the “Big Brother” and his inspired family. However, there was an increasing feeling that things couldn’t stay like this for long. Some action should have to be taken to compensate for the loss of control over the nation.
When you try to read the political landscape of a foreign country, you have to learn –besides the words- the direction of writing. Some nations write from right to left. Others write from top to bottom. If you learn the meanings of words while insisting on reading from left to right, you would almost understand nothing.
When somebody asks me questions like: “Is Assad’s regime secular or Islamist?” or “How much did Assad get in the last elections?”, I answer: “You know what, you don’t need to know the right answer. The question itself is wrong”.
 Hizbollah–Syrian Intelligence Affairs: A Marriage of Convenience, a study by Carl Anthony Wege
College of Coastal Georgia