Michael Totten

Killing a Crocodile

Last week the United States military “conducted a raid inside Syria”:http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/6eea3c6a-a44f-11dd-8104-000077b07658.html and killed Al Qaeda leader Abu Ghadiya in a shootout in the village of Sukariyeh. Syria’s government raged against the violation of its sovereignty and staged “a massive anti-American protest”:http://www.nytimes.com/glogin?URI=http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/31/world/middleeast/31syria.html&OQ=_rQ3D2Q26scpQ3D1Q26sqQ3DdamascusQ26stQ3DcseQ26orefQ3Dslogin&OP=60203e2eQ2FQ25EjkQ25X0GQ7De00rQ7CQ25Q7CuuNQ25Q2BuQ25CQ2BQ25E0exXQ25qDXXxjjWQ7DrQ25CQ2BQ7DweDW4hrqx in downtown Damascus. But, according to the Times of London, the Syrian government itself may have “quietly green-lighted the raid in advance”:http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle_east/article5062848.ece.
No one should be surprised if that turns out to be true. It makes perfect sense.
“Syria’s interest is to see the invaders defeated in Iraq,” Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Shara said in 2003. And so, for years, Bashar Assad’s government supported the flow of Al Qaeda terrorists into Iraq. The reason should be apparent enough. Syria is a state sponsor of terrorism and does not want to be “next.” The last thing either the Syrian or Iranian governments have wanted to see was a quick, easy, successful, and locally welcomed regime change in Iraq. The Iraqi insurgency was their life-insurance policy. It kept American troops busy somewhere else and hollowed out any potential American appetite for the demolition of another belligerent dictatorship in the Middle East.
Assad’s support for Al Qaeda is mostly cynical, though. He hardly shares the group’s ultimate goals. Another reason he helps them make their way to Iraq is because, in all likelihood, he’s delighted to watch them impale themselves on American forces.
Syria’s ruling Baath Party is a secular nationalist regime made up overwhelmingly of minority Alawites, whom the likes of Al Qaeda would like to see murdered en masse. Alawites are one of the Middle East’s relatively obscure religious minorities–like the Arabic Druze and the Kurdish Yezidis–who exist well outside the theological mainstream of the region. They’re a secretive and heretical offshoot of Twelver Shiism, and their beliefs are fused with Christian and pagan elements. Some of their rituals resemble those of the indigenous and ancient Phoenicians. They drink wine in a rite that resembles communion. They believe women do not have souls. Unlike Christians and Muslims, Alawites do not proselytize. Outsiders are not even allowed to convert. They make up around ten percent of Syria’s population, and can only rule the country through the brute force of an oppressive police state.
They aren’t at all well-liked by Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority, which considers them “infidels.” Stirring up sectarian tensions is, not surprisingly, a serious crime inside Syria. The last thing Assad wants is Lebanonization or Iraqification inside his own country. Those kinds of political problems are strictly for export.
“Read the rest in COMMENTARY”:http://www.commentarymagazine.com/viewarticle.cfm/killing-a-crocodile-13279.