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Posts Tagged ‘Alawites’

Mordechai Kedar: The Arab World on the Precipice

Monday, July 30th, 2012

Although I do not generally do so, I will open with an Arabic joke, because in the Arab world (and perhaps in other places as well) people often use humor to speak the truth about reality. I will begin by explaining: In Arabic, the term is “weapon of total destruction” instead of “weapon of mass destruction”.

According to the joke, in 2003, President George W. Bush, sent a delegation to search out weapons of mass destruction all over the Arab world, and gave its members authorization to search everywhere. The delegation roamed throughout the entire area for a whole year, and did not find any weapons of mass destruction. The delegation returned to Washington, came to the Oval Office in the White House, and said to Bush: “We checked every place in the whole Middle East, searched everything and we didn’t find any weapons of mass destruction”. The president asked them: “What did you find?” The members of the delegation answered him: “total destruction.”

The point of this ironic story is that the Arab world does not need “weapons of total destruction”, since even without them the area is in total ruins. The situation in Syria these days illustrates this situation, and in live broadcast. With presidents slaughtering their own citizens in the thousands, and their capitals serving as a front in the battle against them, and the state’s military branches fighting against its people, when human dignity – especially that of women and girls – is openly trampled upon and these countries’ economies are collapsing, the Arab world is in an advanced state of systemic collapse, “total destruction.”

Syria of Asad, Hafez as well as Bashar, created for itself an image of Arab nationalism, a fortress of faithfulness to the Arab interest and the spearhead of the Arab battle against the West in general and against Israel in particular. But now, with all the military strength of the Syrian regime turned against its citizens, it becomes clear that this image was like foam floating on the surface of deep water; a pathetic illusion hiding a dark dictatorship that used – or rather abused – Israel as a cover for the bitter truth: the actual, great, threatening enemy was the majority of the Syrian people, who never saw the regime as legitimate.

The situation in Syria is deteriorating quickly, and the state is literally disintegrating. The cracks in the government are widening; ambassadors, generals and soldiers are deserting, some branches of the Ba’ath party are announcing their secession from the regime, the Russian advisers are fleeing for their lives and the feeling that the end is near is taking hold more and more. Not the end of Asad, but of Syria. Not the regime, but the system. The state is approaching systemic collapse and is sinking in a treacherous swamp of blood, fire and tears, and only the Master of the Universe knows how Syria will emerge from this.

The principal force fighting against the regime is the Free Syrian Army, which is said to be acting under the command of Lieutenant General Riad al-Asad, a deserter from Asad’s army. However, the Free Syrian Army, despite the many efforts that Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan and perhaps even Western countries invest to consolidate and organize it, is really nothing but an incohesive group of weakly coordinated local militias. Its weapons – mainly automatic AK-47 rifles and RPG anti-tank rockets – are light; its strength is combat in urban areas, where it uses the population as human shields. Since the regime’s military can’t tell the difference between a fighter and a non-combatant citizen, it commits mass murder in an effort to eliminate as many fighters as it can, who may be hiding among the citizens. Both sides are up to their ears in human rights abuses, and both sides act with determination and without sensitivity, guided by the logic that “war is hell.”

However the Free Syrian Army is not the only factor among the enemies of the regime, because three additional types of forces are also present.

One type is the local Islamic militia, acting according to the Salafi jihadi formula, which is maximum religious adherence integrated with unconstrained holy war against “the devil” Asad, his regime and his infidel ‘Alawi brothers. It seems that it was this sort of group that carried out the attack in Damascus in which the heads of the security establishment were eliminated on Wednesday, July 18, an attack that revealed very great technical, operational, organizational and intelligence-gathering capabilities. The members of these groups are local Syrians who know well how to integrate into the population and act from within it. In every Sunni city at least one such group is active, and overall there are scores of such groups active throughout Syria. The long-range goal of these groups is the establishment of an Islamic Emirate in which Islamic Shari’a will be fully implemented. One of them even claims that its capital will be Jerusalem… Names of such militias are “kitaab al sahabah” (Battalion of Companions of the Prophet Mohammed), “Katibat Ahrar Prat” (Battalion of the Free of the Euphrates), which is part of “Lua’ Sakur al-Shahaba” (Division of the Eagles of Aleppo), “Lua’ al-Haq” (Division of Rights/Truth/G-d), “Katibat Sawt al-Haq” (Battalion of the Voice of Rights/Truth/G-d), “Katibat al-Ahrar al-Sham” (Battalion of the Free of Greater Syria), These names carry a significant traditional-religious meaning with Sunni overtones.

Rubin Reports: Will the Rebels Win Syria’s Civil War and What That Means

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.co.il/2012/07/will-rebels-win-syrias-civil-war-and.html

The tide seems to be turning in Syria. While the civil war is far from over, the regime is clearly weakening; the rebels are expanding their operations and effectiveness. There have also been more high-level defections. What does this mean and why is this happening? There are three main factors that are making a rebel victory seem more likely.

First, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with Turkey’s facilitation and U.S. coordination, are sending arms to the opposition.

Second, the regime has been rushing the same trusted units around the country to put down upsurges and these forces are getting tired and stretched thin.

Third, President Bashar al-Assad really has nothing to offer the opposition. He won’t leave and he can’t share power. His strategy of brutal suppression and large-scale killing can neither make the opposition surrender nor wipe it out. Even if he kills civilians and demonstrators, the rebel military forces can pull back to attack another day.

Even though the fighting may go on for months, then, it is time to start assessing what outcomes might look like. Here are some suggestions:

–Ethnic massacres? While there have been reports of such actions — the regime killing Sunni Muslims; the opposition killing Alawites and Christians — what we’ve seen already might be nothing compared to what is to come. Such murders might take place during the civil war or after it ends.

–An Alawite fortress? Assad has built up his defenses in northwest Syria where most of the Alawites live to make a last stand or to try to hold out. How would such a final phase in the war go and could Assad keep the rebels from taking this stronghold?

–Obama Administration bragging rights? We’ve already had leaks about U.S. covert involvement in the anti-Assad effort. If the rebels seem to be winning or do in fact win the war before November, the White House will claim Syria as proof of its tough, triumphant foreign policy (The elections in Libya, in which reportedly the Islamists were held off by a U.S.-backed government, will be cited as another example of success).

–But at great risk. What if the Obama Administration increasingly claims credit for regime change in Syria and then has to take blame for massacres or an Islamist takeover?

–The Kurdish factor. Syria’s Kurds have essentially walled off their northeast section of the country. Their armed militia, helped by their compatriots in Iraq, can hold out against all but the most concerted force. The Kurds generally view the regime as repressive Arab nationalists while they see the opposition as Islamists and Arab nationalists. Would a new regime in Damascus make a deal with them for autonomy, or would it be tempted to try to conquer the area? If so, how would the opposition’s Western backers react to such an assault?

–And then there’s the biggest question of all: Who among the opposition forces would take power? Syria is quite different from such relatively homogeneous countries as Egypt and Tunisia. Let’s just list the different groupings:

Alawites now rule and in general support the regime. The treatment of the Alawites—who pretend to be Shia Muslims but really aren’t Muslims at all—would be a key indicator for a new regime. Would it seek conciliation or would it massacre large numbers of them? Unless Assad can hold out in the northwest, the Alawites will have little role in a post-Assad Syria.

Christians also generally support the regime because they fear Islamists taking power. Will they face massacres and flee the country or will the new regime work to accommodate them?

Alawites and Christians together number more than one-fourth of the country’s population.

The Kurds have been discussed above. Their goal is autonomy, one that a new central government could meet but will it want to grant them such status?

The Druze, who live in the southwest of the country, have not played a major role in the rebellion. They tend to accommodate themselves to the status quo. Will they organize communally and seek some autonomy? The Druze strategy is of special interest to Israel since they live closer to the Golan Heights and, indeed, Israel rules a Druze population there most of whose members identify as Syrians. Would a new regime’s treatment of the Druze make the Golan Heights’ residents more rebellious against Israel or more eager to remain under Israeli rule? Israel’s military intelligence commander has already warned of the danger of jihadists infiltrating into the border area, though one might add that Israel already has strong defenses in place there that would stop any cross-border attacks, a contrast of course with the Sinai.

Mordechai Kedar: The Division of Syria

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

Syria comprises 14 administrative districts that reflect the demographic distribution of the population.

Following the collapse of the central government, Syria is likely to be divided up according to its ethnic groups, and this division will be fairly similar to the map of administrative districts: six main districts; the rest will either become independent/autonomous, or some or all of them will be subsumed by one of the groups mentioned above.

It could be that some of the districts will declare total independence, while others may form some sort of federation.

The Druze

Opposite the Golan is the district of Kuneitra. This district may unite with the district of Dara’a and Damascus, so that facing Israel will be a state whose center is Damascus. It is very doubtful that the district of Suwayda’ will join it, as it is likely that the Druze will declare themselves to be independent. In the year 1925, when they understood that the French Mandate wanted to bring them into the framework of a Syrian state, they began a rebellion that continued for several months, under the leadership of Sultan Basha al-Atrash, a statue of whose likeness, riding on a noble horse with his unsheathed sword in hand, adorns squares in many Druze villages, and whose picture is hung on the wall of every Druze household.

