Another Tack: Adib Shishakli and Shukri al-Quwatli (JERUSALEM POST OP-ED) By SARAH HONIG 02/17/12)
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Forgotten is our peculiar urban folklore, yesteryear’s spontaneous
fun of small Israeli kids rapidly rolling off their tongues the names
of assorted Syrian tyrants. This singsong accompanied sidewalk games
and was a staple of silly summertime tongue-twister contests.
Nobody then remotely believed that riots and havoc in neighboring
autocracies could betoken the rise of democracy in the Arab-speaking
But for too long we’ve lost touch with our not-so-distant past, a
time when recurrent “Arab Springs” were once announced with dizzying
frequency. In Syria especially they followed in furious succession
until, in 1970, one Hafez Assad proclaimed the longest-lasting self-
styled spring and actually managed to pass on control of the abundant
Damascene sunshine and blossoms to his son, Bashar.
Both Assads’ nastiness and penchant for massacres were hardly unique
in their country. Syria spawned carnage and “popular uprisings” a
dime a dozen. Only the durability of Assad-dynasty despotism was
Nonetheless, now – having learned to view the world through the
tinted lenses of hypocrite Europe and bedazzled America – we, too,
fall for the “budding democracy” babble.
But back in the less-blinkered day, our assessments were more clear-
headed. Never would we ascribe high-mindedness to Syrian power-
Rather than be wowed, we laughed. Incomparable satirist Shai K.
(Shaikeh) Ophir popularized a sidesplitting routine consisting of a
rollcall of Syrian tyrants going back to 1948. He recited them with
what in hindsight appears like a forerunner of fast-paced rapper-
It was so all the rage that little pigtailed girls skipped rope and
did hopscotch stunts while rhythmically intoning a sequence of
rhyming names like Adib Shishakli and Shukri al-Quwatli.
For a while, these were basic fare at Israeli playgrounds.
Ophir’s register of names began with Husni Za’im, who led the Syrian
army’s attack on newborn Israel in 1948 and then overthrew president
Shukri al-Quwatli and imprisoned him.
Za’im’s reign, alas, lasted merely four-and-a-half months. He was
summarily executed by his deposer Sami Hinnawi. But before Hinnawi
could get comfortable in the boss’s seat, he was unseated by Adib
Shishakli and assassinated in 1950. All three coups occurred during
Shishakli refused to allow the integration of Palestinian refugees
into Syrian society, and he shelled Druse villages to quell their
resistance (a common practice by Syrian conventions). He was toppled
in 1954 and ultimately assassinated in his Brazilian supposed safe-
Next came caretaker president Hashim al- Attassi, who already had
behind him two stints in power as president and two as prime minister.
In 1955 he was replaced by that old favorite, Shukri al-Quwatli.
Between 1946 and 1956, Syria had 20 governments and four florid
In 1958, al-Quwatli amalgamated Syria with Egypt, forming the United
Arab Republic. Formally Syria’s president was Egyptian Gamal Abdel-
Nasser, whose 1956 defeat catapulted him to the status of a pan-Arab
hero. Within a few weeks, al-Quwatli was betrayed, and his Damascus
power base was usurped by Salah Bitar and Akram al-Hawrani. The
latter was Nasser’s Syrian deputy, until they began to bicker. By
1959, al- Hawrani had to flee Syria.
In 1961, Abdel-Karim al-Nahlawi overthrew Nasser’s men in Damascus,
and Syria became a separate entity once again, a fact that didn’t
discourage Egypt from exploiting the UAR epithet till 1971.
Syria was now a Ba’ath stronghold, but different factions within that
party battled each other with vengeance –literally. Nazim al-Qudsi
was Syria’s first post-UAR president. Upon his removal, Luwai al-
Attassi presided for four months till Amin al-Hafiz replaced him,
ruling the roost from mid-1964 to early 1966, when Salah Jadid ousted
It’s roughly here that Ophir’s long lampoon ends, replete with many
more names than mentioned above. In time, Jadid was booted out by
Hafez Assad, and the epilogue is now unfolding before our credulous
SUFFICE IT to note that the miscellaneous short-lived dictatorships
served the interests of incompatible components of what’s misguidedly
known as the Syrian nation. They all waxed ecstatic about democratic
and reformist virtues.
Way back, though, no Israeli was naïve enough to take any of the
ornate rhetoric seriously.
Today, intellectually indolent molders of public opinion – smugly
dismissive of the lessons of history – not only fall for the fallacy
but excitedly hype it.
It’s little wonder that most of the international community has lost
sight of what Syria was and still is. In the mix feature ignorance
and fatigue, along with lots of economic and geopolitical interests.
It was expedient for the world to turn a blind eye to truth. For us
here, however, it was nothing but unimaginable folly. We should know
better – if only because of proximity and because our self-
preservation concerns behoove us not to disregard reality.
But Hafez Assad’s Yom Kippur War record, sponsorship of terror and
patronage of Hezbollah were obstinately overlooked. Israeli
governments hankered after a deal with the same Assad who, when he
served as defense minister in 1966, addressed Israelis and blustered
belligerently: “We shall never call for nor accept peace.
We shall only accept war. We have resolved to drench this land with
your blood, to oust you aggressors, to throw you into the sea.”
Assad never took back these words nor so much as pretended to have
softened. Unsurprisingly, White House residents and perfidious
Europeans pressured little unloved Israel to indulge the Damascus
despot by inordinately imperiling the Jewish state’s survival
Predictably, Israel’s own priests of pragmatism rushed with alacrity
to ingratiate themselves and decree that by ceding the Golan to
benign Syrian rule, we’d be blessed with blissful coexistence.
This encapsulated the homegrown omniscients’ dalliance with Assad-the-
father. Staggeringly, their enthusiasm for concessions soared after
he went the way of all flesh and his son inherited the blood-stained
Our in-house experts uncannily perceived the agreeable aspect of
Bashar, the lanky ophthalmologist with a supposed Western orientation.
Bashar, we were tirelessly preached to by retreat-promoters, looks
less totalitarian than his dad.
He’s just the gawky guy next door who might make a nifty neighbor if
we only try hard enough to win him over.
Yet, confoundingly, life refuses to mesh with established Israeli
wishful thinking. Much to the embarrassment of our indefatigable deal-
peddlers, Bashar’s own citizenry is exceedingly less mesmerized by
him than his Israeli boosters were until quite recently.
There’s no getting away from the fact that paying off dictators to
secure a semblance of accommodation is a losing proposition, because
eventually dictators disappear. With them vanishes the peace we’re
required to fork out for. There’s no Better Business Bureau or
Customer Service to refund Israel’s hefty, tangible and eminently
risky investment in land-for-peace fantasies.
Thank heaven the Golan is still ours – a buffer between our small
sliver of a state and the Syrian mayhem. Imagine our misfortune if
Assad’s tanks were parked on the shores of Lake Kinneret.
Those who insistently brainwashed us that this is what’s prescribed
for our national well-being should atone for their sins by memorizing
Ophir’s skit and performing it daily in central city squares. Our
street corners should again resonate with cadenced renditions
of “Adib Shishakli and Shukri al-Quwatli....”
Hopscotch and jump-rope are optional.
Note to readers: The Tack will now appear regularly in the Friday
paper instead of the Magazine. Caroline B. Glick is on maternity
leave, and we wish her mazeltov on the birth of her second son on
February 13! (© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post 02/17/12)
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