Experts disagree on the demographic makeup of Syria, but their assessments substantiate Barak’s and Yaalon’s analyses. Sami Moubayed writes that 15% are Kurds, 15% are Allawites and Shiites, 10% are Christians, 10% are Beduins and tribal members, 3% are Druze and another 2% are from other minorities. These minorities live in fear of Islamists, and make up 55% of the population. Moubayed believes that at least 25% of the Sunnis are secularist. Syrian opposition activists generally estimate the level of Islamist support to be around 20%. Dr. Barry Rubin puts Islamist support at around 15%.
The leader of the Syrian National Council (SNC), an umbrella of opposition groups, is a secularist named Burhan Ghalioun. He promises that the SNC will end its “strategic, military alliance” with Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah. He dismissed the possibility of an Islamist takeover, saying they don’t represent more than 10% of the population.
Not all Israeli officials agree. Former Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said, “Although the Islamist forces are not the majority in the opposition, they are better organized and politically competent.” He addressed Israel’s desire to break Syria away from Iran’s orbit by saying that an Islamist-controlled Syria would remain close to Iran.
The Free Syria Army that is battling Assad and the SNC are closely tied to Turkey and Qatar. SNC officials have met with Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi and the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood is a part of the coalition. The Al-Qaeda-linked Islamists in Libya are meeting with the Free Syria Army and according to some reports, providing fighters.
Former Mossad director Efraim Halevy warns of the instability that could follow regime change. “If the result is that not only Assad is removed but the Syrian military structure disintegrates, then there’s no telling who will control what.”
This is a legitimate concern. The loss of up to 20,000 anti-aircraft missiles in Libya as well as other armaments is a serious worry for the West. In Syria, there are at least five chemical weapons sites. Assad is believed to have tons of mustard gas, sarin gas and VX, as well as Scud missiles and many conventional weapons that can fall into the hands of terrorists. The U.N. has discovered a nuclear site in Syria that appears to be for uranium enrichment.
Bashar Assad is a major enemy of Israel and the West as a whole, and it is tempting to embrace his removal. The opposition includes the secularists that we’d like to see come to power and the Islamists who we don’t want to come to power. The West should not embrace Assad, but it must be keenly aware of the dangers that lie ahead if he falls.
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