''Bloodbath' would follow overthrow of Assad in Syria'

Observers tell the 'Post' that like Iraq, Syria’s diverse sects could turn on each other once the regime is gone.

assad speech 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
assad speech 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The overthrow of Syrian dictator Basher Assad is not yet imminent, but should it occur, a bloodbath between Syria’s various sects would likely follow, leading Israeli experts on Syria told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
As in neighboring Iraq, Syria’s diverse population – made up of Sunni Muslims, Druse, Kurds and other groups, who are ruled by the minority Alawites – could, upon the collapse of the Assad regime, turn on each other in a bloody civil conflict.
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“I think there would be a bloodbath if Assad falls. The Iraqi situation is relevant,” said Eyal Zisser, a professor of Middle Eastern and African History at Tel Aviv University.
Zisser, who formerly headed the university’s Moshe Dayan Center Middle East think tank added, “We’re not there yet. The protests are however getting bigger, and more and more forces are joining in. They are spreading to other parts of the country.”
At the same time, around half of the Syrian population, concentrated in the major urban centers of Damascus and Aleppo, are “sitting on the fence” and not taking an active part in protests calling for Assad to leave.
“They are frightened of the unknown, and of the anarchy that could follow,” Zisser added.
Asked how important a role Islamist groups were playing in recent events, Zisser said, “We must remember that 40 percent of Syrians are members of minority groups. This means it is not easy for Islamists to take over. They are there as a political force, but they don’t have exclusive control.”
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From an Israeli perspective, decision-makers have grown accustomed to “the Satan that we know,” Zisser said, referring to Assad.
Assad “gave us stability in the Golan – but he also tightened relations with Hezbollah and Iran,” he noted.
Dr. Mordechai Kedar, of Bar Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, said that “everything we knew” about Syria has become outdated due to recent events.
Kedar, who served for 25 years in military intelligence, and specialized in Syria, added that the Muslim Brotherhood “are in the background, not as an organized group... but as an idea.”
Kedar agreed with Zisser’s evaluation that a collapse of the Assad regime would result in large-scale violence, adding that Syria could split up into smaller states following civil strife.
In such a scenario, “many Muslims will chase Alawites with knives – who would in turn have to flee to the Ansariya mountains in western Syria, their traditional lands,” Kedar said. “In such a case, Syria could be divided into six parts: an Alawite state in the West; a Kurdish state in the North, as in Iraq; a Druse state in the South; and a Beduin state in the east, in the Dir al-Zur region. A Sunni Muslim state in Damascus and another in Aleppo could also rise” he added.
“Six homogenous states could appear on the ruins of Syria,” Kedar said.
The analyst has described Assad’s move to cancel longstanding emergency laws, which have been in place for 50 years, as “late, small, and unsatisfactory.”
“The Syrians are jealous of their brothers in Egypt and Tunisia – but fear that the regime will act as Gaddafi has, and slaughter its citizens, if his back is against the wall,” said Kedar.