The Arab March of Folly: The Collusion of Syrian Leaders and the Arab League Secretary General with the British Intelligence in Covert Warfare against France in North Africa

By Meir Zamir

(A shorter Hebrew version was first published in Israel Defense, September 20, 2021)

On February 19, 1945, a top officer in the British CID (Criminal Investigation Department in the mandatory Palestine police force) in Jerusalem relayed information to the MI5 (British security service) headquarters in London from a source “reliable but sensitive, with close ties with the Jewish Agency” on decisions reached at a secret meeting of its executive committee following David Ben-Gurion’s secret agreement with General Paul Beynet, France’s senior representative in Syria and Lebanon, four months prior. It appears that this information had been conveyed to the CID by one of two top agents it was running in the Jewish Agency who operated under the code name “CIRCUS.” But the main source of intelligence on the activities of the heads of the Jewish Agency and the Hagana (Zionist military organization in pre-state Israel) was received by the British secret services from their interception of COMMINT (Communication Intelligence) in their Sigint station in Sarafand, not far from Lydda airport.

The assistance provided by French officers to the underground Zionist movements in their struggle against the British mandate in Palestine was an immediate concern of the British military and intelligence authorities in Cairo. They became even more concerned after French intelligence officers met with agents of the extreme anti-British LEHI (Freedom Fighters of Israel) movement, shortly before Lord Moyne, the British Minister in Cairo, was assassinated by two of its members in the Egyptian capital in November 1944.

As a result of the information received from Jerusalem, the MI5 instructed the British intelligence organizations in the Middle East to closely monitor the secret Franco-Zionist collaboration. In March 1945 the British intelligence services in Egypt reported that Ben-Gurion had arrived in Cairo on his way to Paris and met with French intelligence officers. Ben-Gurion, who stayed in Paris for long periods of time from the end of 1945 until early 1947, subsequently became a major target of the British secret services in France. He was considered to be an extreme opponent of the British mandate in Palestine and a strong supporter of collaboration with France. British attempts to arrest him during Operation Agatha (known as “Black Saturday” in Israeli history) in June 1946 failed, as he was at that time in Paris.

Zionist leaders held during Operation Agatha in Latrun, 1946.

Clandestine Jewish immigration to Palestine via France was a bone of contention in Anglo-French relations. The British embassy in Paris repeatedly appealed to the Quai d’Orsay to put an end to it. The embassy also provided the Quai d’Orsay with precise information, including the names of the vessels used, the numbers of immigrants, the French ports and the Jewish Agency operators involved.

MI6 and the Military against Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin

France’s support of the Zionist movement became a source of disagreement between Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin and the British military and intelligence organizations in London and the Middle East. The Chiefs of Staff warned that France could not be relied upon in the event of a war against the Soviet Union, as had been demonstrated in WWII, and that the influential French communist party was exacerbating the danger that France might be drawn into the Soviet orbit. In contrast, Bevin believed that France would recover and return to being a leading European power with international status. He considered France to be a major player in a western European defense alliance against the Soviet Union. As for its support of the Zionist movement, he believed that its policy could be influenced by diplomatic pressure.

Ernest Bevin

Bevin was determined to solve the Anglo-French crisis in Syria, and shortly after assuming his position he instructed the aghast General Bernard Paget, the Commander in Chief of the British forces in the Middle East, to coordinate with his French counterpart the simultaneous withdrawal of the British and French forces from Syria and Lebanon. In December 1945, he signed an agreement with Georges Bidault, the French Foreign Minister, in which Britain recognized France’s special interests in the Levant, and undertook to endorse Syria’s independence, namely, to cease its attempts to unite Syria with Hashemite Iraq and Transjordan. Bevin thus brought to an end all that the British military and intelligence had accomplished in their scheming in the Syrian crisis in the summer of 1945, when they had succeeded in expelling France from Syria and establishing British tacit hegemony over it, as well as in forcing Syrian leaders, many of whom had been installed in their positions by the British intelligence, to agree to unite their country with Iraq and Transjordan, thereby forming a regional defence alliance under British control.

While Bevin reached a series of agreements with France in Europe, which culminated in the establishment of NATO in April 1949, MI6 officers in Cairo, backed by the military, sought to undermine France’s position in its colonies in North Africa. They aimed to pressure France to cease its support of the Zionist movement and acquiesce in tacit British hegemony in Syria and Britain’s indirect rule over Libya. But Bevin’s efforts to instruct MI6, which had been ostensibly under his command, to cease its covert warfare against France in North Africa, were in vain.

