Britain’s Treachery, France’s revenge / Photos

Posted by Alex 

Here are four photos from the private collection of to accompany professor Meir Zamir's article "Britain's Treachery, France's revenge".

State Department photo of Faisal II, the young Hashemite King of Iraq with his maternal uncle the Regent Prince Abdul Ilah (a British ally) touring San Fransisco's China Town in 1952. The Hashemite Monarch might have been considered by the British as a possible King of their proposed Greater Syria & Iraq. This idea was also promoted by Nuri Al-Said, the strong prime minister of Iraq at the time who was also very close to Britain.

Syrian President Shukri Quatli (right) at the Damascus Mezze Airport in 1948 awaiting the arrival of Iraq's Regent Prince Abdul Ilah. On the left, Syria's Chief of Staff General Hosni Al-Zaim, who led an American sponsored coup d'etat against Quatli few months after this photo was taken (March 30th 1949). This was the first of a series of coups in the late forties and early to mid fifties. Syria was a democracy before this first coup.


At Alexandria airport to attend an Arab meeting on Palestine. Riyad Al-Sulh, prime minister of Lebanon (white suit and Fez), accompanied by Haj Amin Al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem who used to reside in Beirut. The Mufti was at the time the principal Palestinian resistence leader. Prime minister Al-Sulh may have been involved in Britain's plans for the area, according to Meir Zamir's article.

At the funeral of the Syrian President Sheikh Taj Al-Din Al-Hussieni in Damascus/Syria Jan, 18, 1943. The photo shows the key politicians and foreign diplomats who played a major role in shaping the future states of Syria and Lebanon just prior to the Independence of both states. From right to left: Faiz Bey El-Khoury, foreign minister of Syria. Philip Bey Boulos, foreign minister of Lebanon. Jamil Bey Ulchi, Prime Minister of Syria. General Spears, British minister to Syria and Lebanon. Jean Helleu, French delegate [pro-temp], formerly the French ambassador to Turkey. Alfred Naccach, President of Lebanon. Sami Bey El-Solh, Prime minister of Lebanon. And last, the assistant Egyptian general consul.

General Spears played a major role in British plans for attempting to move Syria and Lebanon out of French mandate and into British influence.



Comments (10)

Zenobia said:

Excellent photos!

February 5th, 2008, 7:29 am


offended said:

WOW! thank you very much ya Alex for posting these gems : ).
Do you know at what time the photo of Riyad Al-Sulh and Haj Amin Al-Husseini was taken?

The impression that we had of Shukri Al Qwateli as a president prior to the union with Egypt is that of selfless man who had willingly abandoned the presidency in order to see the Arab dream of unity materializing. I think, after re-writing this chapter of history through Zamir’s article, we should also think of him as a cunning politicians who played with colonial powers to the benefit of Syria.

For some reason, those photos make me yearn for times in Syria where political life was bubbly. Of course, you can’t ignore the negative impact those myriads of coups had on the stability of the country. Nor you can forget the fact that most of the conspiracies against Syria at that time had passed through Beirut.

February 5th, 2008, 7:29 am


trustquest said:


You might add to those collection of photos, a beautiful photo from the US Navy archives which taken for Syrian president Shukri in his Damascene traditional dress visiting the USS Provedance in 1946.

February 5th, 2008, 1:35 pm


t_desco said:

Al-Qaida in Lebanon

Last year the Lebanese army besieged the Palestinian camp of Nahr al-Bared, where a previously unknown organisation, Fatah al-Islam, was dug in. These events, like attacks on the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) reflect the appearance of radical Sunni Islamist networks – some linked to al-Qaida, which is now treating Lebanon as a key base, says Fidaa Itani.

“We were forcibly thrust into a battle that does not concern us. I would rather not have had to fight the Lebanese army,” said Shahin Shahin, a Fatah al-Islam military commander, to a negotiator during the siege of the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared by the Lebanese army. It was not then yet known that he was a son of Osama bin Laden and a high-ranking al-Qaida official. His misgivings about the fighting reflected his organisation’s ambivalence towards Lebanon — whether to see the country as a battleground on which to confront the United States and its allies, or just as a rear base for the training and transit of al-Qaida operatives.

