About the Speaker
Professor Emeritus of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University. He has widely published works on the history and politics of Syria, Palestine, ethnic religious communities, Arab-Israeli and Muslim-Jewish relations, including: Asad: The Sphinx of Damascus; Syrian-Israel – From War to Peace Making; Palestinian Leadership on the West Bank; Middle Eastern Minorities; Meeting of Civilization – Muslims, Christians and Jewish; Moslem Attitude to Jews and Israel.
He was a visiting Professor/Fellow at many universities and research institutes in the US, Europe, Australia and Chin, including Oxford U. Harvard U. Brookings, USIP,NIAS (Holland).
Ma’oz was born and educated in Israel, where he received his BA and MA degrees from Hebrew U.Jerusalem, in Islamic and Middle East history. He received his DPhil from Oxford U. in ME Studies.
He served as an adviser on Arab Affairs to the Israeli Government, and participated in many peace dialogues with Palestinian and other Arab scholars.
For some time now two major Muslim forces have been fighting for control over the Fertile Crescent. On the one hand, the radical Sunni ISIS wants to set up an Islamic Caliphate in Iraq, Syria and beyond; on the other, Shiite Iran aims to establish a “Shiite Crescent” in much the same space that would include a Shiite regime in Baghdad, a pseudo-Shiite Alawite regime in Damascus and the Shiite militia Hezbollah in Lebanon.
After the capture of the cities of Ramadi west of Baghdad and Tadmur (Palmyra) northeast of Damascus in mid-May, it seems that ISIS is closing in on its territorial and ideological goals. It controls around 40 percent of Iraq and Syria in a contiguous swath that includes oil and gas fields and a number of cities.
Facing them is Iran, a full-fledged regional power determined to reinforce its Shiite-led axis. It provides its allies with arms, money and men in the struggle against ISIS and other Sunni groups. It backs local and outside Shiite militias and deploys its own al-Quds and Revolutionary Guard forces in Iraq and Syria.
In view of the nuclear agreement between P5+1 and Iran one shouldn’t expect great power opposition to Iran’s fight against ISIS. On the contrary, Washington considers ISIS the more dangerous foe and even coordinates its aerial attacks against the radical Sunni group with Tehran and Baghdad, and probably with Damascus as well. Russia, too, even if it withdraws its support for Assad, will continue supplying Iran (and Syria) sophisticated weaponry.
Therefore, there is a reasonable chance that Iran will gradually be able to defeat and marginalize ISIS, especially in Iraq where around 60 percent of the population is Shiite.
In Syria, the balance of power is more complex. About 70 percent of the population is Sunni, including 10 percent Kurds, who in the main oppose the Alawite regime and its Shiite-Iranian patron. But many Sunnis, as well as Christians, Druze and Alawites, are opposed to ISIS because of its religious fanaticism and cruelty towards secular Muslims and non-Muslim minorities.
For much of the fighting, the Sunni opposition has been fragmented into scores, even hundreds of uncoordinated and sometimes rival groups. Recently, however, important Sunni opposition groups have developed an impressive degree of military cooperation and coordination. This includes moderate secular forces like the Free Syrian Army and various Islamic Fronts, the Muslim Brothers and even al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra.