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Assad asked Liberman not to oppose Alawite state

Syrian president worried Israel might be troubled by movement of thousands of Sunnis to Syrian Golan, according to the Guardian

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

A street corner in the majority Alawite city of Latakia (photo credit: CC BY-Yazan Badran/Flickr)
A street corner in the majority Alawite city of Latakia (photo credit: CC BY-Yazan Badran/Flickr)

Syrian President Bashar Assad reportedly asked a mediator in late 2012 to approach Israel’s foreign minister and request that Israel not oppose the formation of an Alawite state in Syria.

Avigdor Liberman, who held the post at the time, did not reject the proposal outright, the Guardian reported, but insisted on first trying to obtain information on Israeli navigator Ron Arad, who has been missing since bailing out from his downed fighter jet over Lebanon in 1986.

Assad, of the minority Alawite sect that has ruled Syria since 1970, has been embattled for two years by rebels attempting to oust him from power. Analysts have noted that Assad may try to retreat to the Alawite majority enclave near Latakia on the Mediterranean coast, and Syrian rebels have claimed that ethnic cleansing has taken place there, with hundreds of Sunni Muslims killed or forced to flee.

According to the report, Assad understood that the creation of a Alawite state might mean transferring some Syrians to the Syrian Golan Heights, which could raise concerns from Israel about a buildup on its border.

Liberman reportedly also sought information on the whereabouts of Yehuda Katz, Zvi Feldman, and Zachary Baumel, three armored corps soldiers who have been missing in action since the Battle of Sultan Yacoub in Lebanon in 1982, and the remains of Eli Cohen, an Israeli spy hanged in Damascus.

It’s not clear if Assad was willing to offer the information. Liberman was forced out his post in late 2012 after being indicted on fraud and breach of trust charges.

While in his post as foreign minister, Liberman indicated a willingness to help Syrian civilians. In March 2012, Liberman said that Israel would help victims of the crackdown in Syria if asked.

Only weeks later, Liberman told reporters that Syria had rejected humanitarian aid offered by Israel via the Red Cross and the Arab League. Liberman said that Israel made the aid offers both publicly and through back channels, but was rebuffed.

In a July 2012 interview published in Hurriyet, Liberman said Israel had been told that “it is much better to keep [our] distance” from the Syria fighting.

“We don’t want to impose ourselves on the Syrian opposition,” Liberman added.

Israel has kept a close eye on developments in Syria, but whatever involvement it has had has been largely covert.

The Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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