by John Galt
June 25, 2012 05:00 ET
1The burden of Damascus. Behold, Damascus is taken away from being a city, and it shall be a ruinous heap.
2The cities of Aroer are forsaken: they shall be for flocks, which shall lie down, and none shall make them afraid.
3The fortress also shall cease from Ephraim, and the kingdom from Damascus, and the remnant of Syria: they shall be as the glory of the children of Israel, saith the LORD of hosts.
Quotation via BibleResources.org, from the King James Version of the Bible
The following dissertation is not a guarantee of future events, nor is it a prediction for the eventual outcome of the crisis which is almost at the civil war phase occurring in modern day Syria. The historical aspects along with the religious implications of this analysis is not meant to be used as a final determination for current events but a possible outcome which fits conveniently within the concepts of Christian and Islamic prophecy along with historical conflicts which have been in place for centuries. The problem with the current influences of the various world powers in the desired collapse of the Bashar al-Assad regime is that indeed it could truly have Biblical implications far beyond the short term geopolitical conflagration it would create.
I. History of the Nusayris/Alawites Pertaining to Current Events
To give one a perspective on the background of Bashar al-Assad and the mentality of the Alawi minority ruling Syria via their monopoly of the Ba’ath party in that nation, I provide this historical perspective from an article by Daniel Pipes titled The Alawi Capture of Power in Syria, published in 1989 via danielpipes.org:
“‘Alawi” is the term that ‘Alawis (also called ‘Alawites) usually apply to themselves ; but until 1920 they were known to the outside world as Nusayris or Ansaris. The change in name – imposed by the French upon their seizure of control in Syria – has significance. Whereas “Nusayri” emphasizes the group’s differences from Islam, “‘Alawi” suggests an adherent of ‘Ali (the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad) and accentuates the religion’s similarities to Shi’i Islam. Consequently, opponents of the Asad regime habitually use the former term, supporters of the regime use the latter.
Why is the imposition of this new term important? During the French mandate period after World War I, the French administration imposed the term in 1920 to identify this group and remove their prior identity for political purposes and to further isolate this minority from the center of national power in the cities of Hama, Homs, and Damascus; names which are currently reported in the mainstream media on a daily basis.
This map from the book by William L. Cleveland, Martin P. Bunton, A History of the Modern Middle East provides a clue as to why this cities are now so key to current events as well as why they are being punished incessantly by the Assad regime:
Based on the map above, it is perfectly logical to assume that the granting of the construction of a Russian naval base in Tartus, Syria, well within the Alawite region, was no accident and a standing monument to the tactical genius of the Syrian Ba’athists. The temptation to invite the start of World War Three with an attack by either American, Turkish, or Israeli forces on a Russian naval base deep within Alawite territory is but one complication the Syrian leadership has introduced to the equation. The fractured nation of the nation of Syria however imply a greater problem as the Alawites compose but 12% of the total Syrian population.
The political division displayed above remained in force even as the nation emerged in the post colonial period and the religious divisions illustrated in this map from GeoCurrents explains why the Alawite branch of Shia Islam should be of a primary concern to everyone as the conditions deteriorate in Syria:
With the majority of the nation dominated by the Sunni Muslims, what allegiance does Bashar al-Assad and his followers have to the existence of the modern nation state have in relation to the future? One factor to consider is from the same article from Daniel Pipes referred to in the article above:
‘Alawi doctrines date from the ninth century A.D. and derive from the Twelver or Imami branch of Shi’i Islam (the sect that predominates in Iran). In about A.D. 859, one Ibn Nusayr declared himself the bab (“gateway to truth”), a key figure in Shi’i theology. On the basis of this authority, Ibn Nusayr proclaimed a host of new doctrines which, to make a long story short, make ‘Alawism into a separate religion. According to Ibn Kathir (d. 1372), where Muslims proclaim their faith with the phrase “There is no deity but God and Muhammad is His prophet,” ‘Alawis assert “There is no deity but ‘Ali, no veil but Muhammad, and no bab but Salman.” ‘Alawis reject Islam’s main tenets; by almost any standard they must be considered non-Muslims.