Two days after the army gained control of the camp, on 4 September, the head of Lebanese military intelligence, Georges Khoury, acknowledged that the Fatah al-Islam combatants were members of al-Qaida. But the roots of the organisation in Lebanon reach deeper into the past. In the 1990s, Lebanese courts found Salafists guilty of forming terrorist cells linked to al-Qaida. The militants were Lebanese following the example of Salem al-Shahal, who started Lebanon’s first Muslimun (Muslim) and Shabab Muhammad (Youth of Muhammad) groups in Tripoli in 1974. Shahal tried to impose sharia in the city, starting by attempting to prevent young people going to the cinema. His influence spread to several Syrian towns, but at the time Salafist values lacked solid roots.

In those days the Sunnis were middle class traders, shopkeepers and civil servants, or illiterate country people. They expressed their support for Arab nationalism and the Palestinian struggle by joining Nasserite or leftwing movements. However, several Sunni groups moved closer to radical Islamism after Syrian troops occupied Lebanon in 1976, bringing repression with them. At the same time the influence of the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood started to increase, threatening the regime in Damascus with armed incursions by its military wing.

When the civil war in Lebanon ended in 1989, with the signature of the Taif accord, the Salafists, whose influence was still only limited, mainly targeted other Islamic organisations, al-Ahbash or the Association of Islamic Charitable Projects (AICP). These attacks were an opportunity for the Salafist groups to perfect their intellectual and missionary skills, recruiting in many towns and villages. They were particularly successful with middle-class graduates, as well as with students of theology who had been in Saudi Arabia and stayed in contact with radical ulema there. But the groups still lacked cohesion, the best known being al-Hidayah wal-Ihsan (Preaching and Charity), which was reorganised by the son of the movement’s founder, Dai al-Islam al-Shahal.

On 31 August 1995, one of these groups assassinated Sheikh Nizar al-Halabi, the head of the AICP, and caused a stir. It was the first time that a Salafist group had eliminated an opponent. Members of the organisation confessed to committing the murder and persisted in taking exclusive responsibility to the end. However, the Lebanese authorities and Syrian intelligence (which controlled the country) chose to pin the crime on Abdul Karim al-Saadi (aka Abu Mahjen), the Palestinian leader of Asbat al-Ansar, which was based in the Ayn al-Hilwah refugee camp, near Saida in southern Lebanon. In 1999 the same group, originally formed by veterans from the war in Afghanistan, was blamed for the assassination of four judges in Saida central court.

Point of departure

At this point links between the Salafists and al-Qaida started to develop. An organisation that was probably Chechen, and certainly connected to Bin Laden, asked Bassam Kanj (aka Abu Aisha) to help infiltrate Muslim combatants into Israel. In 1988, Kanj had given up his studies in the United States, and taken a crash course in global jihad in Afghanistan. Following the request from al-Qaida he set up the Dinniyeh organisation, but asked for two years’ grace to establish it as an anti-Israeli resistance force, alongside Hizbullah.

In May 2000, Russian negotiators, who were supervising the Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon with the Syrians, gave the Lebanese and Syrian authorities a recording of a conversation between Kanj and Chechen mujahideen, which led to a Lebanese army raid on Dinniyeh on New Year’s Eve 2001. At the same time the Syrian authorities, operating on the other side of the border, arrested radical Islamists, confirming the network’s trans-national nature.

Al-Qaida waited till the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003, before openly calling for units to be set up in Lebanon. But al-Qaida also operates as a form of franchise, with a far from centralised organisation, leaving considerable freedom of movement to local units. It was well established by the end of 2005 when the Lebanese authorities first succeeded in catching the members of a network, subsequently referred to as the “Network of 13,” led by Hassan Nabaa, a Lebanese national. The group, which also comprised Saudis, Syrians, and Palestinians, supported al-Qaida and the Iraqi resistance movement, operating in Lebanon and Syria where it clashed on several occasions with the secret service, particularly in border zones. It is said to have shot down a Syrian helicopter.

The arrests prompted a controversy because the prisoners’ confessions contained details of their involvement in the assassination of the former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, on 14 February 2005. But there is doubt about how the confessions were obtained, and the group’s alleged link with the young Palestinian Ahmad Abu Adas, who claimed responsibility for the suicide attack on Hariri in an earlier video recording.

In Spring 2006, there was a split in Fatah al-Intifada, an organisation with close links to the Syrian regime that broke away from Yasser Arafat’s Fatah in 1983. About 70 of its members joined a Palestinian officer of Jordanian origin, Shaker al-Absi (Abu Ali), setting up Fatah al-Islam. The dissidents dispersed to Palestinian camps: Burj al-Barajneh (southern suburbs of Beirut), Ain al-Hilweh (Saida), Shatila (Beirut) and the two camps at Badawi and Nahr al-Bared, in the north. They were joined by some 50 militants led by Shehab al-Qaddur (Abu Hurayra), a Lebanese who spent most of his life undercover, after being arrested by the Syrians in Tripoli in 1986 when he was 14.

