It is generally believed that among the Arab regimes Syria is the most implacable enemy of Israel. This is a misperception. In fact, the Syrian regime is the only one which actually prefers – both practically and ideologically – that there be a Jewish state in the Middle East, both now and in the future.
Since the 1960s, Syria has been controlled by the Alawites, under the leadership of the Assad family. In order to understand the workings of the Syrian regime, therefore, it is necessary to better understand the Alawites – a highly distinctive non-Muslim sect with no theological or territorial objections to a Jewish state.
The Alawites’ religious beliefs suggest that they are pro-Jewish and anti-Sunni. They believe that two of God’s incarnations were Joshua Ben-Nun, the original Jewish conqueror of the Land of Israel, and the fourth Caliph, Ali, who was murdered by the Sunnis. They believe in reincarnation, regard the Pillars of Islam as purely symbolic, do not fast during Ramadan or make pilgrimage to Mecca, have no mosques or indeed any public worship, celebrate Christmas, Easter and Epiphany, and traditionally wear crosses like Christians. In all of these respects they differ not only from Sunnis but also from Shiites.
Persecuted as heretics by the dominant Muslims, the Alawites took refuge in the mountains of northwestern Syria, where they maintained a precarious autonomy. Following the establishment of the French Mandate after the First World War, the French set up an autonomous region for the Alawites in their homeland. The Alawites petitioned the French for an independent state, but their petitions were rejected and the territory was added to the Sunni-dominated state of Syria. The Alawites attempted to rebel against the Sunnis in 1946 and again in 1952, but they were put down. Undaunted, they established footholds in the officers’ corps of the Syrian army and the Ba’ath Party. They took advantage of the confusion following the collapse of the United Arab Republic to seize power in the 1960s, and they have controlled Syria ever since...
There's more there from Prof. John Myhill.