The ‘Alawites

About two million ‘Alawites live in Syria, who represent a minority of about 10 percent of the citizens of the state. Their traditional area of residence is the Mountains of Ansariyya, the topographical continuation of the Israeli Galilee and the Lebanese mountains. All these mountains are settled by religious and ethnic minorities: Druze, Christians, ‘Alawites and Shi’ites, because they minorities were persecuted by the Sunni Muslim majority in the area. The mountains served these minorities as a place of shelter and refuge for several reasons: the mountain caves provide convenient hiding places; it is difficult for a large army to reach them; and it’s easy for the local residents to block approach roads by tumbling down boulders and trees.

The ‘Alawites, who are considered heretics by Islam, were vigorously persecuted until the French Mandate rescued them from their miserable situation, when it armed and equipped them and made them into soldiers and officers. After the Ba’th revolution of 1963, and especially after Salah Jadid assumed control of the regime in 1966, many ‘Alawites moved to the cities: Aleppo, Homs, Hama, and principally Damascus, where they live in self-contained neighborhoods.

Following the expected fall of the ‘Alawite rule, they will need to flee from their neighborhoods because of the hatred with which the Muslims regard them and the desire of Muslims to take revenge on the ‘Alawites for tens of years of oppression, which has reached terrible proportions over the past year. Some of them will flee abroad, but most will flee to the Ansariyya Mountains, where they lived generations ago. In recent weeks the Syrian regime has been streaming great quantities of arms and ammunition to the mountains of Ansariyya so that they will be able to fortify themselves in these mountains after the great escape.

The Kurds

The Kurds are traditionally residents of the Hasaka area in the North of Syria, however over the years many have migrated to the cities – mainly Aleppo and Damascus. The Kurds and the Arabs relate to each other with mutual hatred. The Kurds are dispersed among four states: Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. In Iraq they are almost totally independent. However, in Syria they are oppressed, especially since the state of Syria was established in the year 1943. Most don’t have citizenship, and therefore they cannot hold government office and are not entitled to health or educational services. The regime does not recognize their language and their culture, and whatever they have achieved over the years has been as the result of demonstrations, some of which were violent, and “buying the favors” of the government.

The Kurds in Syria already sniff the scent of freedom from the Arab regime, and they are establishing contact with their brothers in Iraq who support them in their path to independence.

Syrian Homework for Hillary

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Speaking at the UN last week US Secretary of State Clinton declared, “It is time for the international community to . . . send a clear message of support to the people of Syria.” And after the failed Security Council vote vetoed by Russia and China, she reiterated that the world must “support the Syrian people’s right to have a better future.”

Mrs. Clinton speaks of the “Syrian people” as if it was a homogeneous national group. Her ignorance was further demonstrated when speaking to reporters on Sunday. “The international community has a duty to halt continuing bloodshed,” she said, “and promote a political transition that would see Mr. Assad step down.” Can she really believe Bashar al-Assad will simply agree to resign?

If one is to develop a coherent and attainable goal-oriented Syrian policy, one must first understand the various groupings and allegiances at play.

The “Syrian people” is a composite of religious and ethnic groups who have been historically opposed to one another. Sunni Muslims comprise two thirds of the population; 12% are Alawites; 9% are Kurds; 10% are various Christian sects; and the remaining groups include Druze, Turkmens and Circassians.

The Sunni majority includes the Muslim Brotherhood. The Sunni elite lost power to the Alawite dominated secular nationalist Syrian Ba’ath Party in a 1963 coup. This led to violent unrest which the Muslim Brotherhood later developed into open revolt.

In 1980, after a failed assassination attempt against President Hafez al-Assad, he came down on them hard. In 1982, the city of Hama, a Muslim Brotherhood stronghold, was destroyed by regular Syrian army forces, including tanks and artillery, killing an estimated 20,000 people. The revolt was quelled and the Alawite al-Assad family continued to rule.

But the dispute is far older. The Sunni majority view the Alawite minority as heretics. The Alawites, or Alawi as they called themselves because of their adherence to Ali (Mohammad’s cousin and son-in-law), were originally called by the Sunnis the “Nusayri” after the Shi’ite Ibn Nusayr in the 9th century, indicating their break with Islam. After 1920 and the onset of French rule in Syria, the persecuted Alawites ingratiated themselves to the new rulers.

The French encouraged the Alawites to join the French-commanded Syrian army and dominate the officer corps as a counterweight to the hostile Sunni majority. This set the stage for the Alawite dominance of the Ba’ath Party and the 1963 takeover of the Syrian government.

The Kurds comprise the majority of the Jazira province, and are affiliated with major Kurdish populations in neighboring Iran, Iraq, and Turkey. Historically, the Kurds once ruled their own land, known as Kurdistan, which included eastern Turkey, northern Iraq, northwestern Iran and northern Syria. Today, the Kurds are persecuted by the current ruling regimes in their respective countries.

It would behoove Mrs. Clinton and other world leaders to acknowledge the mosaic that is the “Syrian people”, so that the tumult that the country is facing now can be avoided in the future

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/syrian-homework-for-hillary/2012/02/08/

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