Syria’s fragmentation along religious and ethnic lines exposes the apparent
rupture of what has been known as the Arab Muslim Middle East.
imperial rule – under the guise of what has been known as pan Arabism – may now
be broken beyond repair. The Arab “sacred cow” – the so-called “Zionist invasion
and occupation of Palestine” – has failed to unify the Arab world and may now
have “two hoofs” in the slaughter house.
While regional realignments may
result in a Middle East more amenable to Israel, dangers are still
Dore Gold’s prescient analysis, “The Demise of the Middle
East’s Borders” (Israel Hayo
m, May 25) illustrates the geographic and
cartographic uncertainty toward which the region appears to be
The often violent competition for power and control among
Islamic groups in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, among other states, that house Sunnis
and Shi’ites, Alawites, Kurds, Druse, Christians and others continue to cut
through and across the random boundaries’ that were established by the British
and French empires as a result of the Sykes-Picot agreement of
Mashari al-Zaydi, of the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat
noted in his May 25 column that, “There is great danger in what is happening in
Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and may soon also happen on Turkey’s southern
border....Egypt and North Africa, in a different way – are about to
enter a terrifying era of religious terrorism, sectarian war and civil strife
that will harm everyone.”
What stands behind most of the violence in
Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and other areas is Arab Sunni fundamentalism in its various
forms – whether Salafi, Wahhabi, or Muslim Brotherhood. All forms of radical
Islam threaten the existence of the Alawites, Kurds, Lebanese Shi’ites,
Christians, and other members of the non-Sunni ethnic and religious groups,
including non-fundamentalist Sunnis.
This Arab Muslim “zero-sum game”
culture defines their view of Kurds and other minorities, including Israel. Just
as the Arab Sunni Muslims in general relentlessly “hunt” Israel, they would only
accept a permanent solution in the Middle East by which they conquer and control
the region, and – according to classical Islamic dogma – eventually the entire
But tectonic shifts triggered by the Islamic revolutions over the
past few years may succeed in liberating the region from Sunni Arab imperialism
and create a better future for the region’s minorities. The Kurds, while
overwhelmingly Sunni, see the Muslim Brotherhood and the Wahhabis by and large
as Arab imperialists trying to force them to abandon their Kurdish identity and
become Arabs – probably the reason most Kurds loathe the Muslim
For the Brotherhood, being Sunni is not enough. In their
view, only Arabs can be true Muslims. Non-Arabs must abandon their languages and
cultures and adopt an Arab identity – the same attitude which explains how most
of the Middle East became Arab and Muslim during the first century of
The shifts are important to the Kurdish future. The Kurdish
self-governing authority in Northern Iraq, Syria’s unraveling into geographical
units comprised of Alawites, Kurds, Arab Sunnis and other ethnic groups, and
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent outreach to Turkey’s Kurds
could result in a more pluralistic governing structure for a new Middle East
whose centers of power are more dispersed.
In this context, the
legitimacy and success of the Kurdish national project across the region could
blaze a new path for other minorities. It could also help Israel.
example, Iraqi Kurdistan’s success as an autonomous area or a potentially
independent state may influence a process of self-determination for other sects,
tribes, ethnic and religious groups.
Shared challenges make Kurds and the
Jewish state good potential allies. Like Jews, the Kurdish people have lived
under foreign domination for millennia.
Kurdish suffering under Arab,
Turkish and Iranian rule infuses them with a natural affinity for Jews and
There are an estimated 35 to 45 million Kurds in the Middle East,
many of whom have been secretly sympathetic to Israel for years and have even
been labeled “Zionist agents” in Iraq, Syria and Iran.
The addition of
millions of potential Kurdish friends, for micro-sized Israel with a mere eight
million inhabitants, could enhance the Jewish state’s security and regional
position. While Jews were always considered politically and socially inferior in
the Arab Middle East, Kurds generally did not discriminate against Jews, nor
have they demonized Israel. In short, geography, history and destiny create
natural affinities and interests between Kurds and
Strategically, a large Kurdish state or autonomous area
combining Northern Iraq and Syria and the millions of Turkish Kurds – who could
be attracted to such independence in the heart of the Middle East could serve
various important roles for Israel.
Syria’s disintegration, then, may
have a silver lining. The northern part of the country could become a Kurdish
federal autonomous area – either within a loosely federated national entity or
possibly even as an independent Kurdish state, which appears to be the direction
for Iraqi Kurdistan.
Iraqi Kurds, who have provided political counsel to
their Syrian brethren, could also form an alliance with Syria’s Arabized Kurds
and Alawites west of Aleppo, that lies close to the Mediterranean Sea, and is an
important strategic asset. Alawites, as fellow non-Sunni Arabs, may well be open
to new alliances as well.
These new alliances could be a major step
towards the establishment of a physically strong and economically stable Syrian
Kurdistan that together with Iraqi Kurdistan could become – at least quietly if
not overtly – Israel’s first regional ally since the establishment of the
Jewish state in 1948.Dan Diker is a Foreign Policy Fellow of the
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, an Adjunct Fellow of the Washington DCbased
Hudson Institute and served as Secretary General of the World Jewish Congress
from 2010 to 2013.Dr. Harold Rhode is a Middle East specialist who
served in the US Department of Defense from 1982 to 2010. He is a Distinguished
Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute in New York.