The Collusion of Syrian leaders and the Arab League Secretary General with MI6 in covert warfare against France in North Africa

After rejecting Bevin’s diplomatic approach to an understanding with France in the Middle East, the British military and MI6 in Cairo reverted to their familiar methods of subversion to pressure France in its most vulnerable spot – North Africa. Documents of the Syrian government and the Arab League, as well as Syrian military intelligence reports and French and Zionist sources, shed light on the subversive activities of the British intelligence officers in collaboration with Syrian secret agents. These included smuggling arms and providing financial support to the nationalists in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco in their struggle for independence from French rule (Documents nos. 4,8,11). The fact that many of the North African nationalist leaders conducted their anti-French struggle from Cairo, made it more convenient for the British intelligence to help them. The British covert warfare in French North Africa culminated in the summer of 1947, when British agents attempted to persuade the Moroccan sultan to lead a rebellion against France in return for assurances that Britain would recognize his rule over the whole of North Africa (Document no. 10)

The British subversion was conducted in the main part indirectly through proxies – the Arab leaders they trusted, in particular Jordanian King Abdallah, Nuri Sa’id, the Iraqi strongman, the Syrian prime minister Jamil Mardam Bey, and the secretary general of the Arab League, Abd al-Rahman al-Azzam (Documents nos. 1,2,3,5,6,10). Azzam, who was in fact a paid British agent, played a key role in the British covert operations against both the Zionist movement in Palestine and the French in North Africa. British intelligence officers also encouraged the anti-French activities of the Muslim Brotherhood. On the other hand, Kings Faruq of Egypt and Ibn Sa’ud of Saudi Arabia opposed the British schemes to oust France from North Africa while extending its domination over Libya, the former Italian colony. (Documents nos. 12, 13). In letters to Syrian President Shukri al-Quwatli, King Faruq wrote that the French secret services were fully aware of the Syrian agents’ activities in North Africa and warned that expelling France would lead to indirect British control over the Maghreb, which would be even more damaging to the Arab world. (Document no. 9). Faruq also rejected Quwatli’s offer, initiated by the British, to extend his crown over Libya in return for giving up his claims over Sudan (Document no.14).

Propaganda was a major tool used by the British intelligence organizations against the French in the Middle East and North Africa. They exploited the many Arab newspapers and journalists, who were in their pay, to incite the Arab public by warning that France would not hesitate to use harsh methods to suppress nationalist uprisings, as it had in Syria and Algeria. They spread false rumors that the North Maghreb inhabitants were suffering from famine and that the French authorities were preventing their Arab brethren in the Middle East from providing assistance. The radio station Saut al-Adna, which was controlled by MI6, and broadcast from Cyprus, was central to this campaign.

The appended Syrian governmental documents shed light on the role of President Quwatli, Mardam Bey and Azzam in the British Intelligence’s subversion in French North Africa. The following extract from a Syrian military intelligence report from August 1947, titled “The question of North Africa and Syria’s obligation,” is particularly significant:

“It should be noted that the Arab League enjoys much prestige in North Africa. The news coming from it provokes joy and hope among the people that the League might one day come to liberate the country from the yoke of French imperialism. 

Britain knows all this, all the more so because the news of the League doesn’t come to the Maghreb from French radio broadcasts but from Egypt, London and other countries around the world.

It is logical that Great Britain, which understands perfectly the people and their mentality, does not fail to take advantage of the awakening of North African nationalism by using the prestige of the Arab League as one of its own means to remove French influence.

It must also be noted that M. Abd al-Rahman pasha Azzam is at this very moment engaged in intense activity to free the Maghreb from French imperialism. Here, it should be queried whether Great Britain has not successfully persuaded the League that it has a duty to liberate the Maghreb and is ready to help it do so.

The Arab League can’t refuse this convenient help that comes for example from Britain through its neighbor in the Maghreb, Gibraltar. By helping to liberate the Maghreb, England would free the stronghold of Gibraltar, through which it dominates the western entrance to the Mediterranean, from any threats. All the more so, that until now one can’t ignore what will be Spain’s policy towards Great Britain regarding Gibraltar and whether exploitation of the riches of the Arab states would bring about a rift between England and America.

Before his departure for London, M. Dindes [Charles Dundas who served as British Consul in Damascus was in fact an intelligence officer] declared in his official conversations with the Foreign Minister and the Minister for National Defense, that the Arab countries had a duty to try and help the inhabitants of the Maghreb to overcome the famine that France had made worse by preventing the arrival of help. He had also declared that it was time that French influence disappeared from North Africa and set free this brave and rich land.

It thus appears that Great Britain would like to liberate the Arab Maghreb by means of the Arabs themselves. Now, who represents the Arab community if not the Arab League? Who has the right to speak on behalf of the League and declare its conditions regarding this issue if not Azzam pasha?”

British intelligence and the affair of Abd al-Krim al-Khattabi

The affair of Abd al-Krim al-Khattabi demonstrated how British intelligence officers exploited the rivalry and struggles for prestige between the Arab leaders to further Britain’s interests in the region. Abd al-Krim, of Berber origin, who had led a rebellion against the Spanish and French in the Rif mountains of northern Morocco in the early 1920s, was a national hero in Morocco’s struggle for independence. After suppressing that revolt, the French exiled him to the island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean. In April 1947, British secret officers learned of the French government’s intentions to release him on health grounds after he agreed to refrain from anti-French activity. He was to travel with his family on a boat flying a Panamanian flag through the Suez Canal to southern France, where he was to live in seclusion. The British plot was to persuade him to make his escape before that and seek asylum in Transjordan under King Abdallah’s protection, where they could use him to persuade the Moroccan sultan, Muhammad V, to lead an anti-French rebellion. (Documents nos.10,16).

Abd al-Krim al-Khattabi

The British intelligence officers, however, had another reason for trying to secure Abd al-Krim under their supervision in Transjordan. They were concerned that the French were secretly coordinating his “escape” to Egypt with King Faruq, as they had done a year previously with Amin al-Husseini. Granting protection to Abd al-Krim would bolster the Egyptian king’s prestige at a time when he and his Prime Minister, Muhammad Fahmi al-Nuqrashi were intending to raise the question of the British occupation of Egypt at the UN. Furthermore, they were afraid that King Faruq and Nuqrashi, who opposed Britain’s attempts to extend its control over Libya, might use Abd al-Krim, who was known for his opposition to western “infidel” rule over Muslim land, to stir up anti-British sentiment among the Arab public (Document no.14). 

Whether the French secret services and King Faruq were acting in tandem is not known, but the Egyptian monarch was certainly well-informed of the British ploys. At the end of May 1947, King Faruq granted asylum to Abd al-Krim in Cairo, from where the latter went on to accuse both France and Great Britain of being anti-Islamic imperial powers. But he kept his word and toned down his anti-French rhetoric. At that point, faced with the threat of deposition, Muhammad V had to come to terms with the French.

The role of British secret officers in the Abd al-Krim affair and their use of King Abdallah and Nuri al-Said in their Moroccan plot led to the opposite outcome from what they had intended. It deepened the rift between the Hashemites and their opponents in Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. (Documents nos. 13,15,16,17).  Indeed, King Ibn Sa’ud referred contemptuously to the intrigues of “Abdallah and his English masters.” It also granted Soviet diplomats in Damascus, who were fully aware of the British scheming, an opportunity to stir up Syrian opposition to Great Britain. Russian diplomats warned Mardam not to take part in the British intrigues in North Africa and urged him to complain at the UN against Hashemite-backed British attempts to undermine Syria’s independence. (Document no.7).

France’s retaliation

The French, who remembered well the intrigues used by the British intelligence in expelling them from Syria and Lebanon, were deeply concerned that these same methods would be repeated in North Africa. Bidault’s complaints to Bevin about the British secret officers’ subversion in North Africa were, however, ineffective. Like his predecessor, Bevin was powerless in the face of the military and intelligence organizations in the Middle East. But in contrast to its failure in Syria, this time the French intelligence successfully exposed and foiled the British machinations. It recruited Jamil Mardam Bey as a double agent, whom the British intelligence was using in its covert operations in North Africa. It also enlisted agents in the Arab League’s offices in Cairo, who provided them with information on Azzam and the British intelligence activities. The British and Arab subversion in North Africa backfired – it merely intensified France’s resolve to help the Zionist movement to defeat Great Britain and the Arab League in Palestine.

Secret Franco-Zionist collaboration in North Africa

In the aftermath of the Bevin-Bidault agreement and the simultaneous evacuation of the British and French forces from Syria and Lebanon in April-June 1946, some French ministers, deputies in parliament and the senate, and in particular diplomats in the Quai d’Orsay, increasingly supported the scaling-down of France’s presence in the Levant and limiting its collaboration with the Zionists. Advocates of this approach argued that in order to secure its position in North Africa, France should adopt a “Moslem policy”, namely giving priority to its relations with the large Moslem communities in North Africa and the Middle East, and that it should also align its Middle East policy with that of Britain. These views were certainly not in tandem with the France’s backing of the Zionist movement’s struggle against Britain in Palestine. De Gaulle’s resignation as president in January 1946 reinforced such views. However, de Gaulle’s supporters, many of who were serving in the army and intelligence services, regarded them as defeatist and advocated the continuation of France’s tacit support of the Zionists’ struggle to expel the British from Palestine. Now serving as prime minister and foreign minister, Bidault, who had established close ties with Bevin, was initially undecided.

The Zionist leaders viewed with concern the changed attitude of some of the French political leadership, as by this time, France was playing an important role in helping the Zionists, in particular with the illegal immigration of Holocaust survivors to Palestine. French and Zionist sources shed light on the efforts of Ben-Gurion and Moshe Sharett, head of the Jewish Agency’s political department, to convince their French counterparts of the importance of collaborating with the Zionists against the British intrigues in order for France to retain its position and prestige in North Africa.  

Two Zionist officials – Maurice Fischer and Eliyahu Sasson – played key roles in the covert Franco-Zionist cooperation in the Middle East and North Africa. Fischer, who had served as an intelligence officer in the French army in Beirut between March 1941 and July 1946, was the true architect of David Ben-Gurion’s secret ties with the French intelligence, initially in Beirut and later in Paris. Entries in Fischer’s personal diary from November 1945 until April 1946 shed light on his role as an inside man in the French Delegation in Beirut, as well as an adviser to Ben-Gurion and Sharett on how to conduct their policy vis-à-vis the French government. He warned his French colleagues in Beirut that limiting France’s presence in the Levant and its pursuit of a “Moslem policy” would be detrimental to its standing in North Africa. He arranged visits of French diplomats to Jerusalem, where they met with Ben-Gurion and Sharett. He also counseled the two Zionist leaders to travel to Paris for meetings with ministers in the government and deputies in the senate and parliament, as well as with leading journalists, in order to present their viewpoint to the highest political echelon in the French Republic. At these meetings, Ben-Gurion and Sharett repeatedly stressed to their French interlocutors the importance of maintaining France’s relations with the Zionists for its standing not only in the Middle East and North Africa, but also in the United States.

