The Syrian air force has always been a bastion of Alawite domination over the Syrian military. Back in the early days of independent Syria the Alawites were in control of the air force, and in 1950 General Muhammad Nasser, an Alawite, was the commander-in-chief and was murdered by Sunni officers. Later, it was general Hafiz al-Assad who became the C-I-C of the air force, a good springboard to become the future military dictator. He heaped resources on his favorite wing of the armed forces, filled it with Alawite pilots, but also attached to it one of the most formidable intelligence services, led by loyal Alawites whose task it was to prevent any sign of opposition.
Bashar Assad in his time of predicament believed that his air force would do the dirty job of pacifying rebellious regions, but even that does not work anymore. A colonel in the air force defected with his Mig-21 and caused ripples in the presidential palace in Damascus. Another indication that the regime is fighting a last and losing battle to survive. Yesterday, 153 Syrians were killed, and today the regime claims that 26 soldiers were killed. This is an unsustainable situation for the regime, and the need for an alternative to the impending
catastrophe is ever urgent.
Bashar Assad has now to decide between three alternatives; the first is that he could stay in Damascus and fight to the end, thus turning this old, historic center of Arab and Islamic pride into a scene of unprecedented destruction and bloodshed. He shows signs that this is his number one option, but with growing unrest in the capital, this option may seem less and less attractive to a lot of his cronies. In fact, there are many unverified reports that many of them are more busy contemplating their personal escape than fighting for the Boss.
Then, there is the option of leaving Syria and going to Iran, Venezuela, Russia or any other potential refuge. The problem is that Bashar will have to take with him hundreds, perhaps even thousands of his clan/tribe, as well as so many of those whose hands soak in the blood of so many innocent Syrians.
Can it happen? Very doubtful, if not outright impossible. If having to leave Syria is the option, then Bashar is a spent force. They will have him with his wife and children but not the entire gang, so we are left with what may prove to be the only realistic and likely solution; Bashar and his cronies, including the Alawite-dominated military units still loyal to him, will withdraw to the area where it all began decades ago: the Alawite mountains in northwest Syria, with Kardaha where the Assad clan came from as his center, and with access to the Mediterranean in Latakiyya, a mixed Alawite-Sunni city. The two communities will have to be separated by an Arab/international force, preferably with Turkish participation that will be necessary, because it will be a supreme Turkish interest to prevent an Alawite mass exodus to Turkey, where there are already over half a million Alawites.
According to many reports, large numbers of Alawites already left Damascus, Aleppo, Homs and Hammah and moved back to the mountains. They know what may come their way when the regime is finally collapsing and they do not want to take the risk. The Assad people will come back to their natural territory, where they will provide shelter and defense to the Alawite population, thus sparing their co-religionists the inevitable slaughter that will happen if the regime will conduct the last battle in Damascus. The Alawite population will then have the opportunity to deal with the Assad clan, settle scores with them, keep them in power in the mountains or else, but for the future of Syria it is significant that the Alawite community will have the chance to decide for itself about the best course of action leading it to reintegrate with the rest of Syria when the time comes.
Other regions in Syria will not function much differently. The Kurds in the northeast and the Druze in the south will apply a form of virtual self-rule in their respective territories, and the Sunni government that will be installed in Damascus will have to find a way, with the encouragement of Arab governments, the U.S. and Turkey, to negotiate with the minorities, including the Alawites, in order to formulate a new constitution which will reflect the heterogeneous character of the Syrian population.
And what about the Christians? The populations of Aleppo and Damascus will be immediately threatened by a vindictive Sunni government, not easily forgiving their staying loyal to Bashar Assad. Here is a challenge to the outside backers of the current opposition and future government. They will have to rein them in to prevent excesses.
And lastly the Russians. They will grudgingly accept a framework like this, or similar but will insist on maintaining and protecting their base in Tartus, surely so long as other foreign forces are on Syrian soil. Can that all work?
Maybe, but surely worth the try as the alternative is the current slaughter which is unacceptable and should stop.