If the doctrine of the Twelvers seems familiar, let me remind my readers at this time of the most infamous adherent of this ideology in modern times:
II. The Syrian Threat to Israel
The United States has long recognized the dangers of a Syrian regime going rogue in the region and enacted numerous political actions to prevent the spread of the Assad families influence in the region for decades. The problem facing the American administration at this time is the persistent belief that traditional globalist ideology and methodology can play a role in negotiating an acceptable settlement with the Ba’athist leadership in Damascus. As demonstrated by the brief historical background stated above, Damascus is irrelevant to the long term ideology and theology of the Alawites.
Thus the threat shifts over to the danger of encouraging or backing the Assad regime into a corner and this concern was demonstrated in an article by Bill Gertz in the Friday June 22nd edition of The Washington Beacon:
Mr. Gertz identifies the major concern that the Israelis have with the Syrian regime, as well as that of the United States government:
However, other U.S. officials said special operations forces are prepared to take action inside Syria in the event the regime falls and the country spirals further into chaos. The teams would seek to secure or destroy stockpiles of chemical arms to keep them from being taken over by terrorists. Hezbollah has been very active in Syria, and there are reports that al Qaeda terrorists have moved into Syria during the current crisis.
The exact size of the Syrian chemical arsenal is not known. The Center for Strategic and International Studies reported several years ago that Syria has stockpiled 500 to 1,000 metric tons of chemical agents. The weapons are said to include long-lasting VX nerve agent and less-persistent Sarin nerve agent, as well as mustard blister agents.
Most but not all of the weapons stockpiles are known to U.S. intelligence agencies.
In other words the fear of the Israeli government is justified because the U.S. does not even have sufficient controls over the rebels which much like Libya, we are funding and assisting surreptitiously via our Arab allies and the Central Intelligence Agency. Thus while the United States might have a clue as to the security and location of the massive Syrian chemical weapons arsenal, there is no guarantee that controls are in place to prevent the use of those weapons by rogue elements inside of Syria against Israel or even Turkey should conditions continue to deteriorate further within the country.
The fear of the Israeli political and defense establishment is not unfounded as the Syrian regime of Bashar and Hafez al-Assad have been accused of training terrorists in the proper use and manufacturing of chemical agents. In the article by Charles P. Blair on March 1, 2012 in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists titled “Fearful of a nuclear Iran? The real WMD nightmare is Syria,” the following excerpt should put a chill down everyone’s spine:
Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile is thought to be massive. One of only eight nations that is not a member of the Chemical Weapons Convention — an arms control agreement that outlaws the production, possession, and use of chemical weapons — Syria has a chemical arsenal that includes several hundred tons of blistering agents along with likely large stockpiles of deadly nerve agents, including VX, the most toxic of all chemical weapons. At least four large chemical weapon production facilities exist. Additionally, Syria likely stores its deadly chemical weapons at dozens of facilities throughout the fractious country. In contrast to Libya’s unusable chemical stockpile, analysts emphasize that Syrian chemical agents are weaponized and deliverable. Insurgents and terrorists with past or present connections to the military might feasibly be able to effectively disseminate chemical agents over large populations. (The Global Security Newswire recently asserted that “[t]he Assad regime is thought to possess between 100 and 200 Scud missiles carrying warheads loaded with sarin nerve agent. The government is also believed to have several hundred tons of Sarin agent and mustard gas stockpiled that could be used in air-dropped bombs and artillery shells, according to information compiled by the James Martin Center.”)
This failure to understand the mentality of the Assad family, its Alawite history, and the antipathy towards the West, the Sunni branch of Islam, and the Jewish state along with the development of this strategic weapons stockpile could prove to be a fatal mistake in the coming weeks and months if the rebellion begins to succeed with Western assistance against the Syrian regime.
III. The Damascus Option
This brings the story full circle to the beginning and end, an appropriate metaphor for the danger facing the world at this time. Israel is considering an apparent series of pre-emptive strikes against the two nations represented by the belief of the Twelvers, that branch of radical Shi’ite Islam which advocates the end of the modern world to bring about the return of the Mahdi which brings about a period of destruction and horror for all non-believers and brings world peace to their sect under the protection of a just Allah, who would rule as an Islamic peacemaker.
However, the fact that many paint Bashar al-Assad and his family as typical of the Arab cowards who folded in other “Arab Spring” nations could soon be eradicated by what I call the Damascus Option. The lack of a political power base in the majority of the nation of Syria notwithstanding, the control of the strategic forces is and always has been held closely by those family members in the military and other Alawite officers loyal to the regime. Thus the lack of massive defections or actions against Assad will not exist as occurred in other Arab Spring rebellions and the danger of massive retaliation against external forces attempting to influence the downfall of the Ba’athists could be an invitation to disaster.
If the West continues to pressure the regime and begins to succeed in what would appear to be a successful course to overthrow Bashar al-Assad, the Alawites have an option which follows the tradition of Hussein (or Husayn another traditional spelling), the ideology of the Twelvers, and determine a course which refutes the dominance of the Islamists under the guise of Sunni Islam known as the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Damascus Option as I like to title it involves the final use of the strategic weapons cache by the Syrian regime against the nation of Israel. Should the Syrian military begin deploying more weapons, especially mobile artillery, tanks, and rocket launchers closer to the Golan Heights while a battle for Damascus was in doubt, that would certainly be viewed as a dangerous and provocative sign by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). The IDF might well be goaded into a pre-emptive strike against the Syrian regime at that point in time but a failure to do so could provide the path to martyrdom that the Alawites and Twelvers revel in. The Syrian regime could launch an attack on multiple Israeli targets using their chemical inventory, possibly killing thousands in large communities like Hebron and Tel Aviv.
Such an act would certainly invite a massive, perhaps nuclear response against Damascus and targets throughout the country. The Syrian military would become an empty shell as the leaders of the elite units like Maher Assad (Bashar’s brother) would certainly join their relatives and political allies of the Alawite persuasion to abandon Syria for a friendlier location such as Tehran as the rebellion “succeeded” in its final days. The destruction of Damascus will be played in the West as a tremendous defeat for the Syrian dictatorship but in reality it might be viewed as the ultimate act of martyrdom for the cause of Islam. The majority of civilians killed in an Israeli WMD strike on Syria would be Sunni, thus aiding those of the Twelver ideology in their quest to purify the Islamic religion of false believers. Israel will be resoundingly despised by hundreds of millions of Muslims and the “brave” warriors of Syria who took a stand against them perceived as martyrs by the Arab street.
While I am in no manner advocating for the retention of the Assad regime, the danger of involving the United States in another foreign entanglement which can only result in a negative outcome regardless of the final result is disconcerting. The problem with a successful attack on Israel and perceived U.S. involvement with the retaliatory strike against Syria will turn the entire Islamic world against the U.S. and its interests. Saudi Arabia would be viewed by the Arab street as a weak kingdom controlled by a corrupt group of old men not wishing to engage in confrontation against Islam’s enemies. The Muslim Brotherhood would no longer have their current preeminent status as the revolutionary leaders and the shame heaped upon them by the average Muslim in the face of Shi’ite glory might well destabilize the region further. Iran would clearly become the winner of such a conflict provided of course Israel backs off eradication of their military capabilities after a Syrian conflict.
To provide some perspective as to why this risk is real, and the dangers not be ignored by the West although I fear they will be, I quote again from an old book on Middle Eastern religion and history. The book by Mahmoud M. Ayoub, “Redemptive Suffering in Islam: A Study of the Devotional Aspects of Ashura in Twelver Shi’ism,” published in 1978 has this revealing portion on page 123 which provides insight into the mindset of the Assad regime and the leadership in Iran:
Thereupon hosts of angels, with swords of fire in their hands, filled the entire space between heaven and earth, ready to obey Husayn’s command. But he threw the tablet towards heaven, returning it to God with the words,
I would rather be killed and resuscitated seventy times, nay even seventy thousand times, in Thy love and obedience to Thee.
Let there be in my death the victory of Thy religion and preservation of Thy law (Shariah).
The idea of Husayn’s voluntary and unconditional acceptance of martyrdom for the love of God and the preservation of His religion, as evolved by Shia piety, while remaining within the Islamic framework, has pushed the idea of redemption to its extreme limit. It is an interpretation of Husayn’s death which has persisted in some form or another to the present.
May our leaders contemplating actions against Syria and Iran pause to read the Bible and Koran before engaging in another unnecessary loss of human life. The cost this time could change the face of the world for decades if not for centuries if the course of action is improperly implemented like the Egyptian and Libyan disasters.