By Maidhc Ó Cathail
Within the past week, fellows at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies have used rather unfortunate analogies to describe the plight of Syria’s besieged Alawite minority. The comparison of the Alawites to two of the region’s least popular interlopers in Arab and Muslim memory was hardly calculated to endear them to an already resentful Sunni majority.
Writing in the neoconservative flagship Weekly Standard on July 6, Tony Badran claimed:
Bashar al-Assad’s campaign against his Sunni adversaries recalls the strategy employed by the Crusaders, as invading European armies fortified themselves against various Muslim coalitions in the Levant, from the 12th to the 13th century. Indeed, the Crusader castles dotting the Western part of Syria may give us some sort of insight into the regime’s military thinking, and perhaps a preview of its future.
Three days later, Jonathan Kay wrote an oddly sympathetic piece in Canada’s staunchly pro-Israel National Post:
A small, marginalized people, kicked around the Middle East for centuries by Muslim empires, finally carves out an independent home for itself on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. But life remains precarious: Islamists seek to delegitimize the newly established homeland, declaiming the ruling sect as a gang of infidel occupiers. Now, the simmering hatred of the occupied people finally has transformed into an unstoppable political and military intifada — cheered on by Western human-rights advocates.
The country I have just described is Syria. For all the pathological hatred that President Bashar Assad and his father Hafez have focused on Israel, the histories of the two countries betray some striking similarities. And those similarities help explain why the Assad clan and its hangers-on refuse to be dislodged from Damascus.
Like Israel’s Jews, members of the Alawi sect in Syria regard their control of the nation as an existential issue. There is only one Alawi state, just as there is only one Jewish state, and its destruction would mean the end of the Alawis as a political entity on the world stage — probably forever. With the passage of generations, it might even mean their gradual assimilation into other nations, as with Zoroastrians, Samaritans and a hundred other now-obscure Middle Eastern peoples.
It may be just a coincidence that in the space of a few days two fellows from the same pro-Israel think tank that has been in the forefront of calls for regime change in Damascus compared the ruling Alawites to Crusaders and Israeli Jews. However, given Israel’s record of fomenting strife in the region along ethnic and religious lines, the possibility that these articles are part of a deliberate campaign of incitement should not be discounted.
Over the past year, there have been a number of intriguing references in the Israeli press to the Jewish state’s purported concern for the plight of the Alawites. In an August 3, 2011 op-ed in the Jerusalem Post, John Myhill wrote:
At some point, as the civil war in Syria develops, the Alawites will have no choice but to retreat to their mountain stronghold in the northwest and appeal for military assistance to protect them and help them establish their own state there (as they unsuccessfully petitioned the French in the interwar period).
From personal contact with Alawites, I know that they are already beginning to discuss the possibility of appealing to Israel for help. If they do – and they probably will at some point – and the international community does not help them, Israel should step in to aid the Alawites, which would also mean helping their Shi’ite allies, who will by that point be similarly embattled.
According to Myhill, this humanitarian act would also have strategic benefits for Tel Aviv:
The result would be the formation of a bloc of states in the western Levant which would share the common interest of avoiding Sunni domination. For the first time, Israel would have actual state allies in the region, as opposed to temporary peace treaties.
Then in early January this year, Haaretz reported the same humanitarian impulse from an even more unlikely source:
Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz said Tuesday that Israel is preparing to absorb Alawite refugees once Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime collapses, which he expects to happen in the coming months.
Analyzing the IDF’s improbable humanitarianism, the Beirut-based political analyst Ghassan Dahhan observed:
Let’s assume that Israel’s analysis is correct in which Assad would fall after which a civil war erupts in Syria between Sunnis and Alawites. Given the sectarian composition of Syrian society the Alawites would find themselves at the end of the gun barrel, and an exodus could take place in similar vein with the Christians of Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Looking for safe refuge, many Alawites might feel forced to accept Israel’s offer to be resettled in the Golan and subsequently seek its protection from the Syrian Sunni majority.
The current population of the Golan currently stands at less than a hundred thousand, consisting mostly of Druze. Even a minor flow of Alawite refugees to the Golan would thus have significant demographic consequences for the configuration of the territory’s society. The Israeli occupied Golan would in effect be turned into de-facto Alawite enclave. For Israel to grant Alawite refugees legal status would be unacceptable to most Israelis, especially if the size of refugees is tangible.
The option that would render Israel the best position is to encourage the creation of a Kosovo-style Alawite state.
The reference to Kosovo brings to mind an article in the Atlantic from almost two decades ago, in which Robert D. Kaplan predicted the inevitable Balkanization of Syria:
Syria will not remain the same. It could become bigger or smaller, but the chance that any territorial solution will prove truly workable is slim indeed. Some Middle East specialists mutter about the possibility that a future Alawite state will be carved out of Syria. Based in mountainous Latakia, it would be a refuge for Alawites after Assad passes from the scene and Muslim fundamentalists—Sunnis, that is—take over the government. This state would be supported not only by Lebanese Maronites but also by the Israeli Secret Service, which would see no contradiction in aiding former members of Assad’s regime against a Sunni Arab government in Damascus.
Could it be that Tel Aviv and its American lobby are slyly inciting genocide against the Alawites as a prelude to the creation of an Israel-dependent Kosovo-style enclave somewhere in Syria? This would certainly be in keeping with the strategy for the Middle East outlined in the early 1980s by Oded Yinon, as summarized by Khalil Nakhleh:
The plan operates on two essential premises. To survive, Israel must 1) become an imperial regional power, and 2) must effect the division of the whole area into small states by the dissolution of all existing Arab states. Small here will depend on the ethnic or sectarian composition of each state. Consequently, the Zionist hope is that sectarian-based states become Israel’s satellites and, ironically, its source of moral legitimation.
Maidhc Ó Cathail writes extensively on U.S. foreign policy and the Middle East. –
This article was originally published at The Passionate Attachment