Prior to Sharett’s planned visit to Paris in April 1946, Fischer prepared in Beirut a policy paper outlining possible areas of secret Franco-Zionist collaboration, stressing the need to help the Maronites in Lebanon to retain their country as an independent Christian state. Fischer’s paper, apparently reflecting the official position of the French Delegation in the Levant, was sent by General Beynet to Paris, with no mention of its author,

Eliyahu Sasson

In early March 1946, Fischer was dispatched by his superiors to Cairo to prepare a report on France’s policy in North Africa. The decision to send him evolved from the need to access information acquired by Zionist agents in Cairo, who were monitoring Azzam’s and Mardam’s covert activities in North Africa. (Mardam was at that time Syria’s ambassador to Egypt and its representative in the Arab League Council). It should be noted that at this stage, Eliyahu Sasson, who was born in Damascus and served as head of the Arab Department in the Jewish Agency, was already collaborating with the French secret officers in running Mardam Bey as a double agent. In his recommendations, Fischer stressed that France had first to restore its standing and prestige in the Middle East before negotiations with the North African nationalists could take place. His report was sent by General Beynet to Paris, again without mentioning its author. By that time, British and Arab covert anti-French activities in North Africa had certainly reinforced his arguments.

Eliyahu Sasson’s depiction of the Arab League as a double threat

Sasson, whom Ben-Gurion had entrusted in early 1945 with establishing the secret ties with the French intelligence in Beirut, was well aware of the possible outcome of France’s “Moslem policy” on its stand vis-a-vis the Zionists. He realized that the central factor determining its Middle East policy was France’s concern for its rule over North Africa. He therefore sought to persuade his French counterparts that the Arab League, in particular the use of its secretary general by the British intelligence, posed a double threat – to the Zionist aspirations for a Jewish state in Palestine, and to French control of North Africa. He warned that an Arab League victory over the Jews in Palestine would jeopardize France’s position in North Africa, and that with their enhanced prestige, Azzam and other Arab leaders, backed by British secret officers, would seek to expel France from North Africa as they had done from Syria.

French intelligence officers in Cairo, Beirut and Damascus, who shared Sasson’s views, reiterated his warnings in their reports to their superiors in Paris. They cooperated with Sasson in monitoring the Arab League’s meetings, as well as Azzam’s activities in Palestine and North Africa. Nevertheless, some of them complained that in contrast to the high-grade information that the French Secret Services was providing to the Zionists, they were receiving from them in return intelligence of little value on Arab and British activities in North Africa. Consequently, in August 1946, Sasson met with Ben-Gurion in Paris and both agreed that he should step up his activities among the North African nationalists in Cairo.

In the following months Sasson made frequent visits to Cairo, where he met with Habib Bourguiba, the head of the Tunisian nationalist movement, as well with other North African leaders. He also met Hasan al-Bana, head of the Muslim Brotherhood. In their reports to Paris, the French intelligence officers included some of the information passed on to them by Sasson. As for the French complaints about the quality of the information they were receiving from the Zionist secret services, they ceased after the Hagana fighters seized near Acre in December 1947 the archives of the British consulate in Beirut which were being transferred to Britain via Haifa port. The documents obtained revealed the names of scores of Arab and British agents who were operating against France in North Africa.

During the Arab League conferences held from September 1947 until April 1948 on the question of Palestine, the exchange of intelligence between French secret service officers and Sasson and Fischer became more frequent. During his stay in Paris towards the end of 1947, Sasson gained direct access to documents of the Syrian government and the Arab League obtained by French secret agents in Damascus and Cairo. For his part, Fischer, who was in Paris after May 1947 as a Jewish Agency envoy, stepped up his contacts with the French military and intelligence officers, some of whom he had come to know while serving in Beirut. In the French government, as well among many diplomats in the Quai d’Orsay, there was now a well-established belief that in order to tighten its control over its colonies in North Africa, France had to help the Zionist movement to defeat the Arab war coalition, in whose formation Azzam and British intelligence officers operating in the background, played an important part. Furthermore, a Zionist/Israeli victory would be an appropriate payback to Britain for ousting France from Syria. Indeed, Bidault’s private papers contain reports by his advisers expressing much satisfaction with the establishment of the State of Israel, the defeat of the Arab armies in the 1948 war, and the subsequent blow to the prestige of the Arab League.

Official Syrian Government Documents

  1.     July 20, 1945 Mardam Bey to Atasi

In code                                                                         

              To H.E. the Syrian Minister Plenipotentiary, Paris.

Secret

  We find ourselves unable to undertake direct action in relation to the help suggested in your letter dated 15 July.

I have discussed the matter with the representative of Great Britain here. He gave me an evasive answer which means that England does not want to intervene directly in the events in the Maghreb. All they are asking – and what they want – is that we help them morally in the war of nerves they have started against France because of its general political conduct, so as to annoy it as much with regard to our cause as to that of Morocco, or any other matter which could arise soon in the Middle East.

  That is why I can only give my agreement within the limits of the above

  July 20, 1945

                                                                                      The Foreign Minister

                                                                                      s/ Jamil Mardam Bey

2.  July 21, 1945   The Syrian Chargé d’affaires in Cairo to Mardam Bey

Secret                                                                                                          

                                    From Asim al-Naili, the Syrian Chargé d’affaires in Cairo

                                           to His Excellency the Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Damascus

  H.E. the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States has asked me to notify you that a Committee of Arab notables, including a representative of the countries of the Maghreb, has just met in Cairo to discuss provocative incidents organized by the French colonizers in these sister Arab nations.

