Expert: Syrian Opposition Anti-Iran, Not Necessarily Pro-Israel

Dr. David Pollock. Courtesy of The Washington Institute.

The Syrian opposition movement protesting against the Bashar al-Assad regime has developed an anti-Iranian stance due to Tehran’s support for Assad, according to a regional expert. Speaking in a conference call last week sponsored by The Israel Project, Dr. David Pollock said the opposition also wants to remove Assad from power—and that sentiment appears even in the Syrian capital of Damascus.

Pollock, a former adviser at the US State Department and now the Kaufman fellow at The Washington Institute, said that many—albeit not everyone—in the Syrian opposition “have a very negative view of Hezbollah and Iran, not surprisingly. Mostly because those are two of the many supporters of the Assad regime.”

That perspective is important, since Syria has long been a close ally of Iran and key conduit, if not supplier, of weapons and support to Hezbollah in Lebanon. In return, Tehran and Hezbollah have also been accused of supporting Assad’s vicious crackdown on protesters, which has killed thousands in the past 11 months.

“If the opposition does manage to topple Assad’s regime, I think it’s a pretty fair bet that Iran and Hezbollah will both suffer a very significant strategic loss in Syria,” said Pollock. “They will not be able, I think, to maintain anything like the current position that they have.”

Despite that perspective, the old adage that the “enemy of my enemy is my friend,” doesn’t clearly hold here—the opposition isn’t necessarily supportive of Israel. The State of Israel and Syria have fought multiple wars and, despite multiple attempts to reach a peace agreement, remain official enemies.

Pollock said the opposition’s anti-Iran and anti-Hezbollah stance “has nothing to do, from their perspective, about attitudes toward Israel.” He noted that “just because they opposed Assad doesn’t mean that they would be willing to take a more moderate position toward Israel.”

Nonetheless, the result of the opposition’s negative attitude towards Iran and Hezbollah, two of Israel’s most bitter enemies, is “good news for Israel even if the opposition is not inclined to take a more moderate position on that direct question,” according to Pollock.

The Middle East expert did say that accurate, statistical polling is impossible in Syria due to the chaotic situation there. Instead, Pollock said that by using a specialized sampling technique of referrals, so as to try and poll actual members of the opposition, one can achieve “some sense of what the Syrian opposition wants.”

A key demand is the ouster of Assad. While that may not be surprising, it is noteworthy that “a very significant opposition” to Assad is also present in the capital of Damascus. That hasn’t necessarily been readily apparent “on the surface,” as Pollock noted, since the mass protests haven’t yet broken out in the Syrian capital.

The major protests consisting of tens of thousands of people have occurred in other cities, and Pollock noted that “if this spreads to the capital, there will be a ready-made network of opposition activists to, I think, push the regime over the cliff—if, if it spreads to Damascus.”

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood

A political force that has made headlines and raised eyebrows regarding the new government in Egypt is the Islamic fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood. Pollock said the group has shifted towards a political instead of a violent process. It nonetheless is more seriously religious, supportive of Hamas and not friendly towards Israel.

The Muslim Brotherhood is staunchly opposed to the ruling regime in Syria, which in the past brutally repressed the group. As Sunni Muslims, they also don’t like Iran or Hezbollah, who are Shiite.

Pollock believes, based on multiple factors, that the Brotherhood is at most 50 percent of the Syrian opposition. The remainder are more moderate Muslims, seculars and minority groups. Due to the divisive demographics in Syria, Pollock believes that a new, opposition-led government will have “a lot of trouble cohering around some unified agenda and power-sharing agreement.”

Therefore, should the opposition defeat Assad, Pollock said, “my best guess is that the Muslim Brotherhood will have a very large role to play in whatever new government emerges, but probably not as dominant a role in Syria as it does today in Egypt.”

That will make it less fundamental than Egypt, he noted. And it will also make such a Syrian government better for Israel or the US than the current one.

Said Pollock, “I would say my own view is that that new Syrian government with a significant, but not dominant, Brotherhood influence and some real internal fractures is probably a better bet from an American or an Israeli or—for that matter, an Egyptian or other Arab standpoint—than the current Assad government allied with Iran and Hezbollah.”

(By Joshua Spurlock,, February 26, 2012)