“Is an Alawite State in Syria’s Future?,”Cecily Hilleary interviews Joshua Landis

Is an Alawite State in Syria’s Future?
December 20, 2012 By Cecily Hilleary @VOAHilleary

A man walks into the Syrian border after the road was blocked by Lebanese protesters at Arida town in northern Lebanon

It is an idea that was first introduced more than a year ago: If President Bashar al-Assad were to fall or be remove himself from power, would Alawites, for decades a ruling minority in Syria, retreat to their traditional western mountain enclaves and form a breakaway state?  As rebels gain more ground in Syria, so too does the idea of an Alawite homeland as an antidote against sectarian violence that could become, in the words of one former U.S. diplomat, “the world’s next genocide.”  Senior reporter Cecily Hilleary spoke about the prospects of an Alawite retreat from Syria’s capital, Damascus, with Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies and associate professor at the University of Oklahoma.

Landis:  Well, Assad hasn’t come to the conclusion that he has lost Damascus, and he’s not anywhere near there.  We’ve just heard Farouk al-Sharaa, his vice president, say that neither side could win – neither the rebels nor the government.  There would have to be a political solution; there could not be a military solution.

So,I think Bashar al-Assad is still thinking in terms of a draw here.   I don’t think he’ll be able to hold Damascus forever.  I think it’s going to be a lot longer and a more bitter struggle than most people predict.  Many have been saying that by this summer, in June, he’ll be out and finished.  I suspect it’s going to take longer than that.

Hilleary:  Well, he’s shown remarkable tenacity.

Landis:  He did, and in many ways, if you think about it, just cold-bloodedly.  He cannot afford to allow the rebels to take Damascus.  Damascus is the “goose that lays the golden egg.”  It is Syria.  And for the rebels to take it whole would be to empower them a great deal, and it would put Assad’s “rump” military and the Alawite region along the coast at a great disadvantage.

So it’s likely that he will hang on to Damascus and that the city will be destroyed, as Aleppo has been destroyed, before it is relinquished.

Hilleary:  That time may well come, and as we’ve seen in the case of Libya, Muammar Gadhafi, and in Iraq, Saddam Hussein, they both ran off to their ancestral, tribal homelands – why not Assad?

Landis:  Well, I think he will.  I think he will be forced into the coastal mountains.  Now, the question is whether he can set up a separate state there.  I don’t believe that the world will recognize a separate Alawite state on the coast of Syria.  That doesn’t mean that he’ll be defeated, in the same way that Hezbollah resides in southern Lebanon, where Shi’ite Lebanese are the majority, and that forms a social base and a protection for Hezbollah.  And it’s quite likely that the Alawites and the Syrian Army, which has now largely been turned into an Alawite militia, will be forced back into the coastal mountains.

Whether they can be defeated there as a military power or not depends on two things, really:  Whether Iran is willing to continue to invest and support them militarily by sending weapons and money, and whether the Sunni Arabs overcome their deep factionalism and unify.  If they do unify – they represent 70 percent of the population – they will defeat the Alawites.  If they remain divided and they fight amongst themselves over Damascus and other ideological reasons, spoils, then it’s quite likely that the Alawites may survive the military power along the coast.

“If Russia and Iran continue to support the Alawites along the coast, and the Arabs remain very divided and perhaps settle into civil war, well then they could pull it off, the same way the Kurds pulled it off in Iraq.” – Joshua Landis

Hilleary:  How likely is it that that kind of infighting will take place among the Sunnis and allow for the Alawites to survive?

Landis:  I think it is quite likely.  We see vast differences in ideology, country versus city, class, and also north and south, Aleppo versus Damascus, have traditionally separated Syrians, and these questions about Islam versus secularism, the role of minorities, and so forth, were never decided after independence.  Syria went straight from French rule to, really, dictatorship.  And they are all being debated today.

Hilleary:  Is there any truth to reports that Assad has been quietly preparing for some kind of an enclave along the Mediterranean?

