A Dilemma and an Opportunity: Syria’s Civil War Knocks at Israel’s Northern Gate

On the other hand, the relatively compact area of Jabal ad-Durūz presents Israel with an opportunity. If the local Druze can be helped with arms and some judiciously supplied close air and artillery support, it might be possible to reestablish the Druze state which existed as a semi-autonomous entity within French mandatory Syria from 1925-1936. It is an idea which has had a long gestation period in Israel, and whose time may now finally have come.

Such a Druze republic would have the advantage not only of obviating the flow of destitute refugees into Israel itself, but could also provide a buffer between the Israeli border and the other forces contending for control of Syria. It would also obviate the current Israeli policy, which has been reported by various foreign news agencies, of tacit cooperation with some of the inherently unstable jihadi groups fighting against Assad, which could turn on Israel at any time, in favor of a much more stable, long-term solution. As Kara notes, the Syrian Druze lack arms and expertise, both of which Israel possesses.

Most recently, there have been reports that the Jordanians might set up such a buffer zone with its capital as as-Suwaida, the largest town in the Jabal ad-Durūz and former capital of the aforementioned semi-autonomous “state” in French mandatory Syria. Though the Americans have denied any such reports (there have also been rumors of the Turks carving out such a buffer in the north which, not coincidentally, would include all of the Syrian Kurdish enclaves), the suggestion makes both military and political sense from Jordan’s point of view, as well as Israel’s.

One possible fly in the ointment is the Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt. Jumblatt has been a master, since the days of the Lebanese civil war which resulted in Israel’s intervention in 1982, at playing off Christians against Muslims and Sunnis against Shi‘is in the complex interdenominational politics of Lebanon, and has also repeatedly tried to influence the Israeli Druze. For instance, in the recent parliamentary elections, Jumblatt called on Israeli Druze to support the Joint List, composed of parties which identify with the “Palestinians” (he was largely ignored). Now, he appears to be trying to play a role in Syria as a “spoiler” of any Israeli influence with the Syrian Druze. If so, then working through the Jordanians might be a better option.

Will Kara and Netanyahu play Baron von Steuben and Comte de Lafayette to some as-yet unidentified Druze Washington, possibly with Jordan’s King Abdullah as the state’s mid-wife? Time will tell.