Friday, July 1, 2011

Spillover in Syria

(So much to blog about today, so little time.)

Farid Ghadry has an interesting post about the road ahead in Syria.  He first describes the sectarian, uh, breakdown:
Syria may be on the brink of a civil war far bloodier than anything seen for a long time in the Middle East. To make matters worse, it could spill over into neighboring countries by pitting Sunni and Shia Muslims against one another, a conflict whose power has already been seen in Iraq
Iran, Hezbollah, and their allies in Iraq and elsewhere are often extremist Shia Muslims; the radicals further west — as in Saudi Arabia, Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood — are Sunni Muslims.

Syria is on the borderlands between these two doctrines. Most of its people are Sunni Muslims but there are also Christians, Druze, and Alawites. Who are the Alawites? While arguably Alawites are not Muslims at all, they claim to be Shia Muslims. Syria’s government is also aligned with Iran and Hezbollah — in other words, the Shia Muslim forces.
And therein lies the danger. The ruling Alawites comprise only about 12 percent of Syria’s population but largely dominate the government. The bloody repression of the opposition, which is largely Sunni, is creating communal tensions. Sunni Muslims, who outnumber Alawites by a margin of more than five-to-one, may view this as a Sunni-Alawites and equally a Sunni-Shia conflict.
The Syrian dictatorship has thus begun a blood feud regardless of these potential consequences. Many Syrians I have spoken with inside the country are seething with anger over the Alawite-led government’s butchering of Sunnis. They are equally aware that Hezbollah and the Iranian regime support President Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s dictator, secretly and cheer him publicly.
To try to convince enraged young revolutionaries that this is not religiously fostered but rather the work of thugs who happen to be Alawites is futile. Whether the revolution succeeds, is repressed, or continues, a communal war could be the result.
And a Sunni-Alawite bloodbath in Syria could lead to something similar happening in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Lebanon. The result could also be a sectarian war that might last for generations.
His solution?
The best option would be a military coup led by an Alawite general who would free political prisoners, initiate real and major reforms, imprison those guilty of corruption and murder in the current government, and bring a transformation to democracy. By bringing the Alawites credit for ending what is widely perceived as an Alawite regime, such an act could defuse hatreds and lead to national conciliation.
Not gonna happen.  As Dana Carvey's George H.W. Bush would say "Nah gah hah."  I'm not sure I agree with his fear that a Syrian civil war would spill over into Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.  Iraq, I understand, but Bahrain?  You're more likely to see a war on the Syrian-Turkish border.

Meanwhile, Syrian-Iranian proxy Hezbo'allah finds its walls closing in and is apparently looking at its usual solution:
Israel believes that Hezbollah is preparing for another war with Israel. Like the last one, it would be started by a Hezbollah attack on Israel. But this time around, the war would be for the purpose of reducing political pressure on the Assad clan, which has ruled Syria for decades and is threatened by a growing public uprising. A war with Israel would, normally, demand that all Arabs get behind the war effort. There is some doubt, even in Arab circles, that this would work if Hezbollah attacked Israel now. For one thing, Hezbollah was created by, and subsidized by, Iran. Three decades of Iranian support has turned Hezbollah into the most powerful religious militia in Lebanon. Iran sponsored Hezbollah in the 1980s to aid fellow Shia Moslems during the Lebanese civil war. When that conflict ended in 1990s, Iran continued beefing up Hezbollah. Thus Hezbollah is seen as a tool of non-Arab Iran, and an enemy of Arabs (at least the majority Sunni Moslem Arabs). Same with the Assad dictatorship in Syria, which is a Shia minority, subsidized by Iran, that is running a Sunni majority country. Because of this, Hezbollah has said publically, that it will not enter Syria to aid the Assads. But according to Syrian rebels, Hezbollah is already there, secretly, running death squads and doing other dirty work for the Assads. Iranians are also there, doing the same dirt. Hezbollah needs Syria, to provide a way to move Iranian weapons in, and provide a place to retreat to if Israel gets really aggressive.

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