Israel & Syria: Plan B is to Balkanize

From Yinon to Yaalon

by , February 16, 2016


The U.S. and Russia are ostensibly trying to arrange a truce in Syria. As The Daily Mail reported, Israel recently voiced doubts about its success:

…Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said he was “very pessimistic” about the truce’s prospects.

“Unfortunately we are going to face chronic instability for a very, very long period of time,” he said. “And part of any grand strategy is to avoid the past, saying we are going to unify Syria. We know how to make an omelette from an egg. I don’t know how to make an egg from an omelette.”

Referring to some of the warring sects, Yaalon added: “We should realise that we are going to see enclaves — ‘Alawistan’, ‘Syrian Kurdistan’, ‘Syrian Druzistan’. They might cooperate or fight each other.”

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

This is not the first time Yaalon has reflected on the fractious state of the Middle East. In a 2013 interview, he attributed the developing collapse, not to the disastrous wars of the past decade, but solely to the arbitrariness of the Middle Eastern nation-state’s colonial origins:

“…in a higher perspective, I would say that, yes, we witnessed the collapse of the nation‐state system in many countries. And the nation‐state system, to my mind, was imposed in many countries artificially — not in all of them. Egypt is a historic country with a long history, and it will remain Egypt. But countries like Iraq — [it] is divided into, generally speaking, Shia, Sunni, Kurds. The tribes in Libya . . . Syria: its ongoing civil war reflects the rivalry between the Alawites, the Sunnis, the Kurds, which enjoy already autonomy in Syria. And we have to look at it historically, as it was imposed by Western leaders almost one hundred years ago: Sykes‐Picot, the end of World War I. We have to look very carefully for our new Western ideas to be imposed on the Middle East.”

Yet he accentuated the positive. The “savages” have been so thoroughly set against each other, they are too preoccupied mauling each other to pay Israel any attention.

“Nevertheless, not incidentally, monarchies [have] survive[d] so far, and artificial states — publics, let’s call them — are on the way to collapse, to be divided into sectarian enclaves with political, sectarian differences and violence. . . . [But] generally speaking, Israel enjoys today a relatively calm situation security‐wise. The border with Lebanon: peace and quiet since 2006, no Hezbollah provocations. The border with Syria: some problems, because of the internal situation but, generally speaking, a calm situation. Going down to the south, in the Gaza Strip: a couple of weeks with not even one provocation on behalf of Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad or any other faction. Sinai: a quite complicated situation — the last attack was rockets launching toward the city of Eilat. But again, a relatively calm situation. Serving in the military, I don’t remember such a calm situation in such a long period of time.”

Yet, he did strike a note of caution about eventual blowback:

“But we have to warn ourselves that what dominates the Middle East is instability. So far, they are engaged among themselves, fighting each other, but it might be, in the end, that the weapons are directed toward us. Anyhow, [they] are well armed — militias, elements, whether Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad — well armed with rockets, missiles, which is a threat for our security.”

These reflections must be considered in context of Israeli strategic thinking going back decades. In his “strategy for Israel in the Nineteen Eighties,” Israeli official Oded Yinon predicted that:

“Syria will fall apart, in accordance with its ethnic and religious structure, into several states such as in present day Lebanon, so that there will be a Shi’ite Alawi state along its coast, a Sunni state in the Aleppo area, another Sunni state in Damascus hostile to its northern neighbor, and the Druzes who will set up a state, maybe even in our Golan, and certainly in the Hauran and in northern Jordan. (…) This state of affairs will be the guarantee for peace and security in the area in the long run, and that aim is already within our reach today.”

This was part of a more general “Yinon Plan” that called for the “dissolution” of “the entire Arab world including Egypt, Syria, Iraq and the Arabian peninsula.” Each country was to be made to “fall apart along sectarian and ethnic lines,” after which each resulting fragment would be “hostile” to its “neighbors.”

According to Yinon, this balkanization should be realized by fomenting discord and war among the Arabs:

“Every kind of inter-Arab confrontation will assist us in the short run and will shorten the way to the more important aim of breaking up Iraq into denominations as in Syria and in Lebanon.”

As I detailed in December, sowing discord among Arabs had already been part of Israeli policy years before Yinon’s paper.

And David Wurmser, in a 1996 strategy document called “Coping with Crumbling States,” argued that “tribalism, sectarianism, and gang/clan-like competition” were what truly defined Arab politics. He claimed that secular-Arab nationalist regimes like Iraq’s and Syria’s tried to defy that reality, but would ultimately fail and be torn apart by it. Wurmser therefore called for “expediting” and controlling the inevitable “chaotic collapse” of Sykes-Picot through regime change in Iraq. Wurmser himself was one of the key architects of that eventual regime change and subsequent chaotic collapse throughout the region.

In general, Israel ideally prefers regime changes that result in the installation of stable puppets. That is Plan A. But Plan B is to balkanize. Better to divide and conquer than to countenance a “rogue” (independent) neighbor.

So it is noteworthy that Israel is endorsing its Plan B for Syria just when its enemies are making it plain that Plan A (“Assad Must Go”) is not happening any time soon. Israel’s jihadi allies in Aleppo are being cut off and encircled, and seem to be on the verge of complete defeat. As the above Daily Mail article quoted:

“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.” (…)

“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 in an earlier statement.”

In light of Israel’s strategic alliances (not only with the Sunni jihadis, but with their Sunni state sponsors) these statements can be interpreted more as threats than mere predictions.

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Dan Sanchez is a contributing editor at and an independent journalist for Follow him via TwitterFacebook, or TinyLetter.

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