  The activity of this Committee is limited to a simple exchange of views. The Secretary-General asks that the Syrian Government set aside in its future budget sufficient funds to help these regions in their struggle against France, a sum in addition to the sum of fifty thousand pounds that Your Excellency so kindly sent me from the Secret Funds.

  H.E. the Secretary-General thinks that every piastre spent in helping our Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian brothers will be amply justified by the success of the supreme aims for which we are working, the most important being to throw France out of Moslem Arab countries as it has already been thrown out of here.

              I await your reply, Your Excellency.

July 21, 1945

                                                                         The Chargé d’affaires to the Syrian Legation

                                                                                                  s/ Asim al-Naili

Registered in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

No 411/105 – Diplomatic correspondence

3. July 25, 1945              Young to Mardam Bey

Secret

                          From the Advisor of the British Legation in Damascus                                               

                                       To His Excellency the Foreign Minister, Damascus

“Memorandum”

  My Government supports every Arab effort leading to emancipation from the colonialist yoke.

  The help you give to the movement of your Arab brothers in Algeria can only be regarded serenely by any lover of liberty.

  I rejoice in the link in relations uniting you with the inhabitants of North Africa when I see you supporting and helping them with deeds and the success.

July 25, 1945                                                                                         For the British Legation

                                                                                                                     s/Young   

4.  August 1, 1945    Mardam Bey to the Chargé d’affaires in the Syrian Legation in Cairo

Secret

Coded                                                                                                          

                                          From Jamil Mardam Bey

                            to the Chargé d’affaires of the Syrian Legation in Cairo

  In reply to your letter no. 912/h of July 21st.

  I am sending you today, through Mr Stuman, the sum of fifty thousand Syrian pounds.

  I ask you to acknowledge receipt, to be very discreet and to tell me how they are being used.

August 1, 1945

                                                                          The Minister of Foreign Affairs

                                                                                      S/ Jamil Mardam Bey

Not yet registered in the Ministry

Author’s note: Asim al-Naili, the Syrian Chargé d’affaires in Cairo, was Mardam’s closest aide and was implicated in Shahbandar’s assassination in July 1940.

5.  August 14, 1945     King Ibn Sa’ud to President Quwatli

Secret                                                                                                                                                   

  From Abd al-Aziz Ibn Abd al-Rahman al Faisal al-Sa’ud

                                                      to H.E. President Shukri al-Quwatli,

                                      May God preserve him.

  Greetings and divine mercy.

  It is highly regrettable that Abdallah should once again undertake his hateful attempts and busy himself in winning a crown and scepter just when dangers threaten us.

  My men are sure that he is busying himself a great deal more than in the past to unify Syria under his rule, in agreement with our friends the English and in collaboration with our friend Jamil Bey. May God be witness, I have not succeeded in understanding Jamil Bey, not his ways nor his plans; may God preserve us from him.

  What worries me, my dear Brother, is Abdallah and his collaboration with the Jews. You gave me to understand that he has the support of France and that the French are encouraging the Jews. For my part, I cannot believe that; the French are now weak and do not know how to manage their own affairs.

  I thank you, dear Brother, for the information you sent me, but I beg you not to ignore the matter of your own Minister, Jamil Bey.

              Greetings, divine mercy and blessings.          

6 Holy Ramadan 1364

August 14, 1945                                                s/ Abd al-Aziz Ibn Abd al-Rahman

French Agent’s comment: A copy of the letter stolen from the Saudi Legation in Damascus before reaching Shukri al-Quwatli and given to Jamil Mardam Bey by Fauzi Tello.

The thief is still not known.

6.  December 12, 1946   Armanazi to President Quwatli                                                    

Top secret

                                   H.E. the President of the Republic

  British circles see in Jamil Bey the only politician who can pull the country out of the crisis in which it is mired at the moment because of Sa’adallah Bey’s mistakes. Personally, I believe that the direction in which British policy is pushing us is very dangerous. As we all know, Jamil Mardam, even if he denies any collusion with Nuri al-Sa’id, is however anyway acting in concert with him. But each of them pretends to have opposite opinions to the other.

  Personally, I believe that at the moment two people in the Arab world have been won over by Great Britain; they are Nuri Pasha and Jamil Mardam Bey. I fear that British policy is now about to enjoy the fruits of the efforts it made by following its well-known line regarding the unification of Syria under a Hashemite throne. You are familiar with the modalities of the agreement which arose between Jamil and Nuri, an agreement they both deny, but which I think is in force more than ever.

December 12, 1946                                                       The Minister Plenipotentiary

                                                                                      Najib al-Armanazi                  

Not registered in the Ministry

7.  May 3, 1947     Soviet Legation to Prime Minister Jamil Mardam Bey                        

Top secret                                             

                                                        Memorandum

  My government has asked me to inform you that it regards favorably the efforts the Syrian government is making to encourage the Arab liberation movement in North Africa. As a fundamental principle it has to approve all independence activity in these countries and is disposed to recognize it as timely.

  But it draws the attention of the Syrian government to the mistake it would make if it allowed itself to be led by the encouragement of the British and the Americans who have no other aim than to install themselves in place of France. The promises made to the Sultan of Morocco thus arouse deep suspicions.