From the outset Fatah al-Islam was supported by the jihadist representative at Ain al-Hilweh, with the assurance of al-Qaida funding. Meanwhile some of its members received training from the military leader of the Jund al-Sham group, also located at the camp. This organisation was started in Afghanistan in 1999 by jihadists from the countries of al-sham (Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan) and adopted a radical stance.

The war of 2006

In July 2006 the 33-day war between Israel and Hizbullah erupted. The jihadist groups took advantage of the confusion to extend their influence. They also made use of the decision by the Islamic state in Iraq (instituted by al-Qaida) to expel any elements lacking specialist military skills or unable to blend in with the local population. Fatah al-Islam attracted many of these lost soldiers, prompting a hostile response by Fatah and other groups belonging to the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, which wanted to “cleanse” the Ain al-Hilweh camp. The Lebanese army, which had just deployed in force to the south of Litani following the end of the fighting between Hizbullah and Israel, was worried about leaving these jihadists only a short distance from the 12,000 strong UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). Fatah al-Islam decided to take refuge in the north, an area with a Sunni majority, considered friendly.

Several meetings paved the way for this move, not only with the local Salafists but also with members of parliament belonging to Saad Hariri’s Future Movement, concerned about Hizbullah’s growing influence. Al-Absi held talks with a Sunni MP from Tripoli, a doctor who once had leftwing sympathies and who expressed his fear that the Shia Hizbullah might turn on the Sunni. Al-Absi replied that, without entering into conflict with a force fighting Israel, he would not allow anyone to harm the Sunni.

So Fatah al-Islam established itself at Nahr al-Bared, publishing its first statement on 27 November 2006. Meanwhile a large number of combatants connected to al-Qaida passed back and forth through Lebanon, either via the official crossing-points or illegally across the Syrian border. Some dispersed, after a brief stay at Nahr al-Bared, to set up their own networks in areas with a high proportion of Sunni inhabitants. Recent recruits have come from other Arab countries, but also from Russia, Chechnya and Turkey.

At the end of 2006, Ahmad Tuwaijiri, a senior Saudi al-Qaida member, arrived in Lebanon. He met Fatah al-Islam leaders several times, as well as other Salafist groups. Funding flowed in, with public and private donations from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait offered by prosperous businessmen who want to help the jihad.

The various Salafist organisations were also keen to regroup, the better to resist the Shia threat. The political crisis in Lebanon and occasional clashes between Sunni and Shia, and between supporters of the parliamentary majority and opposition, created a favourable context.

The local members of al-Qaida took advantage of the Future Movement’s pressing need for militia to counterbalance Hizbullah. Although it appreciated the risks involved in dealing with fundamentalist factions, Hariri’s party nevertheless adopted this short-term expedient in its struggle with Hizbullah, Syria and Iran. Al-Qaida acted pragmatically, seizing the opportunity to raise funds to recruit dozens of additional combatants, organise more training sessions at Ain al-Hilweh, prepare plans for attacking UNIFIL in the south, and spy on the embassies of western and Gulf countries in Beirut.

A blind eye

Syria opted to turn a blind eye to such activities, leaving its opponents in the Future Movement to suffer the consequences. Syria increased pressure at home, disposing of many militants who subsequently took refuge in Lebanon.

In the first half of 2007, some 20 groups connected with al-Qaida were active, with visits by high-ranking operatives, the influx of combatants, and the departure of affiliated individuals for Europe (France, UK, Netherlands and Germany) once they had completed training. In partnership with Fatah al-Islam, al-Qaida set up a vast network that survived the fighting at Nahr al-Bared intact. It trafficked arms through Syria, purchased others from local dealers and seized PLO stockpiles at Nahr al-Bared.

