- By David KennerDavid Kenner is the Middle East editor at Foreign Policy. He is based in Beirut, Lebanon, and has been with FP since 2009 (a long time, he knows). He worked for FP previously in Cairo, where he covered the early days of the Arab Spring, and before that in Washington. He has attended Georgetown University and the American University of Beirut and has reported from Libya, Egypt, Gaza, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq.
Reuters has a small, strange story today about Israeli preparations to offer refuge to members of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s sect in the event that his regime falls. "We are preparing to take in Alawite refugees on the Golan Heights," said Israel Defense Forces chief Benny Gantz to a Knesset committee on Tuesday.
There’s only one problem with that offer: There aren’t many Alawites on the Golan Heights. The region is overwhelmingly Sunni and Druze — communities that would likely come out on top in a post-Assad Syria. Ghajar, a disputed village of a couple thousand along the Syrian-Lebanese border, appears to be the last Alawite community in the region.
So to flee to Israel in any significant numbers, Alawites living in Damascus or Syria’s northwestern mountains would have two options: They could brave the journey across the presumably hostile Golan Heights, or they could travel into Lebanon and cross along its southeastern border, presumably at Ghajar. Why these Alawites would prefer Israel over south Lebanon — home of the Assad’s longtime ally, Hezbollah — is a mystery.
Given the improbability of this scenario, the most likely explanation is that Gantz was trying to tweak Assad — saying, in effect, that Israel would offer relief to his people once he no longer could. But the premise of his remarks — that Alawites would be forced to flee for their lives after Assad fell — isn’t a sentiment that Syria’s opposition will welcome. Gantz’s statements may have been anti-Assad, but they weren’t pro-revolution.