Saturday, August 28, 2004


I have recently posted a new article entitled: SYRIA AND THE 1948 WAR IN PALESTINE on my website. I hope readers, should there be some, will use this post to comment on it, correct errors of fact or opinion, and add their own insites.

A shorter version of this article was first published as: “Syria in the 1948 Palestine War: Fighting King Abdullah’s Greater Syria Plan,” in Eugene Rogan and Avi Shlaim, eds., Rewriting the Palestine War: 1948 and the History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Cambridge U.P., 2001, which has also been translated and published into French and Arabic (The pirated Rose al-Yusef translation was horrid but understandable.)


Shukri al-Quwwatli’s war policy during the conflict in Palestine was a disaster both for his presidency and for democracy in Syria. Indeed, the two had become intimately intertwined. In retrospect, it is easy to argue that Syria should never have pushed for war in Palestine. Had Syria not acted as the whip in the Arab League driving the others toward war, the United Nation’s partition plan might well have been carried out; and Israelis would have lived in a much smaller country. After all, who can deny that the Palestinians would have been better off had the Arab League not entered the conflict? King Abdullah was determined to work out a peaceful partition with the Jews, and the British were ready to oversee it.

Most popular accounts of the conflict give two principle reasons for why the Arabs went to war. First, the Arab people considered the partition plan to be highway robbery... Second, Arab governments believed they were stronger than the Jews and calculated that they could overwhelm the inconsequential Zionist forces and “push them into the sea.”

Although the first argument is sound, the second is myth. The Arab leaders all hoped to avoid war, which promised few benefits and many dangers. We now know that early military assessments by the Arab League and individual states of their ability to defeat Zionist forces in the impending conflict were unanimous in warning of the superiority of the Zionist military, which outnumbered the Arab forces at every stage of the war. Certainly, the Syrian leadership was painfully aware of the weakness of the Syrian army and had little or no faith in the ability of the “Arab leaders” to cooperate effectively against the Jews or win the war in Palestine.

This begs the question then of why President Quwwatli and Prime Minister Jamil Mardam were so adamant about opposing partition and pushing for war. Indeed, Syria’s role in shepherding the reluctant Egypt and Saudi Arabia toward war is little appreciated. Of all the Arab states, Syria was the most adamant about the need to go to war. Indeed, it was the first in and the last out of the war and, thus, bears much responsibility for the extent of the nakba, or disaster, that befell the Palestinians as a result. So why would Syria encourage the Arab world to go to war in Palestine even as it prepared for defeat?


At 4/11/2005 03:13:00 PM, Blogger warspite said...

Thank you posting this brilliant piece. It was indeed instructional and demonstrates the thesus so very clearly. I was particularly fascinated by the quoting of the leader of the northern Syrian backed irregulars. I would comment only that while your portrait shows they little real influence in action, on the Israeli side, there exists a body of evidence to suggest that this irregular group caused widespread fear and considerable destruction.

Your conclusions I confess I read twice. It seems to me right on target. I look forward to reading more-great job.


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