The situation flared on the night of 19 May, when an intelligence unit of the Internal Security Forces decided to raid an al-Qaida group in Tripoli’s al-Mitayn Street. The men, who were also wanted by the Saudis, were giving technical support to the Iraqi mujahideen. But they were operating under the protection of Fatah al-Islam. Fighting very quickly spread to the camp at Nahr al-Bared. The conflict lasted 106 days, claiming the lives of 170 soldiers, 47 Palestinian civilians and 200 Fatah al-Islam combatants. Although more than 150 leaders and members of the organisation managed to slip away, 40 combatants were killed during the last few days of fighting, most of them executed with a bullet in the back of the head. The army occupied a deserted camp and prevented any civilian or humanitarian organisations from gaining access, even banning photographs in the vicinity. Army bulldozers flattened buildings, covering up any trace of fighting.

In June, a month after the fighting started, the Lebanese security forces discovered that Shahin was Saad bin Laden. He had managed to enter the camp a few days after the start of the battle and became popular with the combatants. The security forces had noticed his arrival in Lebanon a few months earlier. Saad, one of the most active leaders in the operations section of al-Qaida, had set up cells and support units all over Lebanon, in collaboration with al-Qaddur.

Despite the military setback at Nahr al-Bared the Islamist groups linked to al-Qaida have not cut back their activities in Lebanon. They are at work in the Palestinian camp of Ain al-Hilweh, the predominantly Sunni Beka’a valley and poor quarters of Beirut. When I met Shahin six weeks after the start of the fighting, he asked: “Do you really believe that we only have the 500 combatants encircled in Nahr al-Bared?” The assassination of political leaders, and attacks in Beirut and against UNIFIL, attributed to Fatah al-Islam in an army press conference on 4 September, confirm the scale of the organisation in Lebanon. The intelligence service provided further proof, following the arrest of more than 200 members of the Salafist and jihadist movement.

Commentators repeatedly ask why al-Qaida’s second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, never referred to the battle of Nahr al-Bared, simply blessing the 24 June attack on the Spanish contingent of the UNIFIL in the south. According to Shahin, al-Qaida was unhappy about becoming bogged down in the fighting inside the camp. It was also concerned at Fatah al-Islam’s political isolation, most of Lebanon’s political parties, including the Salafists, having withdrawn their support. The siege reduced al-Qaida’s margin for manoeuvre and prompted the army to carry out hundreds of raids and arrests.

Too high a price

However, as the political crisis in Lebanon grinds on, prompting all the factions to arm and train their combatants, al-Qaida may be able to lurk in the shadow of the largest Sunni group, the Future Movement, which is hiring combatants under the cover of private security companies. Hariri’s organisation has so far assembled about 2,400 militia, and plans to recruit 14,000 more in northern Lebanon alone. But the siege of Nahr al-Bared convinced part of Lebanon’s Sunni elite that an alliance with al-Qaida came at too high a price.

This fighting also prompted growing interest in the Sunni community for the Salafist cause. Christian soldiers damaged some of the mosques in the camp and desecrated copies of the Qur’an, particularly in Roumieh prison where the jihadists are being held. Several websites have appeared, openly proclaiming their support for al-Qaida and glorifying the martyrs of Fatah al-Islam. One writes: “Patience — al-Qaida is back in Lebanon: The end of Nahr al-Bared marks the start of al-Qaida.”

Exhausted by a local conflict with no prospect of a political solution, thousands of young Sunni envy the Shia, who have succeeded in monopolising resistance against Israel. They are pleased to see al-Qaida’s attacks in the West and its (albeit limited) success in Iraq. A new generation is returning to the mosques, drawn by Salafist and jihadist ideas, in the larger context of discredited Sunni authorities, including the Dar al-Ifta (a Sunni religious body), the Islamic solidarity funds and religious courts. These bodies are paying for their support for the Future Movement and for their corruption. There is a feeling of injustice and a lack of any hope of an issue to the conflict with Israel. Al-Qaida may play on both the fear of Shia and Hizbullah, the danger of the Sunni being sidelined, and on anti-US sentiment (whereas the government and official Sunni organisations are seen as Washington’s allies). Some think radical Islam holds the solution to these problems and are consequently prepared to follow al-Qaida.

But al-Qaida — though not necessarily all the groups claiming its support — seems to be treating Lebanon primarily as a rear base, a training camp and secure staging post on the road between Europe and Iraq. It is a place for technical innovation, where the organisation can develop new resources: small, radio-controlled aircraft carrying 30 kilo charges, remote-controlled explosive devices that can withstand the jamming system deployed on US armoured vehicles in Iraq, and even software so that al-Qaida leaders worldwide can communicate over the net and coordinate activities undetected by local intelligence services and the US National Security Agency.

