Israel Pessimistic on Syria Ceasefire, Eyes Sectarian Partition

Syrian army forces have made gains in rebel held territory like the city of Douma, a suburb of Damascus. An Israeli official has expressed doubts about proposed peace plans for Syria, saying he foresees the partition of the country. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM, Feb 14  – Israel voiced doubt on Sunday that an international ceasefire plan for Syria would work, with one senior official suggesting a sectarian partition of the country might be preferable.

While formally neutral on the five-year civil war wracking its neighbor, Israel has some sway among the world powers that have mounted armed interventions and which on Friday agreed on a “cessation of hostilities” to begin within a week.

The deal, clinched at a Munich security conference, is already beset by recriminations between Russia, which backs Syrian President Bashar Al Assad militarily and wants to see his rule restored, and Western powers that have called for change in Damascus involving some opposition groups.

“The situation in Syria is very complex, and it is hard to see how the war and mass killing there are stopped,” Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, in Munich to meet European counterparts and Jordan’s King Abdullah, said in statement.

“Syria as we have known it will not be united anew in the foreseeable future, and at some point I reckon that we will see enclaves, whether organized or not, formed by the various sectors that live and are fighting there.”

Ram Ben-Barak, director general of Israel’s Intelligence Ministry, described partition as “the only possible solution”.

“I think that ultimately Syria should be turned into regions, under the control of whoever is there—the Alawites where they are, the Sunnis where they are,” Ben-Barak told Israel’s Army Radio, referring to Assad’s minority sect and the majority Muslim denomination, respectively.

“I can’t see how a situation can be reached where those same 12 percent Alawites go back to ruling the Sunnis, of whom they killed half a million people there. Listen, that’s crazy.”

Helped by Russian firepower, Syrian government forces and their allies have been encircling rebel-held areas of Aleppo. That would give Assad effective control of western Syria, Ben-Barak said, although much of the east is dominated by Islamic State insurgents.

An Assad victory in Aleppo, Ben-Barak said, “will not solve the problem, because the battles will continue. You have ISIS there and the rebels will not lay down their weapons.”

While sharing foreign worries about Daesh advances, Israel worries that the common threat from the insurgents has created a de-facto axis between world powers and its arch-foe Iran, which also has troops helping Assad.

“As long as Iran is in Syria, the country will not return to what it was, and it will certainly find it difficult to become stable as a country that is divided into enclaves, because the Sunni forces there will not allow this,” Yaalon said.

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