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November 13, 2008

The Road to Damascus

Hama - 1982

Syria has recently been the focus of much diplomatic activity. Reported statements by outgoing Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and European Middle East interlocutors have hinted at giving Syria possession of the Golan Heights and offering economic inducements as a means of moving the peace process forward and isolating Iran.

Michael Rubin, a Middle East scholar at the American Enterprise Institute is less sanguine about the likelihood that such inducements will work. In his piece published in Forbes on Nov. 12, 2008, Syria Can't Be Flipped, Rubin argues that Syrian President Bashir Assad will play along with Israeli and Western peace processors, but he will never take the bait. For historical reasons and to safeguard its own survival, the minority Alawite regime cannot abandon its rejectionist stance against Israel or its alliance with Iran.

The Alawites make up about 10-12 percent of the Syrian population and historically have a tense relationship with the Sunni majority. Alawite adherence and allegiance to traditional Islam has been questioned. In February 1982, Bashir Assad's father, Hafez Assad, suppressed a Muslim Brotherhood uprising against Alawite rule by slaughtering a reported 38,000 Syrians in the city of Hama. Going further back, when Syria was under French domination prior to its indepedence in the 1920s and 30s, the Alawites were accused of collaborating with French authorities. What remains unclear is the degree to which the Alawite regime's rejection of Israel is driven by its need to prove its fervent Arab and Islamic credentials to the Sunni Arab majority in the Middle East.

Posted by SS at November 13, 2008 11:21 AM


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