Landis:  I have read these reports that that is what he’s been doing, which were largely aired on [... a] website that is rarely factual.  I don’t doubt that Alawites from every walk of life are preparing for a mountain defense.  I know my own family – my wife’s family, which is Alawite – has been adding rooms onto their mountain house, which is a summer house, because they don’t want to hang out in Latakia, which they believe will become a battleground because it’s half Sunni and half Alawite and Christian.  So these things make people fearful, and they are taking precautions, and I don’t doubt that Bashar al-Assad is also doing similar things.

Hilleary:  Well, there is a legitimate basis for fear.

Landis:  Of course there is a legitimate basis for fear, because this has turned into a sectarian war.  The government has so mistreated the Syrian people and used so much force, killing so many and making others homeless that revenge is going to be – there’s going to be revenge.

Hilleary: What about Russia?  Has it expressed any interest in support for a separate Alawite region?  I mean, if you look at it geographically, Iran and Russia could certainly access them from the Mediterranean and support them for a while.  Could they pull it off?

Landis:  Absolutely.  But it all depends on continuing support.  If Russia and Iran continue to support the Alawites along the coast, and the Arabs remain very divided and perhaps settle into civil war, well then they could pull it off, the same way the Kurds pulled it off in Iraq.  Unlike the Kurds, the Alawites would not have oil, which puts them at a grave disadvantage. Also, the Syrian Arabs are not going to let the Alawites take the coast if they can possibly avoid it. The coast is prime real-estate and Latakia is very vulnerable from the north. It is likely to become a battle ground as the war advances.

Hilleary:  Well, the survival of an Alawite enclave is another question—

Landis:  It will only happen over the dead bodies of the Sunni Arabs.   Obviously, it’s not something that any Syrian Sunni Arab is going to want.  It’s going to have to be taken from them.  And whether the Alawites, in the long run, can manage, that is questionable.  But so much of that depends on whether Sunni Arabs can unify.  If they can, they will overpower the Alawites, who just don’t have the numbers.

“[Syria's militias] span the ideological spectrum from al-Qaida all the way to much more secular outfits that want democracy and are looking toward the West.’ – Joshua Landis

Hilleary:  Well, how is it looking for Sunni unity at this point?

Landis:  It’s looking bad.

Hilleary:  I’ve almost lost track of the number of different opposition groups blending, re-blending, re-naming themselves—

Landis:  There are hundreds of militias.  And there has been a Darwinian process taking place, where a few of the most powerful militias are sucking up a lot of the smaller ones.  But there are still dozens of very powerful militias, and they span the ideological spectrum from al-Qaida all the way to much more secular outfits that want democracy and are looking toward the West.

Hilleary:  What do you see happening?

Landis:  I see a long, long battle along the same lines we’ve seen, and unfortunately, both sides are radicalizing, and the radicals are taking over – not only among the Sunni Arabs but also within the Alawite community, and that means bad things because it’s going to destroy – it is destroying Syria.  And we’ve seen the north is so devastated, and I think that same devastation is going to be visited on the south in Damascus.  And we’re going to have rubble.  And unfortunately, unlike Iraq where there was an occupying power, which had, of course, its bad elements, but also it allowed the Maliki government to unify the Arabs because the Americans undermined all the competitor militias and built up a central Iraqi state before they left. That’s not going to happen in Syria.  The various militias are going to fight it out.  And, secondly, there’s no oil, or very little oil.  So the ability to rebuild is not, there’s just very little ability to rebuild, so it’s going to take a long time, and there are going to be tons of refugees, and there’s going to be lots of hunger and privation.

…. [end]

Also see Could an Alawite State in Syria Prevent Post-Assad Reprisals? – two Arab analysts argue that Alawites will ride themselves of the Assads for Syrian-Arab unity. They are:

Faisal al-Yafai, an award-winning journalist and essayist and chief columnist at the United Arab Emirate’s newspaper, The National,
and Jordanian political analyst, blogger and commentator Amer Sabaileh.

Comments (170)


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151. revenire said:

We have a saying Dolly: two can play this game.

I can’t imagine what would happen if the FSA is stupid enough to start butchering Russian nationals as they’ve butchered Syrians.

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December 21st, 2012, 11:35 am

 

152. Dolly Buster said:

 
Syria is the victim of external aggression from 3 sides:

The attack by Russia, the attack by Iran, and the attack by Hezbollah.

 
However, the unarmed Syrians are still kicking the ass of Russia single-handedly.
 

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December 21st, 2012, 11:56 am

 

153. Mina said:

With all the technology available why can’t the West -so crazy about their new technology- do a nation poll by simply calling simultaneously all the phone numbers in Syria and ask people for which side they are?
I bet they wouldn’t like the answer.

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December 21st, 2012, 12:02 pm

 

154. Citizen said:

Surrounded Turks and French in Damascus are negotiating surrender
The failure of the Clinton plan
http://oko-planet.su/oko-planet/politik/newsday/155872-okruzhennye-v-damaske-turki-i-francuzy-vedut-peregovory-o-sdache-v-plen.html

We returned from the contact line in the suburbs of Damascus Darayya. The commander assault squad that has captured the local command post militants in three days of fighting, only four of the wounded and no one killed, while his unit destroyed two or three dozen militants. Colonel struck me with his humane attitude to find themselves in the ranks of stupidity militants Syrians.

A key area of Al Zeitoun Darayya is now under the control of the Syrian army. By morning, the encirclement of the main group of militants near Damascus has narrowed to just 700 meters to go to – in a matter of days. Of the group was surrounded numbering 20-25 thousand fighters of Al Qaeda, foreign mercenaries and common criminals alive today is no more than 4-6 thousand. According to the officers and soldiers of the Republican Guard morale Islamists broke, until the last bullet is now fighting only a few fanatics. States that in addition to Turkish officers negotiate terms of surrender now started to keep the French, was trapped.

In the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk today was relatively quiet, at least when we were there. The army is preparing to sweep, wealthy people leave this southern district of Damascus. The militants came close to the command of PFLP, where we were a month ago their broadcasts.

For stolen evening December 16 employees Italian private steel company “Hmesho” Viktor Gorelov, the driver – a Syrian with dual citizenship and Italian fighters on the phone asked the management company based in Italy, a ransom of 50 million pounds.

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December 21st, 2012, 12:04 pm

 

155. Citizen said:

UN: Syria’s Rebels Come From 29 Countries
Influx of Sunni Fighters Adds to Sectarian Tone of Civil War
http://news.antiwar.com/2012/12/20/un-syrias-rebels-come-from-29-countries/

Russian leadership calls for a soon settlement of the conflict in Syria.
http://www.syrianews.cc/taliban-militants-use-turkey-to-march-into-syria/

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December 21st, 2012, 12:14 pm

 

156. Observer said:

Lavrov: we are not in the business of regime change!!!

This is exactly what Putin is afraid of: that regime change is coming his way.

Putin chastises the West and points the finger on the Benghazi attack as proof of chaos to come.

This is exactly what Putin and every dictator wants ( remember Morsi talking about stability ) order and stability and no dissention just as Ghaddafi and the Athads have had it for generations.

Birds of the same feather flock together.

By the way citizen, Russia has a shrinking population. Even with open immigration it will wither away slowly over the next fifty years and most of the East will revert back to a sphere of influence for China.

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December 21st, 2012, 12:20 pm

 

157. revenire said:

Putin isn’t worried about Assad. Russia has said that over and over. He is worried about Syria and wider war.

Russia insists the West can’t decide who is president of other countries (not just Syria) from the barrel of a gun/use of force. That choice is up to Syrians (as in all nations). Syrians can decide their leaders via elections not by terrorism.

Russia made a mistake in Libya and they won’t repeat it in Syria. That is why they will never sanction NATO to intervene for “humanitarian” purposes.

Libya is worse today than before Gaddafi was murdered. The world sees that and outside of Salafist apes and Takfiri lice few would disagree – perhaps al-Nusra enjoys the new Libya but many Libyans have fled.

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December 21st, 2012, 12:27 pm

 

158. Visitor said:

Sheila @134,

Since our last exchange when you failed to properly answer the simple question about your perceived misguided notion of the oppostion between faith and reason and your cryptic attempt to obscure the question, I stopped reading you.  This time, I felt obliged because you addressed me directly.

No, you are again utterly misguided and one thousand oercent wrong.  The Islamic Empire was in no way similar tp present day US.  The Islamic Empire was guided by the principles of Sharia Laws and not by secular inspired ones.  Unless you know this simple fact and unless you do not want me to tell you straight forward to shut up, I would say you should stay away from a subject you clearly do not understand.  I definitely advise you NOT to address me with any such stupid comments such as your latest.

