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Stalin-era USSR provides military support to Syria before, during, and after 1948 War

 

No Soviet arms shipments to Israel, Czechoslovakia supplies weapons to Syria as well

 

 

The History of the USSR & the Peoples’ Democracies

Chapter 16, Section 5 (C16S5) 

 

Saed Teymuri

 

 

Anti-dialectical is the assumption that the USSR would oppose the Anglo-American imperialists thoroughly but that it would also support an Israeli regime which was aligned with the American imperialists and covertly also with the British imperialists. It would be anti-dialectical to assume so, because such an assumption would contradict a major dialectical-historical-material law of history: the alliance of the proletariat. The USSR was a dictatorship of the proletariat, whereas the anti-imperialist states of the Arab world were the dictatorship of the anti-colonial national bourgeoisie, closely allied with the proletariat of the Arab countries. Such states did have the national bourgeoisie as the main force dominating the state but secondarily also incorporated the proletariat into the state, which was why these Arab states were democratic – Egypt was a constitutional monarchy, Syria was a democratic republic, and Lebanon was a multi-confessional parliamentary democracy. The interests of the Soviet proletariat were the same as the interests of the Egyptian, Lebanese, and Syrian proletariat. It makes little sense to say that the dictatorship of the proletariat in the USSR would materially contradict the progressive bourgeois-democratic alliance of the proletariat and the anti-colonial national bourgeoisie in the Arab countries because that would mean the contradiction of the class interests of the Soviet proletariat with the class interests of the Arab proletariat. One can therefore calculate that the Soviets would never betray the anti-colonial Arab forces, even if, at face-value, appearing to betray it. And it unsurprisingly turns out that such a calculation is backed up immensely by historical empirical evidence – namely the military and economic support of the USSR and the Peoples’ Democracies for the Arab anti-colonial war effort during the 1948 War.

The Soviet media stated that the anti-imperialist bloc would support the just cause of the Arabs; these were by no means empty promises. Throughout the 1948 War, the USSR and the Peoples’ Democracies of Eastern Europe covertly furnished the Arabs with military assistance. With respect to military aid to the Arabs, however, another excerpt of the previously mentioned Soviet-Syrian and Soviet-Lebanese secret treaties in 1946 was as follows:

The Soviet Union agrees to send a sufficient number of military personnel to Syria, comprising military instructors and high-ranking officers, in order to help Syria to build up as rapidly as possible a national army of some strength. (The Soviet Union and Egypt, 1945-55, Rami Ginat, 1993, p. 70. Citing: From Encroachment to Involvement, a Documentary Study of Soviet Policy in the Middle East, 1945-1973. Israel University Press, Yaacov Ro’i, 1974, pp. 29-30) (IMG)

And the same type of deal was made in the secret treaty with Lebanon:

A secret treaty between the USSR and the Lebanese government based on these [above] clauses, was signed two days later. (The Soviet Union and Egypt, 1945-55, Rami Ginat, 1993, p. 70) (IMG)

With regards to Soviet military support for Syria, the well-known Syrian politician Akram Howrani, who would later hold prominent positions in Nasserist and Ba’athist governments in Syria, confirmed that the Soviets were ‘offering military equipment in exchange for a pledge that we will not participate in any international agreements against it’, and that a female colleague of his received a special telegram regarding the details of a Soviet offer of military and economic aid:

Then, on October 2, 1946, I published the following comment on the possibility of establishing our relations with the Soviet Union.

“When Radio Moscow, quoting the correspondent of the Russian newspaper “Pravda”, broadcast the news of the British offer to conclude a military alliance treaty between England and Syria. When this news was broadcast, the Syrian government rushed and issued a statement saying, “This news is not true.” It is necessary to clarify all the internal and external circumstances regarding our current situation, but this certainty disappears little by little when other news is published and broadcasted that is closely related to our situation and our situation.

“A female colleague published a few days ago what a Jewish newspaper said in a special telegram she received from Beirut: ‘The government of the Soviet Union submitted proposals to Syria and Lebanon in which it presented to the two countries a guarantee of their independence and safety, and that it was ready to support the two countries’ international stance and support their respective steps in the United Nations Council. In every other international conference, support for Syria's demands from Turkey on the Alexandretta issue, the provision of tractors, agricultural machinery and building materials, the conclusion of commercial treaties with them, and the provision of military equipment at a fixed price for a long period.

“This is what was published last Sunday morning. The official circles met him only with complete silence, as if the matter did not concern them in a little or a lot... But we cannot stand idly by on this issue. Rather, the nation wants to know the facts. The facts are detailed. Because our country has become, by virtue of its geographical location, a field of competition between the major powers with influence. We must take advantage of this dangerous circumstance as much as we can.

“Our independence is guaranteed by the United Nations.

“As for providing military equipment to our army. What we know is British. And before that, French. You did not agree to give us enough weapons for this young army. Then the opposition of these two countries to us was clear in our purchase of arms from America. And here is a Russian offering military equipment in exchange for a pledge that we will not participate in any international agreements against it. What is our position also on this offer?

“That's the logic. And our international position, and our interest. All of this requires us not to be hostile to any country, unless it tries to detract from our independence and sovereignty.”

(Akram Al-Howrani Memoirs, 2000, pp. 586-587. Bold original) (IMG)

The support of the USSR for Syria was not limited to the period before the 1948 War but continued well afterwards onto during the 1948 War. Indeed the USSR – along with the Eastern European Peoples’ Democracies – militarily and economically backed Syria and Lebanon during the 1948 War. As material support for the Arab fighters, the Soviet Union and the Czechoslovak People’s Democracy provided weapons whereas Romania supplied the petroleum:

Some of the Arab League countries have purchased arms from Czechoslovakia; the largest shipments to the Arabs from that country have gone to Syria and Lebanon. Small shipments from the USSR or Balkan ports are also reported to have landed on the Syrian and Lebanese coasts; also, petroleum products are now being shipped to Lebanon by Rumania. (POSSIBLE DEVELOPMENTS FROM THE PALESTINE TRUCE, ORE 38-48, CIA, July 27, 1948, p. 9) (IMG)

As a result of Soviet military aid, the position of the Arabs improved significantly:

The armament position of the Arabs has been notably improved by … a $2,035,000 contract for small arms, ammunitions, and other materiel just negotiated by Syria with the Skoda works of Czechoslovakia … and … the reported arrival of Soviet shipments of small arms in Lebanon and Syria. (Book III – Weekly Summary – 3 July 1947 (#55) thru 30 December 1947 (#79), CIA, pp. III-IV) (IMG)

According to the above report, Britain also provided some token arms to the MI6 puppet regime in Iraq, the government which did not really contribute seriously to the fight against the IDF. The fact that the CIA documents used the word ‘reported’ – referring to reports which the CIA itself received – may make it appear as though the reports of Soviet shipment of weapons were not necessarily true. The reports were indeed true. A study published by the RAND Corporation confirmed that the USSR indeed sent arms to Syria:

The USSR was hedging its bets by sending some Czech arms from a remote air field to … Syria through Rijeka and Beirut…. (‘The Evolution of the Soviet Use of Surrogates in Military Relations with the Third World, with Particular Emphasis on Cuban Participation in Africa’, RAND Corporation, Gavriel D. Ra’anan, December 1979, p. 3) (IMG)

Also documenting the Soviet military aid to Syria is the ‘American Jewish Committee’ (AJC). To show the importance of the AJC as a source on this matter, the following is a description:

Prior to the establishment of the state of Israel and for more than a decade thereafter, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) was the Jewish organization to whose views Israeli leaders were most sensitive. Israeli and Zionist leaders perceived the AJC as the Jewish organization with the best access to U.S. policy-makers and as most representative of wealthy American Jews. Thus, the AJC was an important link in securing political and economic support from the American government and financial assistance from the American Jewish community.

AJC leaders had participated in the expanded Jewish Agency when Zionist leaders had sought the cooperation of leading non-Zionists in the 1920s. Indeed, the agreement between Zionists and non-Zionists whereby the latter joined the expanded Jewish Agency was largely the result of an agreement reached between Chaim Weizmann and Louis Marshall, leader of the AJC.

(DIASPORA INFLUENCE ON ISRAEL: THE BEN-GURION-BLAUSTEIN “EXCHANGE” AND ITS AFTERMATH, American Jewish Committee Archives. Reprinted from: Jewish Social Studies, Vol. 36, No. 3 to No. 4 (July 1974 to October 1974), Charles S. Liebman, pp. 271-272) (IMG)

According to the AJC, Riad Al-Solh, Lebanon’s first Prime Minister after independence, stated that the USSR, covertly through Czechoslovakia, was providing arms to the Arabs even though it superficially ‘sided’ ‘with’ Israel in the UN in 1947:

On February 25, Riad-es-Solh, the Premier of Lebanon, declared in Cairo: “Russia voted with you [Israel] on the Palestine question, but where do you think we are getting our arms? From Czechoslovakia. And who is Czechoslovakia but Russia herself?” (Jews in the Soviet Satellites, The American Jewish Committee, edited/authored by: Peter Meyer, Bernard Dov Weinryb, Eugene Duschinsky, Nicolas Sylvain, 1953, p. 128) (IMG)

Note again that in 1946, the USSR formed a military alliance with Lebanon. Well into the 1948 War, the progressive Arab forces were continuing to be furnished with arms by the Soviets. Also, as confirmed by Ra’anan, who had written the RAND Corporation paper, the USSR rejected the Israeli call for the purchase of Soviet arms:

at the time, negotiations were proceeding in Moscow regarding the possibility of Soviet arms supplies to Israel. This topic led to a meeting, on October 5, 1948, between the Israeli Major-General Yochanan Rattner and General Antonov, representing the Soviet chief of staff, Marshal Vasilevskii. Later in October, Mrs. Meir spoke to Mr. Bakulin of the Middle East Divison of the Soviet Foreign Ministry and submitted a detailed list of requests (including T-34 tanks, fighter planes, artillery, and anti-aircraft guns), stressing the urgency of an answer. However, she never received a reply, and the request was never fulfilled. (International Policy Formation in the USSR: Factional “Debates” during the Zhdanovschina, Gavriel Ra’anan, with a foreword by Robert Conquest, 1983, p. 83) (IMG)

An excerpt of a CIA document concerning this matter is as follows:

POSSIBLE OUTSIDE SOURCES OF SUPPLY. (Countries from which Israel is receiving material.)

a. The USSR and its satellites

No reliable evidence exists of purchases of arms from the USSR….

(Probable Effects on Israel and the Arab States of a UN Arms Embargo, ORE-48-48, CIA, August 5, 1948, p. 15) (IMG)

The following is an excerpt of a research paper from the Wilson Center:

No Soviet Arms

As soon as they arrived in Moscow in September 1948, Israeli diplomats opened talks with Soviet authorities about providing direct military aid. On 5 October 1948 Israeli military attaché Yohanan Ratner discussed training questions with General Seraev, asking about Soviet military textbooks and possibilities for Israeli officers to take advanced courses in the Soviet Union. A few days later, during a conversation with Red Army General Aleksei Antonov, Ratner suggested officer-training courses and the supply of German equipment that had fallen into Soviet hands. Antonov replied by asking for a detailed list of the Israeli needs.

On 7 November Ben Gurion sent such a list to Ratner, who submitted it on 11 November to Ivan Bakulin. The Jewish state wanted to purchase 45 T-34 tanks, 50 fighter planes, and anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns. Bakulin stated that he would transmit the Israeli requests but emphasized the difficulties due to the UN embargo: "True, others are violating this resolution,” he stated. “But if arms supplies from us are discovered, there will be an uproar." After this meeting, Bakulin sent a memorandum to Zorin suggesting that they officially reject the request because of the UN embargo. (…).

The Israeli request was in fact not sent to Stalin. As Bakulin explained to Gromyko, the requests “had been raised by the Jews during the war in Palestine. At present, since the end of the war and the stabilization of the situation in Palestine, the Jews have not renewed them. Reckoning that the Jews did not make these military requests seriously, we think it advisable to delay replying to them, and to raise with the higher authorities [Stalin] only the matter of credit.” In actuality, however, the Soviet Union did not want to be involved in direct military cooperation with Israel.

(Moscow’s Surprise: The Soviet-Israeli Alliance of 1947-1949, Wilson Center, Laurant Rucker, pp. 27-28. Bold original.) (IMG)

Along with the USSR, the Peoples’ Democracies militarily assisted Syria. The CIA confirmed:

Determined efforts were made to obtain arms and ammunition. Syria signed a contract with Skoda [a Czechoslovak military and automobile company], and a first delivery is known to have been made. (Possible Developments in Palestine. ORE 7–48. Report by the Central Intelligence Agency, CIA Files, Secret, Washington, February 28, 1948. In: FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES, 1948, THE NEAR EAST, SOUTH ASIA, AND AFRICA, Vol. 5, Part 2, p. 671) (IMG)

The War in Palestine continued till March 1949. Czechoslovakia continued to provide military support for the Arab cause, in particular Egypt. Citing various intelligence and government sources, a research work financially sponsored by the ‘Anglo-Jewish Association’ – the association which had a long history of promoting Jewish-bourgeois nationalism and British colonialism – stated:

Since the beginning of 1949, there had been many reports of Czech arms going via Poland to the Eastern Mediterranean. According to a senior official in the Egyptian government, the U.S.S.R was pressing offers of tanks, guns, ammunition and agricultural implements on the Egyptian government. On 5 July, the Israeli Minister to Czechoslovakia told his British counterpart that he knew for certain that the Egyptian government was making considerable purchases of arms mostly small arms and automatic weapons in Czechoslovakia for export to Egypt. E.A. Chapman-Andrews of the British Embassy in Egypt, confirmed that according to the Joint Intelligence Board’s quarterly report on the arms trade for the period mid-January to mid-April 1949, arms to the value of a few thousand dollars, originating in Czechoslovakia had been delivered to Egypt.

(The Soviet Union and Egypt – 1947-1955, Rami Ginat, 1993, p. 102. Citing: On the Soviet position concerning the arms embargo, see minute by Beith, F.O., 7 July 1949, F0371/75104, E8780/1192/65. On the supply of Czech arms to Egypt see, Telegram No. 278 from P. Dixon, British Embassy, Prague, 12 May 1950, F0371/81958, E1192/84; Letter from H. Gresswell, Ministry of Defence, to F.O. and War Office, 23 March 1949, F0371/73549, J3020/1194/16; On the conversation between the Israeli Minister and P. Dixon, the British Ambassador to Prague, see, Telegram No. 148 from Dixon, 8 July 1949, F0371/73561, J5640/11919/16; Telegram No. 461 from Chapman-Andrews, Alexandria, 31 August 1949, ibid, J7094/11919/16.) (IMG)

Referring to the 1948 War in Palestine, the research work corroborated:

The issue of arms sales was not at all new. Arms from Soviet bloc countries had arrived in Egypt and Syria during the Palestine war and soon after. (“The Soviet Union and Egypt, 1945-1955,” Rami Ginat, 1993, p. 241) (IMG)

According to the American Jewish Committee – which for a long time served as the main lobbying organization for Israel and hence played a predecessor role to AIPAC in this respect – Czechoslovakia also provided arms to the Palestinian Arab forces combatting Israel:

On March 19 [1948], a shipment of Czechoslovak rifles and machine guns for the Palestinian Arab army arrived at the small Lebanese port of Djounish in a large schooner from Genoa. (Jews in the Soviet Satellites, The American Jewish Committee, edited/authored by: Peter Meyer, Bernard Dov Weinryb, Eugene Duschinsky, Nicolas Sylvain, 1953, p. 128) (IMG)

Again, the evidence, which was previously shown, overwhelmingly indicates that the Czechoslovak supply of such arms was under Soviet military direction. Some people in the Soviet Foreign Ministry found out about such arms shipments to the Arab countries only later. A message by Soviet Foreign Ministry official Zorin to Molotov confirmed that Czechoslovakia indeed sold arms to Syria but not to Israel back in early 1948:

Comrade V.M. Molotov,

According to a report by Comrade Bodrov, the chargé d'affaires of the USSR in Czechoslovakia, the Czechoslovak government has sold weapons to the Syrian government (mortars, mortar shells and cartridges). At the same time, the Czechs have refused to sell weapons to the Jewish Agency in Palestine, which made this request in November 1947.

On this matter Agence France-Presse reported from Cairo on 13 December that the British are trying to foil the supply of Czech weapons to the Arab countries and that the British government has, allegedly, held up the remittance which the Syrian government made through London in payment for weapons bought from Czechoslovakia. This report is confirmed by an appeal to the State Insurance Company of the USSR (Gosstrakh) from the Czechoslovak Insurance Company Slavye which has a contract with Gosstrakh for its cooperation should the British obstruct insurance for the cargo of weapons sent from Czechoslovakia to Beirut for the Arabs.

(‘V.A. Zorin to V.M. Molotov (Moscow)’, COPY: AVP RF, F.0118, OP.2, P.3, D.11, LL.60-1, Moscow, January 22, 1948. In: “Documents on Israeli-Soviet Relations, 1941-1953, Parts 1-2”, Israeli Foreign Ministry, Russian Foreign  Ministry, Israel State Archives, Russian Federal Archives, p. 256) (IMG)

A specific faction within Czechoslovakia, the Slansky faction, did use its influence to provide arms to Israel. The shipments were illegal and part of the treasonous activity of the Titoist faction in the Czechoslovak state. However, the communist faction, the Gottwald faction, was responsible for the arms shipments to Syria.

Hence, the USSR and People’s Democratic Czechoslovakia provided arms to Syria, Egypt, and Lebanon to combat the regime of Israel. People’s Democratic Romania also provided the petroleum resources crucial for the war effort. The USSR also increased its economic ties to Egypt during this time. The two states signed two trade agreements, giving each other highly-favored-nation statuses:

Egypt and the Soviet Union signed a barter agreement on March 3, calling for the exchange of 38,000 metric tons of long staple cotton for 216,000 tons of wheat and 19,000 tons of corn cereals. A protocol, signed simultaneously with the agreement, granted both parties most-favored-nation treatment in trade relations with the exceptions of countries adjacent to the Soviet Union and of the Arab countries (telegram 228, March 4, from Cairo). (‘INTEREST OF THE UNITED STATES IN THE REVISIONIST OF THE ANGLO-EGYPTIAN TREATY OF AUGUST 26, 1936, AND THE FUTURE STATUS OF THE SUDAN; THE SOVIET-EGYPTIAN BARTER AGREEMENT’. In: ‘Foreign Relations of the United States, 1948’, Vol. 5, Part 2, US Department of State, 1976, p. 86) (IMG)

Note that the Anglo-American imperialists had regarded Egypt as a zone from which to bomb the USSR:

During the spring and summer of 1946, prior to the Soviet note on the straits, strategic planners decided that other than Great Britain, the Cairo-Suez area was the most desirable place on the globe from which to launch an air attack against Soviet targets. (Safeguarding Democratic Capitalism: US Foreign Policy and National Security, 1920-1950. Melvyn P. Leffler, 2017, p. 173) (IMG)

