Secret War in the Middle East: The Covert Struggle for Syria, 1949-1961

By Parker, Richard B. | The Middle East Journal, Summer 1996 | Go to article overview

Secret War in the Middle East: The Covert Struggle for Syria, 1949-1961


Parker, Richard B., The Middle East Journal


Secret War in the Middle East: The Covert Struggle for Syria, 1949-1961, by Andrew Rathmell. London and New York: I.B. Tauris Publishers, 1995. x + 168 pages. Notes to p. 221. Appends. to p. 226. Bibl. to p. 237. Index to p. 246. $59.50.

Reviewed by Richard B. Parker

This is a serious, scholarly study of a tumultuous period during which all the major powers, including the United States, as well as the brotherly Arab states, tried to influence Syrian politics by covert means. For the most part, these efforts were ill-conceived, and their principal contribution has been to give substance to paranoia about conspiracies.

Rathmell is described on the jacket as a research fellow at the Centre for Arab-Gulf Studies at the University of Exeter and editor of the Gulf States Newsletter. He has done an outstanding job of research, noting but discounting appropriately the works of Miles Copeland and Wilbur Eveland, principal sources for many of his predecessors, and relying primarily on the written record and on interviews with survivors. The latter include, but are not limited to, members of the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party (SSNP) and former American Foreign Service and CIA officers concerned with Syria during this period. Rathmell has gone through the papers in the National Archives in Washington, DC, the Public Record Office at Kew in London, the Eisenhower Library, and the Centre for Lebanese Studies at Oxford, and he presents a great deal of information that has not previously been published.

Rathmell is not shy about congratulating himself on his accomplishment, but this is likely to be the definitive work on the subject until the Syrians open their intelligence archives or `Abd al-Hamid Sarraj, the former head of Syrian military intelligence, now living in exile in Cairo, publishes his memoirs. In the absence of such disclosures we are unlikely ever to know the full story, and this is as close as we will get.

In his concluding chapter, Rathmell says his research has shown how Syria changed from being a victim of covert action to being primarily a perpetrator. …

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