  My Government has asked me to assure you that the liberation of North Africa will in itself be considered a happy event and that it is also ready to give all the help necessary to bring it about.

  But it still fears that the Arab liberation movement in North Africa may transform itself into creating colonialist dangers.

  I have been charged with contacting you to assure you of all of that.

May 3, 1947                                                                                          Signature:

                                                                                      Legation of the Soviet Union

Commentary in Jamil Mardam Bey’s hand-writing: A new Russian lie: they want to lead us bit by bit to understanding the reality of the facts, they want to make North Africa into an object of barter like Palestine.

Registered in the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, No 1699 – Political documents

8.   May 3, 1947 Shaker al-Assy to Mardam Bey                                                                            

Top secret

Briefing letter to the Syrian Foreign Minister,

The only danger facing us in the action with our brothers, the Arabs of North Africa, is the absence of agreement between them on anything, and I believe that the French knew very well how to sow division among them in such a way that it is impossible for any of them to work with the others. 

  In the conversations which took place between me and the representatives of other Arab lands, I saw that each works in his own way and cooperates with others. So, the fact is that we attribute a great weight to the representatives from Algeria, although they are people who do not have great influence. Also, our actions are directed in many ways and success, as it seems to me, is doubtful in all arenas at once.

  For all these reasons, I think that at present sending some officer from the Syrian Intelligence Service is an unnecessary assumption. Also, providing the movement with funds is difficult for us.  As for arms, they are distributed there freely and it would be possible to get them at very low prices when any armed movement starts.

  In my opinion the important thing would be a complete understanding between the Arab countries on the mode of action in North Africa. I believe that the Egyptian action is very disorganized and that it would be necessary for there to be coordination between all our actions there. As for the Iraqis, as you know, they talk a lot and act little, thus the duty will fall on us alone and we must prepare for it before undertaking any action whatsoever.

  Also, I imagine that we should contemplate a budget which does not at present fall below a million pounds.

  As for the radio which was sent there, it will remain unable to work from here unless we send the necessary technicians, as, so far, we have not been able to find an Algerian one we could rely on.

May 3, 1947                                                                              The Chargé d’affaires:

                                                                                                           Shaker al-Assy

9.     May 4, 1947    King Faruq to President Quwatli                                                                      Top secret

  From Faruq I, King of Egypt, by the grace of God,

                                                              To H.E. President Shukri al-Quwatli

  May the blessings and mercy of Allah be upon us.

  The President of our Council of Ministers has today informed me of a secret conversation which took place between him and the Syrian Chargé d’affaires about the passage of a certain number of Syrians from North Africa going from Syria to Tunisia and from there to Algeria or Morocco.

  He told me that reports from the Egyptian services indicate that the French are perfectly well aware of the doings and actions of these people. So, he has taken an urgent decision to detain these people and send them back to their point of departure. And personally, I find the occasion favorable for restating to Your Excellency my opinion and that of my government on the position that should be taken towards France.

  Currently there is no cause for conflict between the Arab countries and France, but we have a strong sympathy for the legitimate demands for freedom made by our brothers, the Arabs of North Africa, but we must now ask ourselves whether, were we to use all our forces to help them, we would win the freedom of these countries or if another influence would replace that of France.

  I am convinced and I hope you will be convinced with me that Great Britain and America have huge ambitions in these countries; so, the colonialists are like the wild wolves of the Russian forest, they tear each other apart and it is enough for us here, as far as it concerns us, to deal with Great Britain and America.

  My Government and I consider that the moment has not yet come to intervene in this direct way in the affairs of North Africa and in this spirit, we must ask you to forgive us as we cannot provide any aid of a violent nature although we will work with you with all our strength to help our North African brothers to struggle peacefully to win the largest possible number of rights and freedoms.

  May the Lord preserve you for your faithful.

                                                                                      Faruq

May 4, 1947

Registered in the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, No 1701– Political documents

10.   May 5, 1947          King Abdallah to the Moroccan Sultan                             

Top secret                               

To our revered brother, descendant of the Sharifs, leader of the pure, branch of the Oriental tree, HM the Sultan of Morocco. May God protect him and give him life.

            May health, mercy and the blessings of Allah be with you.

            I received your noble letter, and remained dazzled before a good odour and the intelligence of its content. God leads you by the hand towards the happiness of this noble people.

            I bring you great news that a British person of much importance has asked me to give you; it is that the Government of HM the King of Great Britain sees in you the only man worthy of ruling over the whole of the Arab Maghreb and that, if there is a decisive victory with Allah’s permission, he will not treat you as King only of Morocco, but will extend your sovereign rule over all the countries of the Maghreb, including Algeria and Tunisia.

            I pray to God that he guides your hand to exalt the dignity of the Arabs and Islam.

            I also hope that you will redouble the ambition and distrust with regard to individuals in your court in the pay of foreigners, enemies of the motherland and religion.

            May health, mercy and the blessings of Allah be on you.

4 Jumada al-Awwal 1366                                                       Your affectionate brother,

            May 5, 1947                                                                            Abdallah

Letter stolen from the Council (Diwan) of King Abdallah in Amman

This letter is one of the six exchanged between King Abdallah and the Sultan of Morocco.

