Until recently, the conventional wisdom among Western and Middle East experts on Syria was that the Assad clan and its Alawite loyalists would retire to their last redoubt in the Alawite Mountains and home town of Qardaha if the rebels “liberated” Damascus.
In late 2012, DEBKA-Net-Weekly reports that this theory was exploded by closer study and ongoing events: The rebel movement was not going to liberate Damascus, Aleppo, Hama or Homs. And even it did, the Alawites were too numerous and scattered to retire in a body to any one place.
In Damascus, Alawites make up one-fifth of a population of 1.8 million; in Aleppo, they are the majority of its 2 million inhabitants; and in Homs, they represent a third of nearly one million people.
Could all these millions of Alawites be seriously expected to pull up stakes and head for the country’s western coast and mountains to build themselves a state along a narrow strip of land and abandon the rest of the country to the rebels?
Last month, members of the Iranian government policy desk on Syria (similar desks specialize on Lebanon and the Gaza Strip) met with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and informed him that separate Alawite statehood was a non-starter.
The unanswered questions they posed were: Who exactly would establish the new state? Who would bankroll it and build new cities for resettling the displaced communities? And who find them jobs?
Syrian Alawite state is non-starter
Iran like Bashar Assad decided to write off the Alawite statehood plan. Clearly, the members of Assad’s sect are going to stay where they are.
Then, Wednesday, March 6, the overall Druze leader Walid Jumblatt floored Western and regional capitals by announcing that his community had thrown in its lot with the Syrian rebel Jabhat al-Nusra, the al Qaeda-linked jihadist group listed in Washington as a terrorist organization. “I support Al Nusra Front against the Syrian regime,” said Jumblatt in an interview with the Lebanese Al-Akhbar newspaper.
The estimated 1.5-2.5 million clansmen of Syria, most of whom inhabit the rugged Jebel al-Druze mountainous region in the southwest of the country, are closely tied by kin and their unique religion and culture, to brethren in Lebanon (some quarter of a million) and the 150,000 Druzes of Israel. The 20,000 Jordanian Druzes of Jordan owe their first loyalty to the Hashemite throne.
Walid Jumblatt is accepted as uncrowned leader by all these communities.
“I am acting to protect the (Syrian) Druze,” he explained in the interview. “The Alawites will go back to their mountain, but the Druze live in a sea of Sunnis.”
The Druze leader’s meaning was clear: He anticipates the Sunni-dominated revolt against the Alawite Assad regime in Damascus to catch fire and result in Sunni Muslim extremist dominaton of Syria, Jordan and the Palestinians.
To draw a defensive buffer line around Druze enclaves in those countries, he has forged a pact with al Qaeda.
US-backed Russian partition plan for Syria – a writeoff
There go US-Israeli-Jordanian hopes of establishing a pro-Western Druze entity in a partitioned Syria. In fact, there goes the entire partition plan, which was the core of the US-supported Russian proposition for settling the Syrian conflict and was to be put before the warring sides when they met for negotiations in Moscow. Those talks have meanwhile been delayed indefinitely.
Looming over this uncertainty is the opportunity Jumblatt has presented al Qaeda for shooting new tentacles into new terrain. Already, Jordan and Saudi Arabia face the al Qaeda menace from Iraq and Syria, whence the jihadists also threaten Lebanon. Their secret cells are already taking over sections of the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and their militias threaten Israel from across its borders with Syria,Jordan and Sinai.
Al Qaeda has moved into new and powerful strike positions not just in Africa; it is crisscrossing the Middle East as well.