Clark University History professor Douglas Little notes:
Recently declassified records… confirm that beginning on November 30, 1948, [CIA operative Stephen] Meade met secretly with Colonel Zaim at least six times to discuss the “possibility [of an] army supported dictatorship.” [“Cold War and Covert Action: The United States and Syria, 1945-1958,” Middle East Journal, Winter 1990, p. 55]
As early as 1949, this newly independent Arab republic was an important staging ground for the CIA’s earliest experiments in covert action.
The CIA secretly encouraged a right-wing military coup in 1949.
The reason the U.S. initiated the coup? Little explains:
In late 1945, the Arabian American Oil Company (ARAMCO) announced plans to construct the Trans-Arabian Pipe Line (TAPLINE) from Saudi Arabia to the Mediterra- nean. With U.S. help, ARAMCO secured rights-of-way from Lebanon, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The Syrian right-of-way was stalled in parliament.
In other words, Syria was the sole holdout for the lucrative oil pipeline.
(Indeed, the CIA has carried out this type of covert action right from the start.)
In 1957, the American president and British prime minister agreed to launch regime change again in Syria. Historian Little notes that the coup plot was discovered and stopped:
On August 12, 1957, the Syrian army surrounded the U.S. embassy in Damascus. Claiming to have aborted a CIA plot to overthrow neutralist President Shukri Quwatly and install a pro-Western regime, Syrian chief of counterintelligence Abdul Hamid Sarraj expelled three U.S. diplomats ….
Syrian counterintelligence chief Sarraj reacted swiftly on August 12, expelling Stone and other CIA agents, arresting their accomplices and placing the U.S. embassy under surveillance.
More importantly, Syria also had control of one of the main oil arteries of the Middle East, the pipeline which connected pro-western Iraq’s oilfields to Turkey.
The report said that once the necessary degree of fear had been created, frontier incidents and border clashes would be staged to provide a pretext for Iraqi and Jordanian military intervention. Syria had to be “made to appear as the sponsor of plots, sabotage and violence directed against neighbouring governments,” the report says. “CIA and SIS should use their capabilities in both the psychological and action fields to augment tension.”
The plan called for funding of a “Free Syria Committee” [hmmm … sounds vaguely familiar], and the arming of “political factions with paramilitary or other actionist capabilities” within Syria. The CIA and MI6 would instigate internal uprisings, for instance by the Druze [a Shia Muslim sect] in the south, help to free political prisoners held in the Mezze prison, and stir up the Muslim Brotherhood in Damascus.