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Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Syrian daydream

For 20 years or more it has been doctrinal here in Israel that Israel will eventually have to trade the Golan Heights for peace with Syria. It's one of those things that 'everyone knows' just like 'everyone knows' the parameters of a peace deal with the 'Palestinians.' But like with the 'Palestinians,' what everyone knows is just plain wrong. Lee Smith demolishes the notion that Israel can trade the Golan for peace with Syria.
Plocker could not see the nature of the regime because he was afflicted with the same vanity that has corrupted Israeli and American policymakers who have sought for decades to arrange for the lamb to lie down with the lion, and be crowned as peacemakers: an obsession with peace, which blinded them to the character of a regime that murders its own citizens with conscience. He is still wrong because he thinks the problem is simply that Israel should not make peace with such a regime, when the reality is that peace is not in Israel’s power to make. Jerusalem cannot make a deal because the Syrians are incapable of cutting such a deal. The reasons for this are strategic, historical, and existential.

The strategic reasons have been obvious for years, even as many U.S. and Israeli officials have chosen to ignore them. It is only Damascus’ proxy war with Israel, through its alliance with Iran and support for Hezbollah, that has earned this state sponsor of terror the prestige that U.S. engagement has afforded this mid-sized Arab state with very limited natural resources. The regime’s self-image requires it, as Assad said in a speech Monday, to demand respect according to its historical size, not its geographical size. For U.S. diplomats, a peace deal means that they get to take Syria off their to-do list and move on to other problems. But for Assad it means that he has cashed in the only chips he had and is no longer able to project regional or international power.


For centuries, the Sunnis have had it in for the Alawites, whom they consider heretics. Prior to Syrian independence, a group of Alawite notables petitioned the French mandate authorities for their own state so that they would not have to live with the Sunnis. “The spirit of hatred and fanaticism embedded in the hearts of the Arab Muslims against everything that is non-Muslim has been perpetually nurtured by the Islamic religion,” read the letter—one of whose signatories was Suleiman al-Assad, said to be Bashar’s great-grandfather.

Eventually, the Alawite accommodation with their countrymen was to out-Sunni the Sunnis regarding Israel. After Hafez al-Assad lost the Golan to Israel twice, first as defense minister and next as president, he turned to resistance, a trend amplified by his son. While Assad warns that he’d be replaced by the much more dangerous Muslim Brotherhood or other Islamist factions should his regime be toppled, the current ruling structure is the exaggerated cartoon version of a radical Sunni regime, which is to say that if Assad falls, there’s nothing worse that will follow.

In fact, some argue that a Sunni regime might represent the best chance for a peace deal, as Israel’s two peace treaties are with Sunni powers: Egypt and Jordan. And yet some analysts seem to have misunderstood the significance of the opposition’s chant, “No Iran, no Hezbollah. We want a Muslim who fears God.” To be sure, the Sunni-majority opposition is against the Shia-led resistance bloc, but not because they favor living in comity with their Jewish neighbors in Israel. It simply means they despise the Shia and their allies, like their own Alawite regime, as well as Israel.

Syria is not a state in the Western sense but rather is an interlocking network of tribal and sectarian systems. At present, the clique around Assad, including the security services and paramilitary forces, represents the most powerful gathering. They have spilled rivers of blood in tribal areas like Daraa not because they do not understand that their murders and mutilations have incurred blood debts against them that will last generations, but to show that they are powerful enough not to care. In other words, any peace treaty signed by Syria’s ruler would not be between states, but between confessional sects and tribes. The Alawites can’t cut a deal with the Jews, because they don’t have a deal with the Sunnis.
Read the whole thing. Peace with Syria is a daydream.

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At 2:15 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Yup... its not that Alawites couldn't make a deal with Israel, its just that this would rob them of their claim to be more Arab than Syria's other Arabs. That isn't likely to happen in our lifetime.


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