The largest religious group in Syria are the Sunni Muslims which make up around 74% of the population. Assad’s gas attack is part of a strategic vision to change the demographic make-up of Syria.
The location of the attacks this week, the town of Khan Sheikhoun, is just east of the Nusayriyah Mountains, the Alawite minority’s stronghold east of Syria’s Mediterranean coastline. At the same time, the town also sits smack on the M5 highway, Syria’s most important artery, which runs from the Jordanian border through Damascus and Homs to Aleppo.
The gas attack and the hospital bombings that followed it are part of an ethnic-cleansing effort that is designed to chase Sunni populations to the east of this north-south axis and replace them with Shi’ite Arabs from Iraq.
The quest to remap Syria ethnically has been raised by Iranian negotiators in talks with the Syrian opposition. The Iranian rationale is clear. Having already consolidated its political grip on Baghdad, Tehran now wants to extend its reach to the Mediterranean, by cultivating a belt of predominantly Shi’ite communities checkered by an assortment of subservient non-Sunni minorities.
Assad’s interest in this scheme is obvious. He will rule over a shrunken but much more cohesive Syria.
The problem is his other great ally, Russia. Iran’s plan leads to a clash of imperial wills with Moscow.
Moscow’s entry into the Syrian war was sparked by NATO’s removal of Russian ally Muammar Gaddafi, but the Kremlin’s deeper motivation was the historic Russian quest for a warm-water seaport. All czars since Peter the Great sought such a maritime prize, but Russia won it only 250 years after his death, when Hafez Assad leased the Tartus seaport to the USSR.
This is what Vladimir Putin was out to secure when he unleashed his fighter jets on Assad’s rebels, and this is what the Iranians are now threatening, whether consciously or not.
Israeli intelligence believes the Iranians are out to build their own seaport in Syria. That is what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Putin during their meeting in Moscow last month. Netanyahu would not peddle such a report to the Kremlin, had it not been convincingly substantiated. Jpost