From air bases in Turkey, fighter bombers and attack planes could not only aid Turkish ground forces inside Turkey but also interdict Soviet troops moving through Iran and Iraq toward Persian Gulf Oil or sweeping widely toward Cairo-Suez. (Safeguarding Democratic Capitalism: US Foreign Policy and National Security, 1920-1950. Melvyn P. Leffler, 2017, p. 177) (IMG)

The reason that Egypt was chosen was that the Soviet Red Army, the strongest part of the Soviet military, was far away from Egypt and at the same time, the American air force, the strongest part of US military, could be stationed there and get sent to bomb the Caucasus oil fields.

(…).

The defeat of the Arab armies in the war against Israel’s regime rolled back the progressive factions in the Arab armies while strengthening the reactionary factions in these armies. In Jordan, this meant the greater entrenchment of the reactionary forces over the military. In Syria, by contrast, this meant the weakening of the progressive forces dominating the Syrian state apparatus and greater leverage for the fascist spies. A CIA coup occurred in Syria a few days after the defeat of the Syrian Arab Army by the IDF. The weakening of the Syrian state, and the rise of the reactionary elements in the command of the means of violence in Syria created the ample opportunity for the CIA to launch a military coup against the Soviet-backed government of Syria. (…). After an intensive power struggle, there came about a democratic restoration in Syria. In this midst, the USSR began to fund the Syrian progressive bourgeois-democratic forces again. Hence in 1950:

Dwalibi confirmed that the U.S.S.R offered arms to Syria and talks about a treaty of friendship and commerce had been going on between Farid Zain al-Din, the Syrian Minister to Moscow and Vyshinskyii, the Soviet Foreign Minister. Dwalibi was reported as saying that the Syrian Government had not made any decision about Soviet proposals to supply all Syria's requirements from arms manufactured in the Soviet Union or Czechoslovakia; (The Soviet Union and Egypt – 1947-1955, Rami Ginat, 1991, p. 150. Citing: Telegram 206 from F.O. to Damascus, 13 May 1950, F0371/82794, EY10338/2. Khalid al-Azm, the Syrian Prime Minister, said that Syria would obtain its arms from any available sources; see telegram 128 from Damascus, 17 May 1950, F0371/82814, EY11338/2.) (IMG)

The deal did go through. That the USSR furnished Syria with arms in 1950 is confirmed by the interview-memoirs of Dr. Ma’rouf Al-Dwalibi, the prominent Syrian official at the time. Although a staunch anti-communist and anti-Soviet slanderer, he was nonetheless one of the officials of a progressive and Soviet-friendly government in Syria. As a minister of the Hashim Al-Attasi administration, he was tasked with negotiating arms with the USSR. In his interview-memoirs, Al-Dwalibi recalled his 1950 negotiations with the Soviet ambassador as follows:

I also told him: ‘You participated in planting the Jews in our country, and this [Israel] is the result. And now I want a weapon from you, because we are threatened.’ He said: ‘We cannot give you a weapon, because we just got out of the [Great Patriotic] War. All of our arms production should be for our country.’ He asked me for a copy of the peace agreement, and I sent it to him; and he sent it to Stalin. And he went crazy, and after four days, he issued an order to give us whatever weapons we wanted. Thus, the door to the weapon was opened. Three months later, I became Speaker of Parliament. (Memoirs of Dr. Ma’rouf Al-Dwalibi, interviewed by: Mohammad Ali Hashemi, interviewee: Dr. Ma’rouf Al-Dwalibi, 2005, p. 146) (IMG)

Dwalibi was someone who tried to portray the USSR as problematic, but he did admit that four days after the Soviet ambassador sent the letter to Stalin, the Soviet state ordered that Syria be given ‘whatever weapons [she] wanted’ and thus ‘the door to the weapon was opened’.

 

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