Tags: syria | alawite | sunni | chemical attack

Syria Peace Plan Must Recognize Alawite-Sunni Conflict

Syria Peace Plan Must Recognize Alawite-Sunni Conflict
A picture taken on February 22, 2018, shows people waving the Syrian flag and portraits of President Bashar al-Assad as a convoy of pro-Syrian government fighters arrives in Syria's northern region of Afrin. (Ahmad Shafie Bilal/AFP/Getty Images)

Tuesday, 10 April 2018 05:27 PM Current | Bio | Archive

The modern history of the Middle East is one which can be characterized by words like hatred, disorder, and conflict, but even in this turbulent region of the world, there is nothing that can be compared to the Syrian tragedy, and that is a very grim achievement of the eye doctor, soft-spoken dictator, Bashar Assad. Syria really dwarfs anything that we have seen until now, with 12 million displaced people, out of a population of 22 million, 7 years back, of which 6 million are out of the country. 600,000 killed people, ethnic cleansing, total economic devastation, and last, but by no means least, wholesale use of chemical weapons. Remember Chemical Ali of the Saddam regime? Well, please get used to the greater villain, Chemical Bashar.

Syria is a larger calamity than all the rest in the Middle East, because this is a struggle for life or death between two communities, the Sunni Muslims and the Alawites. The historic context of this struggle is not one-sided, as the Alawites can rightly argue, that they fight for survival after a millennium of oppression by the Sunni majority, and to say that is not wrong factually. That said, in a country like Syria, where there has not developed a civic society, nor any really popular political party which draws support on a multi-sectarian basis, the historic conflict between communities can take place only amid violence, and survival therefore is the name of the game. So, the events which led the Alawite minority to climb up the social ladder in Syria from second-class, downtrodden minority, to a ruling elite are secondary in importance under current conditions, and what matters really is to stay in power at all costs. Not being in power may mean a complete physical extermination, and the Alawites will not accept it. Their biggest problem is, that they are only 3 million and, according to reliable estimates and sources, they lost already over 100,000 soldiers of the Syrian army and supporting militias. These are men 18-40 years old, and this is a demographic catastrophe of major proportions. It is arguably the case, that with this in mind, it is not illogical to ask, whether it is still the interest of the community to continue the struggle to maintain control over the entire country, or better withdraw to their mountains in northwest Syria, and establish there a sectarian, self-ruled mini State.

The Assad regime gives us their answer, as the dictator seems bent on continuing to control millions of people who will never accept his legitimacy. He does it in a calculated, remorselessly way, of which the bottom line is to reduce the Sunni population at all cost, through murder as well as ethnic cleansing. Let us see what happens in every rebel stronghold taken over by the regime — they push out hundreds of thousands of Sunnis in order to force them into sectarian enclaves in peripheral areas, or, which is the ultimate goal, to push them out of the country altogether. Assad will continue to do that, unless forced to stop.

It may be too late to force him to stop when he feels that he is victorious, and his Russian protectors and Iranian allies give him a defensive shield. The U.S., Turkey, and Israel all are interested parties in the situation, though for various reasons, could, if closing ranks, stop him even now, but that is not going to happen. It is in this context, that we need to address the question of if and how to punish the dictator for the terrible crime of unleashing chemical weapons against the Sunni population. The response has to be one and such that will put real pressure on him, pressure where it really hurts him — it is not in Damascus, it is not his presidential palace, it is not in his airbases. It is in the Alawite hinterland — it is there, where there can be real, effective pressure on him to stop, at least to reconsider.

Hopefully the planners in D.C. realize that this is a struggle for the long haul. The immediate, knee-jerk reaction to the chemical attack, if it is going to be along the lines of some more Tomahawks will not be unjustified and should take place, but something else is needed. Start planning the campaign that will force the Alawite population to reconsider, to tell their hero Bashar that their survival can come not through genocide of the Sunnis, but by withdrawing to their original homeland in the mountains.

Dr. Josef Olmert is currently a professor of political science and Middle East Studies at the University of South Carolina. Dr. Olmert got his BA and MA magna cum laude from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and his Ph.D. from the London School of Economics. Dr. Olmert is a native of Israel, where he taught at the Tel Aviv University, and fulfilled senior positions in the service of Likud governments, including dealing with senior American statesmen and diplomats. Dr. Olmert is the author of three books and numerous articles in academic magazines and media outlets all over the world. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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Remember Chemical Ali of the Saddam regime? Well, please get used to the greater villain, Chemical Bashar.
syria, alawite, sunni, chemical attack
Tuesday, 10 April 2018 05:27 PM
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