Source: The Libertarian Institute, by Brad Hoff
A newly declassified CIA document explored multiple scenarios of Syrian regime collapse at a time when Hafez al-Assad’s government was embroiled in a covert “dirty war” with Israel and the West, and in the midst of a diplomatic crisis which marked an unprecedented level of isolation for Syria.
The 24-page formerly classified memo entitled Syria: Scenarios of Dramatic Political Change was produced in July 1986, and had high level distribution within the Reagan administration and to agency directors, including presidential advisers, the National Security Council, and the US ambassador to Syria. The memo appears in the CIA’s latest CREST release (CIA Records Search Tool) of over 900,000 recently declassified documents.
A “severely restricted” report
It further curiously warns that, “Because the analysis out of context is susceptible to misunderstanding, external distribution has been severely restricted.” The report’s narrowed distribution list (sent to specific named national security heads, not entire agencies) indicates that it was considered at the highest levels of the Reagan administration.
The coming sectarian war for Syria
The intelligence report’s contents contain some striking passages which seem remarkably consistent with events as they unfolded decades later at the start of the Syrian war in 2011:
Although we judge that fear of reprisals and organizational problems make a second Sunni challenge unlikely, an excessive government reaction to minor outbreaks of Sunni dissidence might trigger large-scale unrest. In most instances the regime would have the resources to crush a Sunni opposition movement, but we believe widespread violence among the populace could stimulate large numbers of Sunni officers and conscripts to desert or munity, setting the stage for civil war. [pg.2]
The “second Sunni challenge” is a reference to the Syrian government’s prior long running war against a Muslim Brotherhood insurgency which culminated in the 1982 Hama Massacre. While downplaying the nationalist and pluralistic composition of the ruling Ba’ath party, the report envisions a renewal and exploitation of sectarian fault lines pitting Syria’s Sunni population against its Alawite leadership:
Sunnis make up 60 percent of the Syrian officer corps but are concentrated in junior officer ranks; enlisted men are predominantly Sunni conscripts. We believe that a renewal of communal violence between Alawis and Sunnis could inspire Sunnis in the military to turn against the regime. [pg.12]
Regime change and the Muslim Brotherhood
The possibility of the Muslim Brotherhood spearheading another future armed insurgency leading to regime change is given extensive focus. While the document’s tone suggests this as a long term future scenario (especially considering the Brotherhood suffered overwhelming defeat and went completely underground in Syria by the mid-1980’s), it is considered one of the top three “most likely” drivers of regime change (the other scenarios include “Succession Power Struggle” and “Military Reverses Spark a Coup”).
The potential for revival of the Muslim Brotherhood’s “militant faction” is introduced in the following:
Although the Muslim Brotherhood’s suppression drastically reduced armed dissidence, we judge a significant potential still exists for another Sunni opposition movement. In part the Brotherhood’s role was to exploit and orchestrate opposition activity by other organized groups… These groups still exist, and under proper leadership they could coalesce into a large movement… …young professionals who formed the base of support for the militant faction of the Muslim Brotherhood; and remnants of the Brotherhood itself who could become leaders in a new Sunni opposition movement… [pp.13-14]
The Brotherhood’s role is seen as escalating the potential for initially small Sunni protest movements to morph into violent sectarian civil war: