Israeli minister backs Syria’s sectarian partition
Moshe Yaalon questions longevity of truce, predicting country’s collapse into enclaves under religious and ethnic sects.
An Israeli minister has cast doubt on the longevity of a lasting ceasefire in Syria, suggesting instead that the country should be partitioned along sectarian divides.
Speaking at the annual Munich Security Conference on Sunday, Moshe Yaalon, Israeli defence minister, said that he is “very pessimistic” about the possibility of a lasting truce.
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“Unfortunately we are going to face chronic instability for a very, very long period of time,” a Reuters news agency report quoted Yaalon as saying.
“And part of any grand strategy is to avoid the past, saying we are going to unify Syria. We know how to make an omelette from an egg. I don’t know how to make an egg from an omelette.”
Yaalon predicted that Syria will turn into “enclaves” under the de-facto control of religious and ethnic sects, including President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite sect, the Druze religious minority and the Kurdish ethnic group.
“They might co-operate or fight each other.”
The Syrian fighting started as an unarmed uprising against Assad in March 2011.
It has since escalated into a full-on armed conflict between government forces and rebel groups, killing more than 260,000 people, according to estimates by the United Nations.
Yaalon’s comments on Syria come a month after he said that Israel preferred the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group over Iranian-backed armed groups in southern Syria, near the border of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
At a conference in Tel Aviv in January, he said that Israel views Iran as a larger threat than armed groups in Syria, The Times of Israel reported.
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“In Syria, if the choice is between Iran and the Islamic State, I choose the Islamic State,” he said. “They don’t have the capabilities that Iran has.”
Israel has launched air strikes in Syria several times since the conflict broke out five years ago, though it has not formally involved itself in the fighting.
Most recently, the air strike that killed Hezbollah operative Samir Kantar in the Syrian capital Damascus was reportedly carried out by Israeli forces.
Despite Israel’s rare interventions in the neighbouring country, Benedetta Berti, a security fellow at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, said Israel is unlikely to change its strategy in Syria.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, she said that “the Israeli security establishment still believes it is not in Israel’s interest to get directly involved in the internal battles between Assad and his opponents”.
“I think there is little doubt Israel is closely monitoring the Golan. In the past, Israel has made it clear it considers the establishment of a strong Hezbollah-Iranian stronghold in the area as a direct threat,” Berti said, referring to the Iran-backed Lebanese group that is fighting alongside Assad forces.
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In January, government forces and pro-Assad armed groups launched an offensive in the 30 percent of the Golan Heights still under Syrian control, taking back a number of strategic areas that had fallen to rebels in recent years.
Speaking to Israel’s Army Radio on Sunday, Ram Ben-Barak, director-general of Israel’s Intelligence Ministry, also described partition as “the only possible solution”.
“I think that ultimately Syria should be turned into regions, under the control of whoever is there,” he said, arguing that it is “crazy” that the country’s 12 percent Alawites could “go back to ruling the Sunnis”.