The Jews have always had something of a reputation for intelligence. But what are we to make of their attempts to bring down President Assad of Syria by mobilizing their considerable media and political influence to lobby for another Libya?
Of course the Israelis hate Assad and vice versa. That goes with the territory, the territory in this case being land which has been occupied or from which the original Arab Muslim population has been driven out. But surely people as smart as the Jews are reputed to be should be looking beyond such predictable hatreds to the wider picture? In realpolitik terms Little Assad and his dad Big Assad have always been good for Israel.
Why were the Jews able to survive in 1967 and 1973? One of the main reasons was the deep structural divisions of their antagonists. Syria was the key to these divisions. Not only did it reject union with Egypt in 1961, but it also remained aloof from Iraq, even though both countries were ruled by pan-Arab socialist Ba’ath parties. Under the Assads it was even unwilling to fully unite its own country, as this would have involved the militarization of its political opponents.
A truly united Arab state, comprising the population centres of Egypt, Syria, and Iraq, and mobilizing its population with financial help from the Gulf ‘oil-o-garchies,’ would have proved a much more redoubtable foe for Israel. But instead of that, Israel has only had to contend with divided and unorganized opposition.
The seal on this disunity was set by the Assad regime, which wished to remain separate from the rest of the Arabs not for ideological reasons but sectarian ones. The Assads, like many in the Syrian military, come from the Alawite religious minority (approximately 11% of the population), centred in the hills fronting the Mediterranean, but massively overrepresented in the Syrian military (along with the Druze who comprise around 3% of the population).
The Alawites became important in the Syrian military following the decision of Syria’s French colonial masters to recruit them because they had the right mix of martial qualities and a disconnect from the majority Sunni population (74%) that had to be kept down then as now. But despite the military tradition, 11% of the population represents a tenuous power base, especially as the Sunni are dominant in nearly all the surrounding states, even including Iraq until recent US intervention ineptly boosted the power of the Shiites.
Because of its essential weakness, the Assad regime has always noisily played up its pantomime role as an ‘enemy of Israel,’ but without actually doing much to threaten or undermine the settler state. This act was undertaken to provide the Syrian people with a unifying external focus to lessen internal opposition to the Assad regime, but Neocons and their more recent incarnations have clearly been taken in by this act. For them the Assad state, nominally allied to Iran and Hezbollah in the Lebanon, represents the tip of a spear of Shiite power aimed at Israel’s beating heart. It is therefore something that must be destroyed.
But the idea that a dangerous vector of Shiite power runs from Iran through Iraq and into Syria is absurd. America still retains bases in Iraq, while the influence of Iraqi Sunnis, including both Kurds and Arabs, is a significant counterweight to Shiite power in that country. As for Syria, Assad and his Awalite minority has always been too weak to ever engage their full force against Israel or arm and mobilize that 74% of the population that they fear will take their own power and privilege.
This, rather than Syrian inferiority, has been the real reason for Israel’s victories and security in the past, but ironically this is what the pro-Israeli hawks in the US want to destroy.
The real danger to Israel, plain and simple, are not the Shiites, very few of whom live near Israel. It is instead the unification, radicalization, and mobilization of the surrounding Arab Sunni population, who do. The first part of this scenario has already played out with the revolution in Egypt and the rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood. This group is dedicated, just as much as the Ayatollahs of Iran to the destruction of Israel, but with better access to it and, perhaps as a result of that, with much deeper strategy.
If Assad were to fall, you would see the second part of the scenario enacted. Instead of a conservative minority pretending to oppose Israel while afraid to mobilize the population, you would see a populist radical state with enormous financial backing from the Gulf. Such a Syria would not balk at properly training and equipping a much larger segment of its population, especially as such a build-up would help cope with the high youth unemployment that has helped undermine the present regime.
If America intervenes militarily in Syria to help depose the Assad regime it will only prove the stupidity of its pro-Israeli foreign policy. If, however, it does not, after having encouraged the Sunnis to rise to their slaughter, we will be presented with a case of Machiavellian evil on a par with Stalin’s deceptive encouragement of the Warsaw Uprising of 1944.