It is incomprehensible how such misguided eager to lecture idiot would want to lecture about godless secularism while putting forward the notion of reason and Islamic faith being in complete opposiotion.  O’ yes!  He/she found the answer in today’s USA.

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December 21st, 2012, 2:16 pm

 

159. Citizen said:

End of the world postponed. And soon will come up with a new date. In the global era and the global media A human stupidity is also becoming global.

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December 21st, 2012, 2:40 pm

 

160. zoo said:

Who will bankrupt first the regime or the rebels?

Assad’s Cash Problem: Will Syria’s Dwindling Reserves Bring Down the Regime?
By Vivienne Walt

That tipping point, in which the government faces all-out financial collapse, seems to be drawing near—between three to six months from now, according to the calculations of Seifan and others who have examined Syria’s finances.

Despite help from Gulf countries, Syria’s rebels, too, say they face a severe cash crisis, as the war drags on longer than expected, and as entire neighborhoods are razed. In Morocco last week, an opposition spokesman Yasser Tabbara told TIME, “It will cost about $500 million a month for us to administer freed areas, just to keep things afloat.” So far, that money has yet to be found. This week, the U.N. appealed to governments for $1.5 billion to help Syrians through the bitter winter, warning that millions face growing hunger, as food stocks dwindle in the war zones.

But it is the Syrian leader who faces total collapse in the face of bankruptcy.

… But Assad’s close friend Iran, which Seifan believes has given more than $10 billion in wartime aid—some of it in desperately needed petroleum supplies is itself struggling to keep the help going.
“Iran itself is not able to support Assad a lot,” Seifan says. “It is under sanctions, and the economic situation for Iran’s government is deteriorating.” That makes the outlook for Assad seem even grimmer.

Read more: http://world.time.com/2012/12/21/assads-cash-problem-will-syrias-dwindling-reserves-bring-down-the-regime/#ixzz2Fj390DQz

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December 21st, 2012, 4:51 pm

 

161. zoo said:

Losing Post-War Libya

Max Boot | @MaxBoot 12.21.2012 – 10:45 AM
http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2012/12/21/losing-post-war-libya/

I don’t often agree with Vladimir Putin, but he has a point when he condemns America’s lack of follow-through in Libya. Here is what he said:

Libya “is disintegrating,” Putin said at a major press conference in Moscow, pointing to the fractious groups that have been struggling for control of the country since longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi was ousted with NATO’s help last year….

“Interethnic, inter-clan, inter-tribal conflicts are continuing [in Libya]. Moreover, it’s come to a tragedy – the murder of a US ambassador. Was this the result of the work?” Putin said about foreign intervention in Libya.
“You’ve asked me about [my] mistakes, but wasn’t this a mistake? And do you want us to go on constantly repeating these mistakes in other countries?” Putin told reporters.

The conclusion Putin reaches–that it would be a mistake for the West to intervene in Syria–doesn’t follow from this statement: There is already growing chaos in Syria and it will get worse absent outside intervention. But he is right that lack of planning for post-Gaddafi Libya has undermined the Obama administration’s case, even it wanted to make it, for more action in Syria–and has threatened Western interests in the region.

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December 21st, 2012, 4:55 pm

 

162. zoo said:

Still waiting for the opposition’s plan…

Syrian opposition rejects Iran’s plan as desperate attempt to save Assad

Friday, 21 December 2012
By Al Arabiya with Agencies

Syria’s main opposition group, the National Coalition, denounced on Friday an Iranian peace initiative as a “ddesperate attempt to prolong the life of the regime.”

Tehran, the most powerful regional ally of the embattled Assad regime, detailed a six-point peace initiative on Sunday, according to Iranian media reports.

The plan did not envisage the fall of the regime, but instead called for “an immediate halt to violence and armed actions under the supervision of the United Nations.”

It also called for sanctions against Syria to be lifted, the start of national dialogue, the establishment of a transitional government, and free elections.

