The early years of independence were marked by political instability. In 1948, the Syrian army was sent to Palestine to fight along with other Arab armies against the newly created State of Israel. The Arabs lost the war, and Israel occupied 78 percent of the area of historical Palestine. In July 1949, Syria was the last Arab country to sign an armistice agreement with Israel. However, it was only the beginning of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
In 1949, Syria's national government was overthrown by a military coup d'etat led by Hussni al-Zaim. Later that year Zaim was overthrown by his colleague Sami al-Hinnawi. Few months later, Hinnawi was overthrown by Colonel Adib al-Sheeshakli. The latter continued to rule the country until 1954, when growing public opposition forced him to resign and leave the country. The national government was restored, but again to face instability, this time coming from abroad. In the mid 1950s, Syria's relation with the West witnessed some tension with the improving Syrian-Soviet relations. In 1957, Turkey, a close ally of the US and a member of the NATO, massed its troops on the Syrian borders threatening to invade the country. The western threat was also one of the reasons that helped achieve Syria's union with Egypt under the United Arab Republic (UAR) in February 1958, with Egyptian Gamal Abdel Nasser as president. Nasser's condition to accept union with Syria was dissolving all Syrian political parties. This was one of many reasons that led to the collapse in of the UAR on September 28, 1961, with a bloodless military coup in DamascusIn 8 March 1963, the Baath Arab Socialist Party came to power in a coup known in Syria as the March Revolution. The Baathists dissolved the Parliament and introduced a one-party regime that was destablized by conflicts within the Baath itself. In February 1966, the right wing of Baath assumed leadership of the party, establishing radical Salah Jadid as the strongman of the country.
November 16, 1970; Hafez al-Assad, then the defense minister, led the Correction Movement that finally brought Syria long-lasting stability after years of political disturbance. Assad, elected president in 1971, started to get the nation ready to fight for its occupied land. He mobilized the major political powers in Syria under the National Progressive Front, and got the People's Council (Parliament) back to work.
The Syrians did not wait too long. On October, 6th 1973, Syria and Egypt launched a surprising attack against the Israeli forces in the occupied Sinai and Golan Heights. Within few days, Syrian troops had almost liberated all the land occupied in 1967, but Israeli forces managed to recover after a massive US airlift. Syria soon found itself fighting US and Israel together; and with the fighting on the Egyptian front ceased, the Syrians were forced to accepted the UN call for a cease-fire. The UN Security Council issued another resolution, 338, calling for Israeli withdrawal from Arab territories and for peace talks to achieve a just peace in the Middle East.
The Arab position was more weakened when the Palestinians and the Jordanians signed separate peace agreements with Israel in 1993 and 1994. Syria and Lebanon, however, vowed to sign peace together or sign not. Syria continued to support the Lebanese resistance fighters led by Hizbollah against the Israeli occupation forces in South Lebanon. In May 2000, Hizbollah succeeded in driving Israel out of Southern Lebanon after 22 years of occupation.
Syrian-Israeli peace talks reached a dead end in 1996 with Israel refusing to discuss the complete withdrawal from the Golan Heights. But in late 1999, Israel signaled its will to accept such move, and the talks were resumed in the US, this time at a high level between Foreign Minister Farouq al-Sahara'a and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. The talks were again stalled in early 2000 when Barak tried to exclude the northeastern shore of the Lake Tiberias from the proposed Israeli withdrawal plan. Syria made it clear that no single inch of the Syrian soil will be given away.
On June 10th 2000, President Assad died of a heart attack. His son, Bashar al-Assad was elected President on July 10th.