The situation in Syria has produced strange Israeli analysis. I have heard professors at Hebrew University say how the revolution will have little to no impact on Syria, but the news cycles are in constant speculation. What will the removal Assad mean for Israel? I have written about this in passing but will offer some different analysis after seeing a byline on JPost that read “Even if Syrian uprising dislodges Assad regime, there is little reason to think Sunni replacement will be less hostile toward Israel.”
I do not disagree with this statement in general but disagree on a few key points. First, Assad and his Alawite community have needed and continue to need a unifier. This was solidifed in the 40s, 50s, and 60s with Pan-Arab Nationalism. Minorities
in the Arab Middle East were at the forefront of the Arab Nationalist movement because they did not want to be marginalized in a changing political landscape. Instead of relying on old methods of identification that was sure to marginalize them, they decided to join in the Pan-Arab movement. This is more than evident if one reads on the subject, especially about the Baath Party in Syria. Needless to say Assad does benefit from the conflict, just as Israel does, and neither wish for a shift in the status quo. Israel does not want to see Bashar go as non-Alawite Syrians do not want to see Bashar go. The possibility of instability and uncertainty drives this mindset.
Let us assume for one minute that the Syrian uprising is successful and a democratic entity comes into being. Syria is over 66% Sunni Muslim, 12-15% Alawite, 10-12% Christian, and the rest Shiite or others. The Sunni class is the business class and has been for centuries. They view the issue of Israel through an economic lens and do see potential economic benefits in making peace with Israel. This includes potential trade with Israel and a more open economy to the world with Syria potentially becoming an economic power in the region. If one has
ever been in the main market in Syria, beyond to the Hassan Nasrallah posters, if you enter Sunni Muslim shops and talk to the owners, they will show you business cards in Hebrew. This trend started in the 90s and was at its peak during 1999 when Syria and Israel were close to a peace treaty. Main businessmen know some Hebrew and believe that if peace is to happen it would be unexpected. A peace treaty with Israel was certainly more likely in the late 1990s, but the Syrian business community still believe the possibility is still there.
It suffices to say that Israel could make peace with certain sectors of Syrian society as it has with Jordan and Egypt. Syrians, from my travels and contacts, are against a peace treaty with Israel as are most Arabs until the situation here in Palestine is resolved according to international law. I do not think that the chances of Syria making peace with Israel would change after a democratic revolution. Assad has the power to implement it, while the Sunni Muslim class has the economic clout to justify a peace treaty and attempt to make it beneficial for Syrians. Either way the masses will be marginalized as has been the case with other peace treaties involving Israel and Arab states. As I said before, Israel and the West seem to have more of an interest in maintaining the status quo than a potential democratic Syria.