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December 21st, 2012, 4:58 pm

 

163. zoo said:

Students detained following protest against Turkish PM

http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/students-detained-following-protest-against-turkish-pm.aspx?pageID=238&nID=37352&NewsCatID=339

Police used pepper gas and water cannon against the protesting students, who were not allowed to approach the ceremony hall.

A total of 26 students were detained while five were injured due to police’s use of tear gas.

Erdoğan reportedly attended the ceremony with 105 guard cars, 20 armored cars, one intervention tank and 2,500 police officers.

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December 21st, 2012, 5:03 pm

 

164. zoo said:

What’s the fuss about sending Scud missiles on terrorists who occupy illegally and by force a part of a country whose borders and integrity are recognized by the UN ?
Are these missiles outlawed or is it because they are not made in the US, France or Germany?

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December 21st, 2012, 5:17 pm

 

165. Syrian said:

A freelance journalist at the site of the Scud missile explosion just out side the city of Mares

here is his observation from his site
http://m.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=10151308697357342

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December 21st, 2012, 5:21 pm

 

166. zoo said:

The American Enterprise neocon Danielle Pletka hates Kerry and loved Miss Piggy… I guess Israel is not at ease with Kerry.

Danielle Pletka | December 21, 2012
http://www.aei-ideas.org/2012/12/sigh-john-kerry/


I’ve written on many occasions about Kerry’s own ineffectual and wrongheaded record on national security, here and here for a start.

His chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has been an exercise in futility. But… he is not a loon. He is not a fool. That, apparently, is now the bar that must be leapt over for the Obama cabinet.

I don’t know about the rest of my compadres in the foreign policy community, but I for one will miss Hillary Clinton.

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December 21st, 2012, 5:22 pm

 

167. zoo said:

#161
Are Scuds part of the psy-war of nerves?

“Both of missiles didn’t cause any casualties neither injuries to the population with the exception of a huge panic to the woman and children of the city, which most of them are displaced people from Aleppo region.”

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December 21st, 2012, 5:25 pm

 

168. zoo said:

The word ‘desperate’ is been even more lately hammered in the Western media about the Syrian regime:

-The Scuds are used because the regime is “desperate”
-The Iran peace plan is a “desperate” attempt to save the regime
-The Syrians army is ‘desperate’ as the rebels added by al Nusra terrorists are eating up more of the North
- The Syrian economy is in a ‘desperate’ state

No one mention the ‘desperate’ rebels who had to make the umpsteenth ‘tactical withdrawal’ from Yarmouk and their humiliating defeat in Damascus.
No one mentions their “desperate” need for millions of dollars to rearm, survive and sustain the ever growing ‘liberated’ areas that are falling into starvation and decay.

Despite the parroting of the western media, no one really knows who is winning the ‘desperation’ contest.

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December 21st, 2012, 5:37 pm

 

169. Matt Q said:

However it started, as the conflict becomes more sectarian (power, economic, rural versus urban, identity, who lives and who dies), the harder it becomes to avoid becoming involved.

The majority of the exodus of Alawites to Tartus and the mountains is probably less conspiracy than self preservation. White flight but with a ethnic cleansing twist. The neighborhood is going down hill so you move.

Imagine your average Alawite middle class family who benefits from the current government. Not terribly prejudice and against what the regime is doing but in favor of the system that has helped pull them up in the last two generations. Alarmist rumors begin about sectarian violence, civil war, that become self fulfilling, and now you are harassed and threatened or will be because in civil war you are either with us or against us.

A think an emergence of an de facto Alawite state of Tartus and rural Latakia is real possibility. Even if Assad dies, again as sectarianism grows, the war becomes less about Assad and more about who has or had what and who killed or wants to kill who. And given the terrain and overt and covert external support from Iran (like Hezbollah and Hamas) and maybe Russia (Abkhazia and South Ossetia), the region could hold out and become a thorn in Syria’s side indefinitely.

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December 23rd, 2012, 11:24 am

 

170. Syria conflict: UN says 60,000 dead – Wednesday 2 January 2013 | Middle East News and North Africa News United News - Arab Social Network said:

[...] Syria watcher Joshua Landis comes closest to predicting that Assad will survive the year, or at least half of it. [...]

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January 4th, 2013, 11:40 am

 

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