Syria Five Years Later: Personal Reflections

Flag of Syria with vintage old paper texture - Syrian Arab Republic
Flag of Syria with vintage old paper texture - Syrian Arab Republic

It has lasted already for five years in Syria, and still no light in the end of the tunnel. A lot of talk about a political solution, though on the ground the carnage just intensifies by the day. A civil war long becoming a regional conflict, and recently a worldwide problem with the influx of refugees.

When it all started, this blog predicted that the developing conflict will dwarf in intensity and cruelty anything that the Middle East has ever witnessed, and this region, as we all know, has witnessed a lot. Sometimes, even a writer hates to see his predictions materialized. This blog, to start with, was initiated by me in the beginning of the so-called Arab Spring, when I approached the Huffington Post and asked to comment on this volcanic socio/political eruption turned so bloody, and since then, I am privileged to take advantage of the total freedom of expression granted by the editors, and writing a lot about Syria. T

his is a country which has fascinated me for over 50 years. When I was a member of the Israeli delegation for peace talks with Syria during the Madrid Peace Conference and afterwards, it was almost like a dream realized. To research about Syria, to teach about her, and even to try and make peace. A great package deal, but one which has not led to the hoped-for peace, something which if achieved, would have required Israel to make gigantic concessions. That said, even without formal peace, Israeli-Syrian relations in the last 40 years have been one of the most intriguing in the Middle East.

For all these years, since the Disengagement Agreement, which terminated the Yom Kippur war, the Israeli-Syrian border was the quietest of all of Israel's borders. Arab nationalism a-la-Ba'th party notwithstanding, the house of Assad maintained a balance of actual co-existence with Israel. It was the devil that successive Israeli governments have known and come to respect.

There was a war by proxies in Lebanon and to some extent by pro-Syrian Palestinian factions, but altogether the two countries were the odd couple of Middle East politics. Formal, full peace though was always a mirage, an unattainable goal, and this is because paradoxically, Syria of the Assads behaved first and foremost as Syria of the Alawites.

The sect was really the no.1 priority, so it required the Alawite regime not to go to war with a militarily superior Israel on the one hand, and on the other, to tie Syria to Iran, as part of an unofficial Shi'ite-oriented coalition.

Bashar Assad proved right, from his perspective, when he turned down most generous Israeli peace proposals in 2007-9, knowing that this would not strengthen his standing among his Sunni Muslim subjects, but ruin his alliance with Iran. If it was ONLY about Israeli interests, this blog would have extolled infinitely the great virtues of Bashar Assad, but it ain't the case. A blog dealing with the toxic issues of the Middle East has to go beyond partisan agenda, and reflect reality, even the most painful one.

In the case of Syria, the painful reality is, that a coalition of minorities, led by the Alawites could not indefinitely rule over a Sunni majority. Yes, some of the advocates of Bashar Assad are right, when they mention some prominent Sunnis who are loyal to him, the existence of some Sunni soldiers in his Alawite-dominated army etc., but the situation on the ground is not to be dismissed out of hand. The vast majority of the Sunni-Arab population has turned against the regime. The non-Arab Sunnis, the Kurds, are pursuing their own agenda, and so do the non-Sunni Druze.

For Assad to remain the ruler of one Syria may amount to nothing short of a near-ethnic cleansing of the Sunni population. Most of the 11 million Syrians who have been uprooted from their homes and become refugees are Sunnis. A new demographic/geographic balance is being created in Syria, amid unprecedented horrors.

Still, Bashar Assad maintains support outside of Syria, being considered the savior of the Arab world in the war against Jihadi Islam. Yes, he fights the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood with all their offsprings, leading all the way to ISIS and AL-Qa'ida, but in the process, he destroys the entire Sunni population. Alawites were the perennial victims of Sunni persecution and sense of domination, but is it a historic revenge now taking place on the part of the historically-oppressed minority? If that is the case, it is a losing battle, regardless of current military successes of the Assad army and foreign intervention, Russian in the first place. What is happening in Syria now is so bad, but if continues like that, many will look back on it in few years time, and miss the good old days of 2016...

The only humane solution to the crisis is a breakdown of the country along sectarian lines. Syria cannot be reunited as if nothing happened. Bashar Assad proved his point and that of the Alawite community--they are in Syria to stay and rule themselves, rather than being ruled by the traditional Sunni enemy, but they should accept the limits of their power. That said, and ending on a personal note, as I started this particular blog: I brace myself to the inevitable torrent of abuse about pursuing an Israeli agenda here and what not. Well, at some point, one gets used to that...