The Alawites who rule Syria constitute 12% of the population. Though they make up the officer corps, still — there are those pesky non-Alawites among the men to worry about. When “real” Muslims massacred 82 Alawite miltary cadets at a graduation ceremony, as part of an anti-regime, anti-Alawite campaign, Hafez al-Assad surrounded Hama, an Ikhwan center, and told his troops to kill anyone who moved. Twenty thousand were killed.
Qualis pater, talis filius? Not quite. Bashir the son is a most myopic ophthalmologist. He may think that he is safe as long as he lets Sunnis use Syria as a point of entry into Iraq to fight the good fight (and any fight that directs Muslim interest and energies away from the Alawites of Syria, disguised as “Ba’athists,” is a good fight), and simultaneously lets Syria be used the other way, as a place through which Iranian weaponry, money, and agents are delivered to Hizballah in Lebanon. In such a way do the Alawites hope, by giving at the office, to stay in power (and to keep those reliable Armenian drivers and other Christians whom they can trust).
But is this true? What if the Israelis inflict a severe defeat — not merely severe, but one seen as humiliating, to the regime? Then the agitation would begin. Not agitation from the would-be Chalabis — Ghadry et al, or the false “reformers” like Hafez al-Assad’s former aide and Vice-President, the Sunni Muslim Kaddam, now working from the safety of his French pleasure-dome (bought with the loot his years in office permitted him to accumulate, which now allows him to pretend to be a “reformer” when what he really wants is to return to power, this time as Mr. Big). Every Alawite house has a picture of Mary. Every Alawite village is known. Do the Alawites want a bloodbath, or do they want to decide now to retreat into their own Syrian redoubt and no longer do Iran’s bidding, or for that matter the bidding of Sunnis, deciding instead to preserve themselves and save their weaponry, for a war within Syria to preserve themselves from the real Muslims?
So far Bashir al-Assad’s eagerness to assuage Muslims, both Sunni and Shi’a, outside Syria, appears to have worked. He is still in power. Alawite generals still strut about. But for how long, if their forces are damaged and humiliated by the Israelis? How long did Gamal Abdel Nasser last, after the Six-Day War?
In that vast Pentagon, is there anywhere an office devoted to tracking those potential sources of weakness and internecine warfare, in the camp of Jihad and Islam? For example, is there a special office designed to do nothing but figure out ways to use the peculiar vulnerability of the Alawites for American advantage? For those Alawites must prove to both Sunnis and to Shi’a that they are true Muslims despite their Mary-worship, despite the Syrian government closing on Christmas, despite the Good Friday processions that, incredibly for a supposedly “Muslim” country, actually take place publicly without incident (because the Alawite officers have the army in place to protect those Christian processions from the real Muslims, some of whom have resigned themselves to accepting these things). That office should be dedicated to obtaining not the “friendship” of the Alawites (for god’s sake, put that idiotic goal out of your mind) but rather their cooperation, by threatening to encourage others — Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia — to use their propaganda machines to harp on this little matter of the Alawite despots who have murdered Sunnis, genuine Muslims, and continue to hold them in thrall. The Alawite rulers may think we would never do this, but that is only because they fail to realize that at this point, if the Alawites behave so as to promote the worst and most violent and most potent of Muslim armed groups, they should not expect their worship of Mary to get them off the hook.
Last year they lost Lebanon as a place to exploit financially. Now they have, in their insensate willingness to fulfill Iranian bidding and thereby to risk everything, have figuratively lost their heads. If they do not come to their senses, Americans, not with help from their “Sunni Arab allies” but rather from Sunni Arabs who have their own reason for cutting Syria’s ties with Iran, should make sure that they will be in danger of turning that figurative loss into a literal one — and not far in the future. Surely they know that. Surely they know what happened to those Alawite military cadets in Homs. Surely they know their local Muslims, and what is just beneath the surface, and what could so easily be made to come out, to the great chagrin of those Alawite officers who would suddenly lose control of their maddened men.
Why risk it? Why risk everything? Hizballah is in trouble. Iran is going to be in bigger trouble. Why should the Alawites of Syria risk all?