Army Officers Seize Power in Syria
(L-R) Syrian Ba’ath Party members Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr and Michel Aflaq. Photo: Public Domain

February 23, 1966

Saleh Jadid launches a coup of young army officers against a Syrian government of old-guard members of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party who themselves seized power in a coup in 1963. The conflict between Ba’athist factions puts in power a hard-line government focused on economic nationalization and internal control within Syria rather than the trans-Arab unity in vogue during the period of the Egyptian-Syrian, Nasser-dominated United Arab Republic of 1958 to 1961. The Syrian Ba’athists and their counterparts in Iraq experience a permanent split, and the Syrian military falls under the control of Hafez al-Assad, who carries out his own coup to seize power in 1970.

The coup comes in response to an attempt Feb. 21 by the Ba’ath Party’s ruling National Command, led by Michel Aflaq, to undermine Jadid and his supporters in the party’s Military Committee and Regional Command by transferring some top officers. Jadid starts the coup at 5 a.m. Feb. 23, two hours after the exhausted defense minister and other government leaders return from a visit to the Golan Heights to resolve a false report of a dispute among officers along the front facing Israel. The coup quickly succeeds against the same government that caught Israeli spy Eli Cohen in January 1965.

Despite being out of the country at the time of the coup and denying that he supports Jadid’s actions, Assad is named the defense minister. He says the military uprising is regrettable but necessary to stop the tyranny of Aflaq’s wing of the Ba’ath Party. He also has control of the military when it loses the Golan Heights to Israel during the June 1967 war

The new Syrian government signs a defense treaty with Egypt later in 1966.