Under these conditions, as Shahin explained, al-Qaida has nothing to gain from involving itself in Lebanon’s domestic strife.

It remains to be seen how the organisation will reconcile such relative neutrality with Zawahiri’s recent condemnation of UNIFIL and the attacks that followed. Will local groups claiming allegiance to al-Qaida agree to steer clear of Lebanese affairs? Whatever the answer, al-Qaida’s future in Lebanon looks secure. — translated by Harry Forster
Fidaa Itani/Le Monde diplomatique/Middle East Online

French version here (with four footnotes that are missing in this version).

February 5th, 2008, 3:11 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


Thank you for posting this. The evidence about al-Qaida’s “franchise operation” in Lebanon continues to grow, and it is alarming to say the least.

I have a question, though.

If Lebanon is a “rear base” for al-Qaida missions against the U.S. in Iraq, and eventually against Israel, and if it has “nothing to gain” from getting involved in domestic strife, let alone promoting it, then should we question its involvement in the assassinations of Lebanese politicians?

Obviously, groups that declare allegiance to al-Qaida can choose to ignore certain edicts, but if the funding is flowing to al-Qaida in Lebanon with the express purpose of training militants for export abroad, then it would seem counter-productive, as “Shahin” (aka OBL Jr.) suggested, to target M14 politicians.

Just a thought.

February 5th, 2008, 6:19 pm


Alex said:

An Israeli writing about Syria has some lessons to offer Lebanon

By The Daily Star

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


It is impossible to say how many Lebanese politicians are regular readers of Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, but all of them should visit the daily’s Web site to examine a recent article by historian Meir Zamir. Entitled “Britain’s treachery, France’s revenge,” the piece explains and partially documents the sordid strategies employed by both London and Paris as they jockeyed for position in what was then the “new Middle East” created by World War II. The two declining colonial powers were utterly unscrupulous in betraying their respective clients – Muslim, Christian and Jewish – and each other in their efforts to pursue their perceived national interests.

The particular events referred to by Zamir relate primarily to Syria, but the lesson for all of Lebanon’s squabbling political parties – each of which is beholden on some level to a foreign patron – is obvious: To rely on outside backing to face down domestic rivals is to court disaster for all concerned. When push comes to shove, does anyone really doubt that the US and Syrian governments, for example, are perfectly capable of selling out their current proxies in Lebanon? These and other countries – specifically France, Iran and Saudi Arabia – are competitors in a far larger process of bargaining, one in which Lebanese blood is but one of several means of exchange (and not a highly prized one at that).

The desire of larger powers to have friendly leaderships installed in smaller ones is anything but a novelty, and Lebanon is not alone in having suffered its effects on multiple occasions. This country is unique, however, in its unmatched ability, generation after generation, to produce political figures willing to serve as vassals to foreign masters – and so to lead their people into bankruptcy, servitude, and/or war.

Zamir did not set out to relate a cautionary tale for the benefit of Lebanese readers, but the result is no weaker for having been inadvertent. It helps to know that after the distant string-pullers were done playing their marionettes off against one another, many of the latter were assassinated, overthrown and/or humiliated. Worst of all, their enthusiasm for being manipulated ensured the most painful Arab defeat of recent times, the loss of Palestine. Are Lebanon’s “leaders” looking to imitate that?

February 5th, 2008, 11:27 pm


Kamal said:


Do you have any idea how deeply I disagree with you?

But I want to thank you for the great pictures.


February 6th, 2008, 12:39 am


Alex said:

I noticed Kamal. You disagree with me deeply … but only about a few questions, not about everything.

Thank you for … thanking me : )

I have a complaint from Rime Allaf … she says that we are all always willing to go on discussing the same old issues, but we (except offended) completely ignored this shocking story.

And she is right!

What does everyone think of Meir Zamir’s research?

Any lessons learned?

February 6th, 2008, 3:35 am


annie said:

Thank you for the wonderful photos, but the first one, I thought it was the mob until I read the caption. I suppose a matter of fashion.

February 6th, 2008, 6:37 am


salem Hamadi said:

Yestreday’s Supplement of the Haaretz newspaper has published the British Edward Spears documents caliming that the French spied on British Syrian negotiations on forming greater Syria to comprise Palestine Jordan etc and the French avenged that by giving all thier support to Jewish terrorists groups such as the Haganah that eventually led to Nakbah.
according to Nizar Nyouf Website, this may rewrite the history of Syria:

February 6th, 2008, 10:29 am


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