The formation of a breakaway Alawite state along the Syrian coast may be President Bashar al-Assad’s “Plan B” if he loses control of the capital, the King of Jordan has warned.
The theory that if cornered Assad’s loyalists would retreat to his Alawite sect’s heartland - which encompasses the coastal towns of Latakia and Tartous - has been gaining ground in recent months as rebels made gains in the country’s capital Damascus and second city of Aleppo.
“I have a feeling that if he can't rule greater Syria then maybe an Alawi enclave is plan B,” King Abdullah said in an interview with US broadcaster CBS, describing the prospect as the “worst case scenario”.
“If Syria then implodes on itself that would create problems that would take us decades to come back from,” he said.
Syria is a complex patchwork of different sects, and under the French mandate following the First World War the Levant was administered as six separate “states”, one of which later became Lebanon. Both the minority Druze and Alawites had their own geographical territories.
King Abdullah today said hat an Alawite enclave could mean that other minorities would begin “land grabbing”, which could have a devastating domino effect on the region.
The Kurds, concentrated near the Turkish border and Iraqi borders, had until recently largely stood back from the unfolding civil war, but have in recent weeks they claim to have “liberated” towns in the north, where Kurdish flags fly above local administration buildings.
The splintering of the country along sectarian lines is considered one of the most extreme scenarios that could result from the current conflict, but it’s one that Western and regional powers, and groups on the ground, will be looking to mitigate against as the regime crumbles.
The Jordanian government today confirmed that Syria’s highest ranking civilian defector, former Prime Minister Riad Hijab, had arrived in the country.
The Free Syrian Army had earlier announced that Mr Hijab had crossed on Monday after reports of his defection broke before he was out of the country, putting the operation in jeopardy.
The prime minister and 35 family members had been in hiding in the village of Khirbet al-Ghazaleh with members of the FSA’s Mu’tasim battalion, but became trapped after news of his defection leaked and the regime ramped up army patrols in the area, the FSA said.
“When he arrived in the village on Monday not long after all communications were cut and the village was surrounded,” said FSA spokesman Ahmad Masrei. “The village was shelled but when the siege stopped they managed to get out.”
The party were then moved to another village near the border before illegally crossing on foot, through barbed wire fences and were met by the Jordanian army, Mr Masrei said.