The Druze quandary in the Middle East
The Druze in the Middle East are in a quandary. Until now, they have managed to stay out of the Syrian war, those in the country aligned traditionally with the Assad dynasty and had been loyal to the present Syrian regime.
Yet the recent killing of 20 of their people by an al-Qaeda offshoot, al-Nusra Front, could be a tipping point in both Syrian President Bashar Assad’s grip on the country and Druze neutrality, with far-reaching implications in the region, especially Lebanon.
The recent incident throws a spotlight on a subject largely ignored by Western media: the rise of Nusra as a fighting force in the complicated matrix-like Syria war.
In recent weeks, a number of small, but important, battles have been won by “opposition” fighters in Syria, sparking a frenzy of speculation that the Assad regime is slowly keeling. It’s not just the battles lost though. All over the country posters urging men to join the regime army are festooned on walls, bus stops and public buildings. But there’s one element of the recruitment drive being noticed by even Assad’s most loyal followers: the lack of minorities joining.
Christian and Druze communities are feeling more alienated. Many Druze in Syria feel as though their villages and mountains have become “no man’s land” — as Assad recently failed to protect them, concentrating on fighting a new front he is drawing up east of Damascus.
And so to be loyal to Assad, yet remain unarmed by him, presents the Druze with a vexing question: How many more lives can be lost before they take up arms, not only to defend themselves but to attack aggressors?
In Lebanon’s border regions where isolated Christian communities faced a similar threat in 2014, it was Hezbollah who armed them.
In the case of the Druze in Syria, it will be the Shia movement’s most wretched enemy, Israel, which might step forward, largely due to historical loyalty and the many Druze in Israel.
There are about 135,000 Druze in Israel who have fought alongside Israelis, serving in the military, even aspiring to high-level command positions. When Israel took the Golan Heights in 1967, about 20,000 additional Druze, residents of the area, found themselves living in Israeli territory. But, unlike their Israeli-Druze brethren, most of the Golan Heights Druze stayed loyal to Hafez Assad’s regime and refused to accept Israeli citizenship.
And so the Druze of Syria, it could be argued, are at odds with their cousins living in Israel, as the latter’s regime indulges itself, like Washington, in the simplified, naïve fable that Assad’s removal is the solution to the region’s woes.
Yet if Assad won’t arm Syrian Druze, who are they to turn to?
Accepting arms and support from Israel makes things terribly complicated in a war that, at times, confuses even those in it. Despite Israel being the arch-enemy of Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Shia movement is fighting in Syria alongside Assad’s army, the very same al-Qaeda outfit that murdered the Druze: Nusra.
If the Druze formed an alliance with Israel it would be very tricky to steer through all the sectarian hatred to reach the common goal of hitting Nusra, which, indirectly, is being funded by Washington and whose wounded fighters seek help in Israeli hospitals in the Golan Heights.
And here’s why the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt in Lebanon chooses his words very carefully, plays down the Nusra attack in Syria and recently told Druze leaders who met in Beirut that they “don’t need Israel”. If such an alliance was to be formed and it was not approved (informally) by Hezbollah, then the Druze community in Lebanon would be in the firing line from the Shia movement. Essentially, it’s a nightmare scenario for Jumblatt and his people.
Recently, reports emerged that he was finding a solution for the Druze in Syria. One wonders if he is alluding to Hezbollah providing them with arms — an act that keeps them friends with Assad, gives the means to fight Sunni extremists but yet protects them as well.
Jumblatt said earlier in the year: “I warned them several times that they only have two choices: either join the revolution or isolate themselves. But this is not working.”