Why Partition Is the Best Possible Outcome for Syria

In 1936, five leaders of Syria’s Alawite religious minority—including Suleiman al-Assad, the grandfather of the country’s current ruler—sent a petition to French politicians asking that the territory in which they and their co-religionists lived not be included in a future Syrian state. Such an outcome, they feared, would lead to the endless persecution of Alawites at the hands of the Sunni Muslim majority. Instead, Syria was unified and the Alawite minority came to constitute the political elite. The consequences, writes Robert Nicholson, were disastrous:

A direct line can be drawn from Alawites’ concerns in 1936 to the violence that grips Syria today. For decades the Alawites repressed one Islamist insurgency after another, working hard to maintain their grip on power and preempt what they believed to be certain destruction. In 2011, against the tidal wave of the Arab Spring, their dam finally broke. Syria’s embittered and repressed Sunni population rose up against the regime, and the regime, understanding that the fight was to the death, responded with brutal force. The result has been vicious and expanding . . . violence that continues until today. . . .

Similar cautionary and petitionary statements [like Suleiman al-Assad’s] were penned around the same time by the Jews of Palestine, the Maronites of Lebanon, and the Assyrian [Christians] and Yazidis of Iraq. These minorities all saw something Western powers did not: Muslims of the Middle East wanted a kind of society that would endanger their freedom and security. Forcing them to live together would only end in bloodshed. . . .

The choices in Syria are only two: (1) keep Syria unified, depose Assad, and let the people draft a new constitution and elect a new government; or (2) move Syria toward federalism or full partition, keep Assad in place as the head of an Alawite province or state along the coast, and empower the other demographic regions of Syria to become self-governing provinces or states of their own.

Choice number one leads to an Islamist state with a sizable non-Muslim minority, and number two leads to a collection of provinces or states, each governing its own affairs and securing its own borders. Only the latter allows the Sunni Arab majority to establish their hoped-for Islamist society and allows Alawites, Kurds, and Christians to establish the kinds of societies that they have been longing for, too. . . . The United States has a crucial role to play in pushing the notion of separation in the post-conflict planning for Syria.

Read more at Federalist

More about: Arab Spring, Bashar al-Assad, Middle East Christianity, Politics & Current Affairs, Sunnis, Syrian civil war

Iran’s Calculations and America’s Mistake

There is little doubt that if Hizballah had participated more intensively in Saturday’s attack, Israeli air defenses would have been pushed past their limits, and far more damage would have been done. Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack, trying to look at things from Tehran’s perspective, see this as an important sign of caution—but caution that shouldn’t be exaggerated:

Iran is well aware of the extent and capability of Israel’s air defenses. The scale of the strike was almost certainly designed to enable at least some of the attacking munitions to penetrate those defenses and cause some degree of damage. Their inability to do so was doubtless a disappointment to Tehran, but the Iranians can probably still console themselves that the attack was frightening for the Israeli people and alarming to their government. Iran probably hopes that it was unpleasant enough to give Israeli leaders pause the next time they consider an operation like the embassy strike.

Hizballah is Iran’s ace in the hole. With more than 150,000 rockets and missiles, the Lebanese militant group could overwhelm Israeli air defenses. . . . All of this reinforces the strategic assessment that Iran is not looking to escalate with Israel and is, in fact, working very hard to avoid escalation. . . . Still, Iran has crossed a Rubicon, although it may not recognize it. Iran had never struck Israel directly from its own territory before Saturday.

Byman and Pollack see here an important lesson for America:

What Saturday’s fireworks hopefully also illustrated is the danger of U.S. disengagement from the Middle East. . . . The latest round of violence shows why it is important for the United States to take the lead on pushing back on Iran and its proxies and bolstering U.S. allies.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy