WJC ANALYSIS - Are Levant minorities extending a hand to Israel?

13 February 2012

By Pinhas Inbari

Amidst the crisis in Syria, Hezbollah’s former secretary general, Subhi Tufeili, declared that Hezbollah would eventually seek an alliance with Israel. Hezbollah attacked Tufeili’s statement and accused the former leader of the pro-Iranian radical movement of taking bribes from hostile parties, i.e. Saudi Arabia. His reasoning, however, is quite sound; Tufeili argued that Hezbollah made a strategic mistake by assassinating former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. The 'Party of God' miscalculated the true meaning of the Arab Spring and opened the door to the fitna – hell of sectorial war – in Lebanon. 

If the term 'Hezbollah' is replaced with 'Lebanese Shia', Tufeili’s statement becomes easier to understand. The Arab Spring brought about the advent of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood at the expense of Iran and the Shiites in Lebanon. Suddenly, Lebanon’s Shiites have found themselves on the defensive, facing a vengeful Sunni majority, and losing their status as the leading power of the Middle East. Under these circumstances, Israel could become their natural ally.

Tufeili’s reasoning is reinforced by additional signals that have recently come from Lebanon. Druze leader Waleed Jumblatt visited Iraqi Kurdistan a couple of months ago and gave several inconsistent explanations for his trip. First, he claimed that he arrived in the area to search for his roots, as the Jumblatt clan originates from Kurdistan. Later,  he said he came on a mission to bring Turkey and the Kurdish people closer together. However, it is more likely that Jumblatt was trying to learn to what extent the Kurds and other minorities in the Levant would ally against the advent of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Many analysts in Israel and abroad are in the habit of predicting the imminent downfall of Bashar al-Assad. This oft repeated forecast ignores the differences between the social fabric of the Levant and North Africa and hence the possible different outcomes of "Arab Springs" in various regions of the Arab world. Tribal sectarianism was the most influential factor in North Africa, especially in Libya. The Levant, however, is split along religious and sectorial fault lines.

Hence, while Muammar Gaddafi failed to arrange a safe haven inside the fractured tribal system, the sects in the Levant are better organized internally as a result of lessons learned from their bloody history. According to Syrian opposition leader Abd al-Halim Khaddam, Assad's former deputy who defected to Paris, the regime is now in the process of fortifying the mountains overlooking Ladhikia, a region populated by the Alawite ruling minority. It is most likely that Assad’s dominant clan is preparing a shelter among its fellow Alawites, so as not to repeat the fate of Egypt’s President Mubarak or Libya’s Gaddafi.

Fareed al-Gadiri, another Syrian opposition leader based in Washington, also predicted that the Alawites would establish their own separate state on the mountains overlooking Ladhikiya’s shores and that Syrian weapons of mass destruction are destined to protect the Alawites against the Sunnis. Last weekend, clashes erupted in Lebanese Tripoli between Alawites and Sunnis that left behind dead and wounded. They are a precursor to the true nature of future developments that will engulf the Levant.  

The exceeding atrocities committed by the Alawite regime have created a situation of deep and uncompromised hostility between the sects in Syria, not only between the Alawites and the Sunnis but also between the Alawite minority allies – the Druze and the Christians (The current chief of staff of the Syrian army is a Christian.)

The situation in Syria is fragile and volatile. Should the Levant indeed split along sectarian and religious fault lines, it is possible that the minorities will extend a hand to the Jewish state.

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