Although tension in Syria continues to grow, there are several factors that might save the country from Libyan-like intervention by Western powers.
When it comes to the Middle East, there are several key things that should be kept in mind when analyzing the situation. One of most important of them is the existing division within Islam.
Syria is a country where the vast majority of people are Sunnis, which is the largest branch of Islam, the orthodox version of the religion. However, the country’s ruling elite belongs to an Alawi sect. This religious group is marginal and not orthodox. It is a branch of Shia Islam, the second largest Islamic school. The conflict between the two main denominations of Islam has already produced in many bloody clashes including the Iran – Iraq war in 1980s.
Today Assad has a good chance of keeping his position for he is surrounded by people, who have been holding their posts since the days of his father. These people are strong, fierce, and harsh. Most importantly, they understand that if they try to get rid of the country’s President, they will automatically put themselves in danger.
As in many countries before Syria, the position of the army, their decision on whose side to take, is the key issue.
Syria is a unique case. When it became an independent state, there was a need to create a regular army, but Sunni parents did not want to send their sons to military schools. Alawi families, who composed around 11 per cent of the population, did. They later seized power under the leadership of Bashar Assad’s father.
Alawis also understand that if it comes to the worst, they will have to pay for the years of tensions between the Shiites and Sunnis. This will mean a civil war.
Most external forces should not be interested in a change to the Bashar Assad regime in Syria. The United States, Europe and Syria’s neighbors should be aware that if there is a civil war, the country might get under control of Islamists.
In contrast to Libya, the Arab League most probably will not condemn Assad as it has condemned Gaddafi. Moreover, Russia and China are not going to risk their reputations again and will shield Syria from UN sanctions. That’s why the possibility of military intervention is limited.
However, if clashes in Syria continue, this will put the West in a very awkward situation. People all over the world will start questioning why the governments acted differently toward Libya and Syria. Therefore, in terms of external forces it would be better, if Assad stayed.
As for Israel, a stable hostile Assad regime is much better for the country than the collapse of Syria. Israeli analysts predict that if protesters win the country might collapse into six pieces, two of which would be Sunni enclaves in Damascus and Aleppo, which would not please Jerusalem, as they would bring instability to the northern borders, more terrorist attacks and Syria’s transformation into a new Iraq, where Shiites and Sunnis still fight.