11.   May 6, 1947       Shaker al-Assy to Mardam Bey                                                        

Top secret

Briefing letter to the Syrian Foreign Minister

  I have gratefully received the sum of fifty thousand pounds. I sent it through a secure intermediary to Messali Hadj and I now have the receipt.

  At the moment it is not the need for money or arms that is being felt and despite the constraints which the French place him under, el Hadj is personally patient and firm and he considers that what should most hold our attention is that Arab problems should all be brought together before the Security Council – the presence of France in the Arab Maghreb and the presence of England in Egypt, Iraq and Transjordan.  He also considers it essential to organize a general congress in which all Arabs would participate to decide the future of the Arabs.

  El Messali Hadj, from this point of view, is influenced by communist thought; he is convinced that Great Britain and America will help the Arabs take the place of France and anyway he does not want to attack French sovereignty against another sovereign power (as happens in Syria in my opinion).

  As for the Sultan of Morocco, he sent me a letter last week in which he says that there are great hopes of arriving at sensible results with the French there and he adds that the latter are beginning to feel the existence of a danger which threatens them and that this is why they want to arrive at an arrangement with him without our intervention. So, I am convinced that any arrangement which the Moroccans reach would be in their interest, for I am sure that soon we will unleash a new assault after we have restated the question of Palestine to ourselves.

  I am convinced that it is necessary for the President of the Republic to establish direct contact with the Sultan. I greatly admire the Sultan of Morocco for he is an intelligent man and he can pretend to be loyal to France and act despite the group of traitors who surround him.

May 6, 1947                                                                              The Chargé d’affaires:

                                                                                                    Shaker al-Assy

12.  May 15, 1947         Armanazi to President Quwatli

Top secret                                                                                                                   

                                         Through the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

                                          to H.E. the President of the Republic, Damascus

            I was summoned to Foreign Affairs and requested to ask you to intervene to get a swift response from King Faruq about the earlier plan concerning Tripolitania. The Foreign Office again confirms, as it confirmed to the Egyptian Ambassador here, that it is disposed to provide genuine help to establish the sovereignty of the King of Egypt over Libya on condition that he gives his agreement to two proposed conditions which are: the final settlement of the Sudan question and the recognition of Great Britain’s privileged position in Tripolitania. Concluding an agreement on this matter is in the interest of Egypt itself from all points of view, for in this way Egypt would gain in Sudan and in Libya something it could not even dream of. Also, the Arab point of view would gain considerably by suppressing the barrier imposed between the Arab countries and the countries of the Maghreb which remain under French influence and which we are wholly unable to liberate completely if they are not our neighbors.

            The plan as Your Excellency sees requires determination and patriotism, qualities that King Faruq has, without counting on the fact that he is in agreement with these aims.

            The intervention of King Abd al-Aziz with Faruq was not, it seems, serious and now the British Government hopes that King Faruq will take into consideration the general situation of the Arab lands as well as the hopes of the Arabs of North Africa for freedom, the Communist danger which seeks to penetrate the Mediterranean and the ambitions of America which wants to place a strong hand on affairs in Arab lands. If he reflects on all this, he will find that it is essential for him to reach agreement with Great Britain, and soon, so as to find a solution to the problem of Libya.

I await your reply,

May 15, 1947                                                                                      The Minister

                                                                                                            Najib al-Armanazi

Registered in the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

No 1725 – Political documents

13.  May 18, 1947        King Ibn Sa’ud to President Quwatli

Top secret                                                                                                                                 

His Excellency Shukri Quwatli

via the Saudi Legation in Damascus

  I received with great interest Your Excellency’s telegram and I also received a telegram from Abd al-Rahman Azzam today.

  Saving Abd al-Krim should have been the subject of our concerns a long time ago.

  As for the hopes of the Sultan of Morocco, it is a matter to which we do not attach much importance, as Abd al-Krim is above all desires; and saving him is a religious, Arab duty.  I have just sent a telegram full of hope to King Faruq and I do not believe that he would disappoint my hopes.

  I think that Faruq’s position before the French will be bad, but Faruq – may God support him – is courageous, noble and heroic and his faith in Allah will triumph over his caution.

  France will have recourse to annoying behavior with regard to us and will establish an iron curtain around the Arab Maghreb, but Allah will take us by the hand: “May Allah come to your rescue, and you will have no conquerors.”

  I ask Allah to make us succeed in saving the man from the grip of the French and then Abdallah will understand that it is not he who saved Abd al-Krim nor his English masters, but that it is Abd al-Krim’s brothers, believing Moslems, who only seek, through their actions, the good of Allah and the triumph of his religion.

28 Jumada al-Thani 1366                                                          Signature:

May 18, 1947                            Abd al-Aziz ben Abd al-Rahman al-Faisal al-Saud    

                                                                                                  King of Saudi Arabia

14.   May 23, 1947     King Faruq to President Quwatli

Top secret                                                                                                                   

                                                                               H.E. Shukri al-Quwatli

            Greetings and regards. It is really sad that someone should want to doubt the intentions of those close to him; for me you are above all suspicion and doubt and your affection for us is above all other considerations, but it seems that your Minister in London does not want to appreciate the situation the British want to surround the Arabs with.

            Your Excellency is aware of the steps taken here by the Tripolitans to unite Tripolitania with Egypt, as well as the end result, the oppression and terror it brings from Great Britain.

            So, it is not reasonable to brandish the name of France in all circumstances to exploit the difficulties the English endure. Although France is not loved here, we will not allow ourselves to slide into the tide of British interests in the name of resistance to France and if Great Britain is settled on making France disappear from North Africa, it only has to do it itself, enough of the twists and turns and games it is playing with us and others.

            All their intentions consist in weakening our position as far as Sudan is concerned and they want to direct our wishes to other things. Also, they want to exploit our name and the crown of our ancestors at the same time in order to establish their sovereignty over Tripolitania, using us as a cover for their colonialist ambitions and that is what we absolutely refuse to countenance. Also, they would like us to work to light the fire in North Africa and to distance France. It is something we would like and which we shall all force ourselves to do, but in the interests of the Arabs and not in the interest of Great Britain which considers itself the guardian of the Arabs.

            I hope that your Minister will take our brief reply to them and know we accept sovereignty over Tripolitania on certain conditions, the most important and first being that Great Britain must recognize the rightness and true basis of our position with regard to the question of Sudan.

            We will not study the problem of Tripolitania before settling the one regarding the Sudan.

              With my sincerest respect,

May 23, 1947                                                                                      Your faithful

                                                                                                                  Faruq

Registered in the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

No 1728 – Political documents

15.   May 23, 1947   Secret Syrian Cabinet Decisions

Top Secret                                            Ministerial Decision

Secret Decision no 645

  The Council of Ministers of the Syrian Republic has decided the following:

  Given that pressing national demands, require Emir Abd al-Krim al-Khattabi to be saved and delivered from the yoke of French oppression, the Council of Ministers grants all the necessary powers to the Chief of Staff of the Syrian 2nd Bureau to cooperate with whom he wants with the aim of attaining the above goal.

  A totally secret decision

Damascus, May 23, 1947                                                    Signatures:

                                                                        The President of the Council and all the Ministers

Registered in the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, no 1720 – Political documents

16.    May 23, 1947      Armanazi to Mardam Bey

Top Secret                                             Najib al-Armanazi

                                           To the Syrian Foreign Minister, Damascus

  I have again been called to the Foreign Office today and I was asked to set out the position to you as it really is.

  The British Government was in semi-official contact with Abd al-Krim, so that the latter would have recourse to it; but he refused.

  The Government then asked him to seek shelter in Iraq or Transjordan but he also refused this.

  Abd al-Krim then received a letter from the Sultan of Morocco in which the latter asked him to accept shelter in a Hashemite Arab country, but he replied that he refused this.

  Soon he was saying that England no longer wanted the good of the Arabs and Islam any more than France, and that in this matter he would not ask for help from one infidel over another infidel. But what he let it be understood is that he would like to take refuge with King Abd al-Aziz al-Saud or in Egypt.

  Now, the Foreign Office does not want in any way to contact King Faruq or his Ministry; that is why they want our intervention and our success with the matter would be a success for them and for us.

  They are sure that Abd al-Krim will take refuge with King Abd al-Aziz or with King Faruk as soon as one of them advances their protection.

  I impatiently await an agreeable reply.

May 23, 1947                                                                                        The Minister:

                                                                                                                 Najib al-Armanazi 

17.  June 4, 1947     King Faruq to President Quwatli

   Top secret                                                                                                    

H.E. Shukri Quwatli – may God protect him

            May Allah’s blessings and mercy be with you.

            Allah has inspired the good in us and given us success; we have done our duty with regard to a man who has given his life and fortune for his country, his religion and his people.

            What fills my thoughts at the moment is that the consequences of our actions are like its beginning, that our good intentions should not be exploited for an end which is different from that we proposed and that Abd al-Krim should not become a saddle horse for those with desires and plans. I greatly regret and my Government regretted that the Arabs of the Maghreb do not act for Allah; we have welcomed them to our country and they have made use of our protection, but they still have suspect relations with the English and Americans. Now, our only aim, God knows, is the good of Islam and the Arabs, while an Englishman or American cannot want the good of the Arabs if they do not want it for themselves.

            The Abd al-Krim affair has opened, and removed the scab from, a wound for us, for by it we have made a fearsome enemy from someone who was not our enemy before and my government asks itself how far he will see us advance in favor of the Arabs of the Maghreb if they remain divided, shared between the English and the Americans and these communists who alone would benefit from the situation if the fire were lit against France, making the ground even more difficult.

            I am writing to ask you to study the matter with great reserve and circumspection, before starting any action or movement whatsoever, for it would not be good for us or for the Arabs to wager our future and our efforts, for only the communists, the English and the Americans would benefit from the fire of discord.

            I know that the main person exposed to danger is the Sultan of Morocco, I do not hide that the English made him a firm and real promise. Abd al-Krim will not move, he is at our disposal for the day when this will be really useful; the thing is more serious than knowing whether we love or hate France; at the moment we do not attach any importance to the Sultan of Morocco’s insistence; let him wait, we wait with him.

            May Allah’s blessings and mercy be with you.

            June 4, 1947                                                                            Signature:

                                                                                                            Faruq

Professor Emeritus Meir Zamir from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev researches the British, French and Israeli intelligence organizations in the Middle East during the 1940s and ’50s. His article “Ernest Bevin and MI6’s Covert Warfare Against France in North Africa, 1945-1948,” will be published in Middle Eastern Studies, London.

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