Analysis: Druse state in Syria could be Israeli ally

According to some analysts, weak Arab states with internal strife and divisions, as well as the break-up of the existing Arab state order, plays to Israel’s strategic advantage.

Druse student at Syria border crossing 370 (photo credit: Baz Ratner/Reuters)
Druse student at Syria border crossing 370
(photo credit: Baz Ratner/Reuters)
Whether one wishes it or not, Syria may be on the way to partition or some kind of de facto break-up along the lines of ethnic division, regardless of what locals or the West want.
Would such a break-up work in Israel’s favor?
According to some analysts, weak Arab states with internal strife and divisions, as well as the break-up of the existing Arab state order, plays to Israel’s strategic advantage.
In this way, Israel can form alliances with various ethnic groups that are able to form their own state or autonomous region, such as with the Kurds or possibly the Druse in Syria.
For example, Sudan, a hostile Muslim state, divided into North and South, saw Israel immediately allying itself with the independent animist and Christian South Sudan. Israel had previously had covert relations with inhabitants of the south and other non-Muslim or other minority sects in the Middle East.
Having more of these minority groups upgrade their status to states or greater autonomy, would allow Israel to create more powerful relations with them.
Prof. Martin Kramer, an expert of the Middle East and president of Shalem College in Jerusalem said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post that, regarding the possibility of some kind of breakup of the country: “It won’t be possible to formalize Syria’s fragmentation, because no faction will ever be satisfied with its borders. More likely is cantonization, in which authority devolves to the lowest denominator of city quarter or rural area. Some sects and ethnic groups would end up with more than one canton. Rather than four or five quasi-states, Syria would look like a patchwork.”
It was the Sykes-Picot agreement reached during WWI that charted out how to partition the Ottoman Empire. The British and French carved up the region according to their interests, not paying adequate attention to ethnic groups.
However, even knowing what we do today, and with advanced mapping techniques and technology, could one imagine a foolproof plan that would divide and satisfy the various radical Islamic movements, tribes, Shi’ites, Sunnis, Christians, Druse, Kurds, and so on?
But, perhaps a better partition of the region could have been possible.
According to a recent article by the US-based Syria expert Gary Gambill, in an article published by the Foreign Policy Research Institute, he states that a separate Druse state in southwest Syria could end up being an ally of Israel.
Gambill states that Syria is not “going to become a stable, unified state again in the foreseeable future, let alone a remotely democratic one. It may be time to start thinking about alternatives.”
He argues that Syria has essentially already broken into separate enclaves with the Sunni rebels controlling large parts of the north and east, while the Alawite regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad controls Damascus and major cities as well as non-Sunni coastal areas.
The Kurds control the border area in the northeast and the Druse are concentrated in the southwest. The country’s main minorities – Alawites, Kurds, Christians, and Druse – would mostly support partition, he says, if faced with the reality of an Sunni Islamist-dominated state, which would likely persecute them.
The Islamist dominated Sunni rebels reject partition outright because they see themselves as the majority that should justly rule the entire state. Despite the fact that Islamists abhor the colonial drawn borders, they nonetheless have come to accept them for the time being, on the way to their goal of a unified Muslim Caliphate.
In such a configuration in Syria, Gambill sees the Druse state as having good relations with Israel and Jordan, while the Alawite state would continue to ally itself with Iran and Russia and the Gulf states would wield influence with the Sunnis.
When asked about a possible alliance between a Druse state and Israel and Jordan, Gambill stated, “In both cases, geographic proximity is the main driver – any landlocked Druse statelet determined to resist domination by the Sunni Arab successor state would have to be friendly with one or both.”
Additionally, he said,  in Jordan's favor is the community's close relations with the Hashemites prior to the Baath Party's 1963 seizure of power, when Sultan al-Atrash is said to have privately urged King Abdullah I to annex Jabal Druse.
"In Israel's favor is the strong role of Druse in the Israeli military-security sphere," he said adding, "You may recall that Walid Jumblatt (an important Lebanese Druse leader) dallied with the Israelis back when Israel was in a position to help advance Druze communal interests vis-a-vis Lebanese Forces in the early 1980s."
Kramer agrees that Jordan has a better chance of allying with a Druse entity stating, “Israel isn’t just anathema, its record of sticking by embattled minorities is mixed. Given a choice, and given the geography, the Druse will align far more naturally with Jordan.”