The Jihadists’ Move on Syria
By Rachel Ehrenfeld, Jonathan Halevi
Saturday, October 12th, 2013 @ 3:41AM
Assad’s chemical weapons that inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) – the latest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize – are supposed to destroy are not as poisonous as the contagious Islamization of the Syrian rebels.
Despite Bashar Assad’s growing dependency on Iran, he managed to maintain the secular Islamic nature of the country. That began to change when Iraq’s al Qaeda and al Nusra joined the rebel forces. The growing number of reports about the atrocities the Sunni radical groups committed forced Secretary of State John Kerry last month to acknowledge the problem, though claiming that only 15-25 percent of the rebels were jihadis, while ignoring the battles going on between the jihadis and the secularist opposition groups. Yet, President Obama agreed to Putin’s unattainable chemical weapons “deal” that forced the West to treat Bashar Assad as the legitimate ruler, while promoting the fiction that the rebels groups are a united secular front.
By mid-September, experts put the jihadi moving clearly in the direction of 80 percent of the opposition. In early October, James Traub, writing for Foreign Policy, noted the importance of a new coalition of al-Qaeda allies, the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham): “Everyone is scared of ISIS,” he noted. This news was accompanied by that of new and more violent attacks of Islamists on rebel secularists, and word of increasing assassinations and torture. Moreover, information began to flow in that al Qaeda in Syria may well have been using chemical weapons themselves.
The crowning blow against the secularists may have been the September 29 formation of the Army of Islam, a group of at least 50 combat organizations. The commander of the Army of Islam, Sheikh Zahran Alush, stated publicly that the so-called National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces and Salim Idris’s Supreme Military Council were illegitimate. Yet, the National Coalition has been tabbed by Russia and the U.S. as the rebel body with which the Assad regime was to treat at “Geneva II,” the diplomatic effort to “solve” the Syrian problem.
So much for the faint hopes of a multilateral “talking” solution to Syria, which was perfectly ridiculous in the first place (never mind the U.S. cooperating with the duplicitous Russians) regarding a civil war in which all parties had promised a fight to the death.
Human Rights Watch reports document the atrocities committed by the different Shari’a-enforcing Sunni “rebel” groups also allow Assad to argue that he is fighting “terrorists.”
The U.S., however, joined by “concerned international community” have led to the development of a new posioneous Jihadist force that will not only replace Assad, kill Shiite and Alwaiite in Syria, but will also spread death and destruction througout the region and beyond.
Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi* details how
The formation of the Army of Islam in Syria on September 29, 2013, signifies the ongoing trend of the Islamization of the struggle against Bashar Assad’s Alawite regime. Forty-three combat organizations have joined together to establish the Army of Islam under the command of Sheikh Zahran Alush, and they were soon joined by seven additional organizations.
The immediate purpose of creating the Army of Islam (at first, the name “Army of Muhammad” was considered) was to unite the fighting forces under a single command to enable coordination of the military campaign and administration of manpower, weapons, and ammunition.
Beyond the tactical aspects, this move is intended to build up a central military force in anticipation of shaping a new Syria once the Assad regime falls. At present, the rebel forces control extensive parts of the country, holding positions that threaten the capital, Damascus, and the Alawite enclaves in the west. The rebels believe the fate of the Assad regime is sealed and his rule will come to an end sooner or later, whether or not there is military intervention by the West.
The entrenchment of rebel rule in broad swaths of Syria, particularly in the north in Aleppo Province, in Deir al-Zour to the east, and in Daraa to the south, makes it all the more important to craft an ideological platform for the struggle. The rebels have no love for the National Coalition, which won international recognition as the representative of the Syrian people. They view it as an external body that was imposed upon them that does not deserve trust, given its willingness to take part in negotiations on the future of Syria (a Geneva II conference being on the agenda), under conditions they regard as entailing excessive concessions by the uprising.
On September 24, some of the main rebel organizations announced their departure from the National Coalition. They were joined by senior officers of the Free Syrian Army, who also officially proclaimed that they reject the authority of the overall commander, Salim Idris. The Islamic organizations that are associated with al-Qaeda, with Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham at the forefront, constitute an independent and powerful military force that does not accept the authority of the exile leadership. These groups are already acting to implement the radical Islamist agenda in liberated territories within Syria.
In areas under its control, Jabhat al-Nusra has announced the establishment of an Islamic state and the founding of a Sharia court, while beginning to apply Islamic law. At the same time, the organization is acting to build public support, including for its ideological platform, by providing assistance to the population. Its activities include supplying food, repairing electrical systems that had collapsed, setting up a local police force to maintain law and order, investing in Islamic study groups for children and teenagers, and mounting public relations campaigns.
Jabhat al-Nusra’s independent activity has led to severe clashes with Kurdish groups, which fear radical Islam and insist on maintaining their autonomy in northern Syria. Scores on both sides have been killed in the violence.
Another significant force in the rebel camp is the Authority for the Protection of the Citizens, which is actually a military organization associated with the military arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria. After over three decades in exile, this organization officially returned to the country several months ago, seeking to play a leading role when the “day after” arrives.
The Army of Islam, for its part, is trying to take the helm of the rebels and entrench the power of the local leadership (and not the exile leadership) as the exclusive representative of the Syrian people vis-a-vis the international community. The leadership of the Army of Islam sees all the combat organizations, including those associated with al-Qaeda, as partners in jihad and does not rule out a possible alliance with them. At present, the Army of Islam’s leadership is trying to put together an ideological platform that will set forth its vision for the future of Syria.
Syria is becoming more and more Islamic as it moves between the pole of the Muslim Brotherhood, which aims to gradually implement Sharia law, and that of Jabhat al-Nusra, which is already implementing and enforcing it. At present, there are no indications in the rebel camp of organizations that have what the West might view as a liberal-democratic ideology. The opposition organizations’ competition over positions of influence will likely escalate to violent clashes once the Assad regime falls, and could well drag Syria into a further stage of civil war until a stable central government emerges.
*Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi is a senior researcher of the Middle East and radical Islam at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is a co-founder of the Orient Research Group Ltd. and is a former advisor to the Policy Planning Division of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Halevi is also a Fellow of the American Center for Democracy.