The Alawites and Israel

(BESA Center for Strategic Studies-Bar-Ilan University) John Myhill - The ruling group in Syria, the Alawites - a highly distinctive non-Muslim sect with no theological or territorial objections to a Jewish state - believe that two of God's incarnations were Joshua Ben-Nun, the original Jewish conqueror of the Land of Israel, and the fourth Caliph, Ali, who was murdered by the Sunnis. They do not fast during Ramadan or make pilgrimage to Mecca, have no mosques or indeed any public worship, and traditionally wear crosses like Christians. The Alawites are outnumbered in Syria by 70 to 12 percent. Thus, in order to legitimize their rule among the Sunni majority, they must publicly project an image of championing Arabism by unrelentingly rejecting Israel and flirting with Israel's avowed enemies. Syria will not accept a peace treaty with Israel, no matter what the conditions are, because it would delegitimize the Alawite regime. The Alawites are a purely ancestral religious group and like other groups of this type - Jews, Maronites, Armenians and Druze - their basic loyalty is to their own particular group rather than any larger unit they may seem to be part of. Even if they happen to speak Arabic, they do not necessarily understand themselves as being "Arabs." Alawites in Syria find it indispensable to publicly claim to be Arabs, but this does not reflect their real loyalties. From Israel's perspective, it is better for the Alawites to maintain power in Syria than for a Sunni regime to take control there. These Muslims are particularly dangerous to Israel because they are of the same ethnicity as the Palestinians. For a Sunni regime in Syria, any wide-scale Israeli-Palestinian clash, such as the Gaza operation, would likely trigger an emotional response, pulling Syria into a war with Israel, regardless of the consequences. This represents a much more serious danger to Israel than the fall of the Mubarak regime in Egypt, where popular attachment to the Palestinians is much more superficial.

2011-05-06 00:00:00

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