Gedalyah Reback

Syria: Divided and Conquering Itself

I can’t help but feel disillusioned with my chosen field. Middle East Studies is tough to break into. Keeping up with the latest events begs you to write something. But sometimes I want to write the truth which is often uninvited. Last week the trend was toward the end of the Assad Dynasty. But all that’s a distant memory now. Writing realistically, this war is going to carry on for a long time. Even more realistically, a lot of people want this war to drag on and are making this war drag on. That goes for the United States, Turkey, Arabs, Europeans and definitely us here in Israel.  Syria’s been in the game for a long time.  It’s a thorn facilitating Iran and Hezbollah, so these parties want it out of play.

That was always the prognosis.  This was never going to end quickly.  The idea Alawites would defect in droves was a fantasy.  Too many are personally invested in the regime’s survival because of the vengeance they fear from rebels, from Sunnis.  But that also goes for Christians and Druze.  And even if the rebels got the upper hand, things were always going to have to get worse before they got better.  Neither side has a decisive advantage.  War crimes will continue to pile up.  The brutality right now indicates how desperate either side is to scrape together some sort of advantage.  Neither side really holds any moral high ground.

No one can tell who’s really managing the rebellion, let alone if a single strategy exists for challenging the Assads. Western countries are trying to ignore that and tow a different line: there’s something on the ground, “‘increased unity, cohesion and better military performance’ among the rebels, including greater effectiveness in co-ordinating attacks, which the administration sees as proof the rebels are better employing the encrypted radios supplied by the U.S.”

Aleppo and Damascus just had heavy battles. The rebellion, apparently, is becoming a cohesive military opposition.  but these fights only show a step-up in foreign aid and tactical support, not a winning strategy. A lot of analysts say that this the beginning of such a strategy, though; the pieces are falling into place. But the Assads are pushing those rebels back hard and fast – even declaring victory in Damascus. It’s tough to call these tactical achievements considering how much material must have been invested in a failed capture of the capital city.

So who let them waste it?  What kind of tactician thought throwing away able-bodied rebels was a good idea, much less their advanced equipment?  My ultimate doubts trusting the US or any other country would give the rebels the sufficient tools they needs comes from the sheer shortsightedness of doing something like that.  The doubt clouding where the victorious rebels would take Syria is still extremely thick. It seems this is more a strategy of letting the two sides hurt each other more than handing a decisive advantage to the country’s rebels. As so long as Syria’s invested in itself, it isn’t invested in Lebanon or Iran. That is a more desirable goal than gambling with a future Syria whose policies might not be any better than they are now.  Keeping the two sides pitted against each other is in a lot of people’s interests…

Pic by AFP; BBC: "The shelling of villages by Syrian forces can be seen from parts of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights"Specifically, Israel’s.  It’s hard not to see that being a desirable strategy for Israel’s strategists, also.  A Syria divided against itself cannot stand united with Iran in a war against the Jewish state.  Hezbollah cannot stand without stable supply lines out of Damascus.  If Syria does split into two, it eliminates a strong and dangerous rival from the Middle East.  This isn’t about keeping the Golan Heights; this is about ending a looming threat on the northern border.  For Israel, it’s time to start looking into the future: post-Assad and maybe post-Syria.

As for the rest of the world, if the eventual goal in Syria is to make sure the rebels win and set up some anti-Iranian state, I would have to think it’s a shallow, narrow goal. It doesn’t address the long term concerns of the US, Europe or its allies. France pitted Syria’s minorities against each other when the country was occupied after World War I. That precedent is still relevant today: dividing Syrians against each other by means of foreign interference is still possible and seems to square well with the supposedly conservative approach Western countries are taking to the war.  It’s an emotionally cold analysis considering the atrocities in Syria – atrocities being committed brutally by both sides of the war.  But it’s the truth in my eyes, which is refreshing to tell.

About the Author
Gedalyah Reback is an experienced writer on technology, startups, the Middle East and Islam. He also focuses on issues of personal status in Judaism, namely conversion.