Posted by Joshua on Sunday, February 3rd, 2013
C.J. Chivers of the New York Times in his, A Rebel Commander in Syria Holds the Reins of War, describes the virtues of the veteran commander of al-Tawhid, Mr Saleh, the most powerful rebel leader in Aleppo. He has a record of tactical success and is by all accounts revered by his men. Chivers explains that “For Western governments, outreach [to men like Saleh] is problematic, in part because of Washington’s policies, which… [are] shaped by fears of Islam.”
Not only are Washington’s policies shaped by fears of Islam, but they are also shaped by support for Israel. Many will hesitate to arm Mr. Saleh because of his enmity toward Israel. In this Arabic video, he insists that after liberating Damascus, Syria’s revolutionaries will liberate Jerusalem.
He conjectures that support for Israel is the principal reason that Washington has refused to arm his militia and destroy Assad. He posits that the US still backs Assad in its desire to protect Israel.
Abdel Kader al-Saleh and the Tawhid brigades do not belong to the Islamic Front; rather he belongs to the Supreme Military Command established shortly after the Syrian National Coalition was established in Doha in December of 2012. He is Assistant Deputy to the Commander-in-Chief for the Northern Region of the Supreme Military Command. See their order of battle.
Interesting characteristics of the Militias of the Islamic Front are:
1. They are Syrian nationalists and do not call for the unification of the Syrian Umma under a Caliph. This is different from Jabhat al-Nusra, whose help they welcome.
2. They adhere to a fairly dogmatic Salafist view of how Syria should be ruled. They insist on a “shura” council and abjure dictatorship. They do not call for democracy because God’s law and will must remain supreme. The state is to be theocratic but not intolerant. “The reference for all the actions of the Front is the Leadership Council (majlis al-qiyada). The Legitimate Body (al-hai’a al-shar’iya) is the legitimate governor of all the actions of the Front and its decisions are binding for the Front.”
3. The Islamic Front militias have a narrow attitude toward tolerance. The “avoidance of rule over Muslims through unbelief or heresy (bid’a)” suggests that the ghuluw [exaggerators or extremist sects] or gnostic sects, such as the Druze, Ismailis or Alawis may well be unacceptable and beyond the pale of religion, which is standard dogma of main-stream Islamic theology.
Here is a bit from the Charter:
Islam is the religion of the state, and it is the principal and only source of legislation. We will work through all legitimate and possible means to ensure that there is no law that contradicts the set and confirmed principles (al-thawabit al-mu’tamada) of Islamic shari’a.
Coexistence between the sons of one nation, however their schools [of thought] or creeds might differ. That entails mutual responsibilities and rights. It makes the principle of the sanctity of blood, money, and honor something shared by all and something upon which there can be no infringement except according to the rulings of Islamic shari’a and through [its] conclusive judicial rulings.
Justice and fairness are the basis of the relationship in dealing with non-Muslims. Difference of religion is not a justification for injustice against anyone.
All members of society can participate in realizing its general interest, however their schools [of thought] and creeds might differ.
The call for the integration and mixing of religions and sects is rejected according to [religious] law. Moreover, it contains a kind of aggression against those religions and communities and is a sort of religious and cultural adulteration.
[Landis commentary: The phrase, “Difference of religion is not a justification for injustice against anyone,” would seem to be liberal and suggest that all religions should be treated well, but in actuality standard Syrian religious texts view any creed other than the three “revealed” monotheistic religions as not religions at all. Thus they are not covered by the phrase: “Difference of religion is not a justification for injustice”.
In Syrian textbooks, required in the religion class of all schools and read by all Syrians, creeds other than Judaism, Christianity and Islam are not considered religions and are forbidden. The ninth grade textbook states that all other belief systems [than the revealed religions of the Abrahamic tradition], “contradict the principle of freedom of belief.” This is because “Islam gives freedom of belief only within the limits of the divine path,” or the religions revealed by God, i.e., Judaism, Christianity and Islam. People following “inferior” forms of belief that reflect an “animal consciousness” must “convert to Islam” or “be killed.” (9 grade textbook: p. 128).] Not too much ambiguity there.
Here is an excerpt from my article: “Islamic Education in Syria: Undoing Secularism,” which should have increased importance today because Islamic norms will take on new importance in Syria. The religion textbooks taught from first to twelfth grade have formed notions of identity in Syria.
Atheists and Pagans
At the very bottom of the hierarchy beneath the revealed religions of the “people of the book,” are the belief systems of the rest of humanity, who are categorized as “Atheists and Pagans.” Only one paragraph is devoted to them in the twelve years of Syrian schooling and it is tucked away in the ninth grade text under the subtitle, “Islam Fights Paganism and Atheism.”
It explains that “pagans are those who worship something other than God, and atheists are those who deny the existence of God.” Islam must fight these two belief systems because they “are an assault to both instinct and truth.” We are told that these belief systems “contradict the principle of freedom of belief.” This is because “Islam gives freedom of belief only within the limits of the divine path,” which “means a religion descended from heaven.” Because pagan religions were not revealed by God, they are considered an “inferior” form of belief that reflects an “animal consciousness.” How should Muslims deal with these peoples who comprise half of humanity? Students are instructed that “Islam accepts only two choices for Pagans: that they convert to Islam or be killed (9 grade textbook: p. 128).”
The Islam of Syrian texts does not have a happy formula for dealing with non-believers. Perhaps in recognition of this failing, the ministry of education has buried a mere six sentences on the subject into the middle of its ninth grade text.
To understand how the Muslim Brotherhood defined Alawites and other gnostic sects of Syria as worse than unbelievers, one should read these two articles by Itzchak Weismann about Sa’id Hawwa, the Brotherhood’s principal ideologue of the last century.[They were first published here]
- Itzchak Weismann, “Sa‘id Hawwa: The Making of a Radical Muslim Thinker in Modern Syria,” Middle Eastern Studies 29 (1993), 607-611.
- Itzchak Weismann, “Sa‘id Hawwa and Islamic Revivalism in Ba‘thist Syria,” Studia Islamica 85 (1997), 131-154. (photo of Sa’id Hawa)
4. Shiites would also presumably be rejected because they do not follow the major recognized “(al-madhahib) among ahl al-sunna.” Shiites embrace the Jaafari madhab.
5. Christians and Jews would presumable be protected because they follow the revealed region, which was sent down by God. But they would remain second class citizens because, through their arrogance, they reject God’s final revelation, the Qur’an and Mohammad, the seal of the prophets.
The Syrian Islamic Front, a coalition of Islamist brigades working to topple the Assad regime. (Original document here, posted January 21.)
Most immediately evident is that the Front is essentially fighting a two-front war: it’s looking to topple the Assad regime, but it’s also aiming for the establishment and reform of Islamic morals in Syria. In that sense, the Front is fighting with one eye on what will follow the collapse of regime authority.
Among (many) other noteworthy points is the Front’s envisioned place for religious minorities. Non-Muslims are nominally accorded equal rights, but those rights are strictly circumscribed by Islamic shari’a. By my reading, the status of Shi’ites and Alawites is ambiguous. The document makes clear (largely through omission) that the scope of acceptable diversity in Islamic thought and practice is limited to variations on Sunnism. As non-Sunnis perceived as heretics, then, Shi’ites and Alawites exist outside that Sunni consensus. It is unclear if they would be accorded the same baseline protections as Christians or if they would instead be dealt with more harshly.…
Section Four: The Relationship between the Elements of Syrian Society
The unification of Muslims in righteousness and the condemnation of division, dispute, and extremism.
The enlargement of the sanctity of the Muslim. The avoidance of rule over him through unbelief, wantonness, or heresy (bid’a); rather, rule only through the guidance and evidence of the ’ulama (ahl al-’ilm).
The recognized schools of Islamic thought (al-madhahib) among ahl al-sunna are a great intellectual wealth left to us by the umma’s (Islamic nation) scholars. We adhere to them but do not cling to them fanatically….
Pieter Van Ostaeyen gives an overview of the Ahrar al-Sham , one of the main Islamist militias, which was responsible for overrunning the Sheikh Said neighborhood of Aleppo near the city’s airport this past Saturday – and presumably responsible for assassinating ex-Parliamentarian Ibrahim Azzouz along with his wife and their two daughters yesterday. Ex-Syrian Parliament Member Killed in Aleppo.
On January 31st Syrian Islamist groups announced they would unite in one single group; known as Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya (The Islamic movement of freemen of Greater Syria)….
Syrian Jihadist Groups Take Conflict To Lebanon
By: Jean Aziz for Al-Monitor Lebanon Pulse. Posted on February 2.
On Friday, Feb. 1, the Lebanese army lost two soldiers, a sergeant and a captain, who were part of a strike force unit that belonged to Lebanese Army Intelligence. The two soldiers died during a clash between the army unit and armed Sunni fundamentalists in Arsal, which is near the Syrian border in the Bekaa Valley. Jabhat al-Nusra is now in Lebanon and that the group’s activities are about to become public…..Several press reports said that the town’s mosques issued calls for all gunmen to pursue the army unit and block its escape. In a short period of time, the Lebanese army unit found itself surrounded by hundreds of fundamentalists and jihadists. The long gunfight resulted in the killing of the army sergeant and captain and the wounding of eight soldiers. Although the jihadists knew that they were fighting Lebanese army soldiers, they captured the bodies of the two dead soldiers, as well as the wounded and the remaining soldiers and took them to Arsal’s main square in what looked like a jihadist ceremony that involved celebratory gunfire and other practices, according to Lebanese press reports….
The jihadist forces today have strategic depth that provides them with support, supplies and sanctuary. That strategic depth is represented by the Sunni jihadist groups that are fighting in the Syrian civil war against Bashar al-Assad. Second, the area where the incident took place is geographically linked to several dangerous areas. It is connected to the Damascus and Homs countryside, which is where an Al-Monitor research report predicted will be the main area of a Lebanese-Syrian war. It is also connected to the tense demarcation line between pro-Hezbollah Shiites in Baalbeck and Hermel and certain Palestinian armed locations.
A Rebel Commander in Syria Holds the Reins of War
By C. J. CHIVERS, February 1, 2013, NYTimes
Mr. Saleh leads the military wing of Al Tawhid, the largest antigovernment fighting group operating in and near Syria’s most populous city, Aleppo — a position that has made him one of the government’s most wanted men…Western governments have long worried that its self-declared leaders cannot jell into a coherent movement with unifying leaders, the fighting across the country has been producing a crop of field commanders who stand to assume just these roles…..
Mr. Saleh’s long-term intentions are not entirely clear. He says he is focused solely on winning the war, and promotes a tolerant pluralistic BY last summer, the fighting units near Aleppo had chased most government forces from the countryside and seized control of a border crossing to Turkey. Simultaneously, Mr. Saleh was emerging as the main leader of Al Tawhid. His anonymity ended.
He was soon seen as pragmatic and accommodating, an active commander who was able to navigate the uprising’s sometimes seemingly contradictory social worlds. A friend of the Islamists fighting beside him, he also spoke of avoiding the nihilism of sectarian war.
One of his subcommanders, Omar Abdulkader of the Grandsons of Saladin, a Kurdish fighting group, described how Mr. Saleh welcomed him and fellow fighters into Al Tawhid — though they were not Arabs.
“He has supported us since we have formed our battalion, and he bought for us some weapons and ammunition,” he said. “We’ve never heard or seen any bad acts from him — all good deeds all the time.”
He added: “Hajji Marea told us there is no difference between Muslim or Christian, Kurdish or Arab or even Alawi. We are all brothers.”
These days, when Mr. Saleh appears in public, his supporters treat him with reverential deference. In the summer, Mr. Saleh arrived at a meeting of commanders in another hidden command post. Several seasoned battalion leaders almost sat at his feet.
A former Syrian parliament member and three members of his family were killed Sunday in a rebel-held area near the northern city of Aleppo… [Rebels] fired at Ibrahim Azzouz’s car in Sheik Said neighborhood near the city’s airport, killing him along with his wife and their two daughters.
Rebels captured the strategic Sheik Said neighborhood southeast of Aleppo on Saturday. It was a significant blow to regime forces because the area includes the road the army has used to supply troops.
News Round Up follows
A plan developed last summer by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then-CIA Director David Petraeus to arm and train Syrian rebels was rebuffed by the White House, The New York Times reported on Saturday….The White House rejected the Clinton-Petraeus proposal over concerns it could draw the United States into the Syrian conflict and the arms could fall into the wrong hands….
On Saturday, the US vice president gave his full support to the opposition stance that Assad has so much blood on his hands he could not be part of a transition government. Joe Biden said the White House was “convinced that President Assad, a tyrant hell-bent on clinging to power, is no longer fit to lead Syrian people and he must go”.
John Kerry’s first task as incoming secretary of state should be to develop a coherent policy for Syria, where U.S. sanctions are proving counterproductive, the fighting around Damascus is deadlocked, the economy is in ruins and the country is U.S. sanctions are proving counterproductive, the fighting around Damascus is deadlocked, the economy is in ruins and the country is headed toward a sectarian breakup.
This grim prognosis for Syria is based on the latest reports provided to the State Department by opposition forces working with the Free Syrian Army.
The military situation in Damascus is described as a stalemate. The regime controls the city center and the northern suburbs, while Free Syrian Army rebels are strong in the eastern, western and southern suburbs. Corruption is spreading in the liberated southern suburbs. As Syrians pass through regime and Free Syrian Army checkpoints, “sometimes you hardly know which is which, and you lose track of what FSA are trying to achieve,” notes a summary of the report.
With these fluid battle lines, it’s possible to move stealthily throughout the capital. Main streets are guarded by checkpoints manned by troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, the report states, “but there is always [an] alternative that opposition [forces] can use to reach almost any point in Damascus.” I found a similar ease of movement in northern Syria when I traveled there with the Free Syrian Army in October.
As rival Free Syrian Army battalions recruit fighters, they “buy them with money,” notes the summary, explaining: “This is what [the extremist Jabhat al-Nusra] is doing to increase their supporters; now people become an open market, you pay, and you can sell your ideology. . . . People are easily signing up to something they did not dare to do before.”
Doctors who work in military hospitals report that most casualties are from the regular army, “which indicates that the regime is still keeping the 8k to 12k Republicans Guards as last resort,” the report says.
U.S.-led economic sanctions appear to have backfired, much as they did in Iraq in the 1990s, hurting poor and middle-class people while allowing regime loyalists to get even richer. The report calls this effort “the epitome of failure,” explaining: “The regime is capable of bypassing most sanctions by using non-U.S. and non-Western productions. . . . High-ranking regime figures have sophisticated networks to channel and move their large accounts.”
“It’s the Syrian people who do not have the means and the connections to bypass these sanctions,” the report continues. “These conditions have produced the largest transfer of wealth from the people to the government supporters. Under the current shortages and rising prices, the only businessmen who can sustain a profitable business are the ones who have military might at their disposal to protect their convoys. . . . The middle class and most of the wealthy have lost their cash flow.”
The Assad regime is rationing access to fuel and electricity to reward friends and punish enemies. “The number of hours [of electricity] each neighborhood receives is directly proportional to their level of support for the government. . . . Lucky ones get 18 hours of power every day. Not-so-lucky ones get 3 hours of power every day, defiant ones get no power or cellphone coverage at all.”
The U.S.-led embargo on imports of diesel fuel is also “very ineffective,” the report explains. “Of course the military gets first dibs on it, and the civilians bid up the price of what is left.” Desperate for heating fuel, poor people are burning plastic and tree leaves.
U.S. policy to deal with the Syria disaster has been idling for months, as the administration waited out the presidential election and then the appointment of new secretaries of state and defense and a new CIA director. Kerry is seen as the person most likely to galvanize a clearer, tougher U.S. policy, but President Obama is said to be skeptical, asking, “Can we make a difference?,” in a recent interview with the New Republic.
Rebel military sources argue that the most effective step the United States could take would be to train hundreds of elite commando forces, which would be well-armed and have the strong command-and-control that has generally been lacking in the Free Syrian Army. These disciplined paramilitary forces, like groups the CIA has trained in Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan, could shift the balance on the ground — away from the Assad forces but also away from the extremist Jabhat al-Nusra.
“Many people now have lost hope with everything,” writes one of my Syrian sources. “Many people now hate Assad, but they hate the FSA as well. They just want a way out.”
Syria Considers Taking Up Dialogue With Opposition
By: Antoun Issa for Al-Monitor. and Antoun Issa Posted on February 1.
The Syrian government may be receptive to opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib’s offer for dialogue earlier in the week, with one official calling it a “positive change.”
Syrian official sources are considering taking up the offer for talks with opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib, head of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, Antoun Issa reports from Damascus.
Khatib — head of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces — surprised colleagues with a public announcement on his Facebook page on Wednesday, Jan. 30, offering dialogue with the Syrian regime.
The Syrian National Council (SNC), a member of the coalition, quickly rejected Khatib’s call, but regime sources have not ruled out dialogue with Khatib.
“There’s been no official statement from the regime, but some individuals within the regime are saying ‘OK, why not?’,” a Syrian government official told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity….
Robin Yassin-Kassab on the unfolding al-Khatib strategy: “Assad’s scorched-earth policy precludes real negotiations”
Khatib told Reuters in Munich: “The fighters have high morale and they are making daily advances.” …
Suddenly It Looks Like Bashar Al-Assad Could Win The Syrian War
Michael Kelley | Jan. 29, 2013 | Business insider
Many of the latest reports out of Syria indicate that President Bashar al-Assad has regained the upper hand against the rebels.
And the UN special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, said as much on Tuesday when he acknowledged that the regime “may be able to hold onto power for now.”
Assad reportedly told visitors that the Syrian army has “regained the initiative on the ground to a very high degree and achieved important results” as “armed groups received several hard blows recently,” according to Lebanese daily Al Akbhar.
Akbhar’s report makes it sound like Assad regime’s new tactics — leaving non-significant areas only to bomb them and force the population to live under rebel rule without basic necessities — are going according to plan. Assad reportedly said the regime has “stopped fighters from controlling whole [provinces]” and all of the key strategic points around Damascus have “remained safe, especially the airport road.”
There are also reports that the Syrian Army has launched counteroffensives in the north in Homs and around Hamas as rebels struggle to resist because of a lack of ammunition. Meanwhile rebels in the northeast are clashing with Kurdish rebels — an example of rebel infighting that Assad is increasingly counting on.
The changes on the ground forced French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius to acknowledge last week that there are no signs that Assad is about to be overthrown, which is a significant backtrack from last month when he said he thought “the end is nearing for Bashar al-Assad.”…
On the other hand, Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev recently said Assad’s chances of staying in power are “shrinking by the day,” and Martin Chulov of The Guardian reported that rebels are now camping out in the hills above Assad’s ancestral homeland and sanctuary.
Furthermore, Al Arabiya reported that “Assad’s mother Aniseh Makhlouf and other members of his inner circle have fled to the United Arab Emirates [UAE].”
So perhaps Assad remains defiant and a little crazy because he knows, as a Russian diplomat said last month, that he will be killed by his own people or the opposition unless he successfully puts down the revolution.
But maybe his newfound aplomb comes from the fact that rebels appear much less capable of toppling him right now, and the West knows it.
The Consequences of Intervening in Syria
January 31, 2013 | Stratfor By Scott Stewart
Vice President of Analysis
The French military’s current campaign to dislodge jihadist militants from northern Mali and the recent high-profile attack against a natural gas facility in Algeria are both directly linked to the foreign intervention in Libya that overthrew the Gadhafi regime. There is also a strong connection between these events and foreign powers’ decision not to intervene in Mali when the military conducted a coup in March 2012. The coup occurred as thousands of heavily armed Tuareg tribesmen were returning home to northern Mali after serving in Moammar Gadhafi’s military, and the confluence of these events resulted in an implosion of the Malian military and a power vacuum in the north. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other jihadists were able to take advantage of this situation to seize power in the northern part of the African nation.
As all these events transpire in northern Africa, another type of foreign intervention is occurring in Syria. Instead of direct foreign military intervention, like that taken against the Gadhafi regime in Libya in 2011, or the lack of intervention seen in Mali in March 2012, the West — and its Middle Eastern partners — have pursued a middle-ground approach in Syria. That is, these powers are providing logistical aid to the various Syrian rebel factions but are not intervening directly.
Just as there were repercussions for the decisions to conduct a direct intervention in Libya and not to intervene in Mali, there will be repercussions for the partial intervention approach in Syria. Those consequences are becoming more apparent as the crisis drags on.
Intervention in Syria
For more than a year now, countries such as the United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and European states have been providing aid to the Syrian rebels. Much of this aid has been in the form of humanitarian assistance, providing things such as shelter, food and medical care for refugees. Other aid has helped provide the rebels with non-lethal military supplies such as radios and ballistic vests. But a review of the weapons spotted on the battlefield reveals that the rebels are also receiving an increasing number of lethal supplies.
Visit our Syria page for related analysis, videos, situation reports and maps.
For example, there have been numerous videos released showing Syrian rebels using weapons such as the M79 Osa rocket launcher, the RPG-22, the M-60 recoilless rifle and the RBG-6 multiple grenade launcher. The Syrian government has also released videos of these weapons after seizing them in arms caches. What is so interesting about these weapons is that they were not in the Syrian military’s inventory prior to the crisis, and they all likely were purchased from Croatia. We have also seen many reports and photos of Syrian rebels carrying Austrian Steyr Aug rifles, and the Swiss government has complained that Swiss-made hand grenades sold to the United Arab Emirates are making their way to the Syrian rebels.
With the Syrian rebel groups using predominantly second-hand weapons from the region, weapons captured from the regime, or an assortment of odd ordnance they have manufactured themselves, the appearance and spread of these exogenous weapons in rebel arsenals over the past several months is at first glance evidence of external arms supply. The appearance of a single Steyr Aug or RBG-6 on the battlefield could be an interesting anomaly, but the variety and concentration of these weapons seen in Syria are well beyond the point where they could be considered coincidental.
This means that the current level of external intervention in Syria is similar to the level exercised against the Soviet Union and its communist proxies following the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. The external supporters are providing not only training, intelligence and assistance, but also weapons — exogenous weapons that make the external provision of weapons obvious to the world. It is also interesting that in Syria, like Afghanistan, two of the major external supporters are Washington and Riyadh — though in Syria they are joined by regional powers such as Turkey, Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, rather than Pakistan.
In Afghanistan, the Saudis and the Americans allowed their partners in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency to determine which of the myriad militant groups in Afghanistan received the bulk of the funds and weapons they were providing. This resulted in two things. First, the Pakistanis funded and armed groups that they thought they could best use as surrogates in Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal. Second, they pragmatically tended to funnel cash and weapons to the groups that were the most successful on the battlefield — groups such as those led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Jalaluddin Haqqani, whose effectiveness on the battlefield was tied directly to their zealous theology that made waging jihad against the infidels a religious duty and death during such a struggle the ultimate accomplishment.
A similar process has been taking place for nearly two years in Syria. The opposition groups that have been the most effective on the battlefield have tended to be the jihadist-oriented groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra. Not surprisingly, one reason for their effectiveness was the skills and tactics they learned fighting the coalition forces in Iraq. Yet despite this, the Saudis — along with the Qataris and the Emiratis — have been arming and funding the jihadist groups in large part because of their success on the battlefield. As my colleague Kamran Bokhari noted in February 2012, the situation in Syria was providing an opportunity for jihadists, even without external support. In the fractured landscape of the Syrian opposition, the unity of purpose and battlefield effectiveness of the jihadists was in itself enough to ensure that these groups attracted a large number of new recruits.
But that is not the only factor conducive to the radicalization of Syrian rebels. First, war — and particularly a brutal, drawn-out war — tends to make extremists out of the fighters involved in it. Think Stalingrad, the Cold War struggles in Central America or the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans following the dissolution of Yugoslavia; this degree of struggle and suffering tends to make even non-ideological people ideological. In Syria, we have seen many secular Muslims become stringent jihadists. Second, the lack of hope for an intervention by the West removed any impetus for maintaining a secular narrative. Many fighters who had pinned their hopes on NATO were greatly disappointed and angered that their suffering was ignored. It is not unusual for Syrian fighters to say something akin to, “What has the West done for us? We now have only God.”
When these ideological factors were combined with the infusion of money and arms that has been channeled to jihadist groups in Syria over the past year, the growth of Syrian jihadist groups accelerated dramatically. Not only are they a factor on the battlefield today, but they also will be a force to be reckoned with in the future.
The Saudi Gambit
Despite the jihadist blowback the Saudis experienced after the end of the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan — and the current object lesson of the jihadists Syria sent to fight U.S. forces in Iraq now leading groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra — the Saudi government has apparently calculated that its use of jihadist proxies in Syria is worth the inherent risk.
There are some immediate benefits for Riyadh. First, the Saudis hope to be able to break the arc of Shiite influence that reaches from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon. Having lost the Sunni counterweight to Iranian power in the region with the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the installation of a Shiite-led government friendly to Iran, the Saudis view the possibility of installing a friendly Sunni regime in Syria as a dramatic improvement to their national security.
Supporting the jihad in Syria as a weapon against Iranian influence also gives the Saudis a chance to burnish their Islamic credentials internally in an effort to help stave off criticism that they are too secular and Westernized. It allows the Saudi regime the opportunity to show that it is helping Muslims under assault by the vicious Syrian regime.
Supporting jihadists in Syria also gives the Saudis an opportunity to ship their own radicals to Syria, where they can fight and possibly die. With a large number of unemployed, underemployed and radicalized young men, the jihad in Syria provides a pressure valve similar to the past struggles in Iraq, Chechnya, Bosnia and Afghanistan. The Saudis are not only trying to winnow down their own troubled youth; we have received reports from a credible source that the Saudis are also facilitating the travel of Yemeni men to training camps in Turkey, where they are trained and equipped before being sent to Syria to fight. The reports also indicate that the young men are traveling for free and receiving a stipend for their service. These young radicals from Saudi Arabia and Yemen will even further strengthen the jihadist groups in Syria by providing them with fresh troops.
The Saudis are gaining temporary domestic benefits from supporting jihad in Syria, but the conflict will not last forever, nor will it result in the deaths of all the young men who go there to fight. This means that someday the men who survive will come back home, and through the process we refer to as “tactical Darwinism” the inept fighters will have been weeded out, leaving a core of competent militants that the Saudis will have to deal with.
But the problems posed by jihadist proxies in Syria will have effects beyond the House of Saud. The Syrian jihadists will pose a threat to the stability of Syria in much the same way the Afghan groups did in the civil war they launched for control of Afghanistan after the fall of the Najibullah regime. Indeed, the violence in Afghanistan got worse after Najibullah’s fall in 1992, and the suffering endured by Afghan civilians in particular was egregious.
Now we are seeing that the jihadist militants in Libya pose a threat not only to the Libyan regime — there are serious problems in eastern Libya — but also to foreign interests in the country, as seen in the attack on the British ambassador and the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi. Moreover, the events in Mali and Algeria in recent months show that Libya-based militants and the weapons they possess also pose a regional threat. Similar long-lasting and wide-ranging repercussions can be expected to flow from the intervention in Syria.
Syrian opposition says it is ready for conditional peace talks
Coalition is prepared to negotiate with regime after UN backs its position that Assad will have no role in transitional government
Julian Borger in Munich and Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
A girl tries on a donated jacket as Syrians arrive at Za’atari refugee camp in Mafrq, Jordan, which is struggling to cope with the influx. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty
The Syrian opposition has said it is ready for exploratory peace talks with the regime after gaining UN backing for its position that Bashar al-Assad himself “would have no role” in a transitional government.
The developments served to increase the isolation of Russia which remains a staunch backer of the regime in Damascus, and has insisted that Assad stay in place through any future transition to democracy. As senior officials arrived in Munich for a security conference this week, it was unclear on Friday night whether the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, would join the US vice-president, Joseph Biden, and the UN special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, in meeting the opposition National Coalition leader, Moaz al-Khatib.
Despite Syrian opposition claims that Lavrov would take part in a four-way meeting, one of his deputies, Gennady Gatilov, said there were no plans for such a meeting.
Khatib arrived in Munich having survived a challenge to his leadership from Islamists inside the coalition, who objected to his offer, first made on his personal Facebook page, to talk to the regime while Assad remained in power. The objection had been that Assad had to leave office before talks could begin but Khatib defended himself against criticism at an emergency coalition meeting in Cairo on Thursday, saying that the talks would remain conditional on the release of thousands of political prisoners.
The Munich talks will take place as the conflict showed its potential for escalating into a regional conflagration. Israeli warplanes flew over Lebanon again on Friday, two days after air strikes inside Syrian territory, according to a UN official.
Khatib’s statement was welcomed by the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, who called for “a credible process that would lead to a real change, a clear break from the past”. A UN source added that the opposition would now have to “walk the walk” in demonstrating its readiness to talk.
However, the opposition and its western supporters won a significant victory in their stand-off with Moscow when Brahimi backed their position that Assad could not participate in any transitional government that might result from peace talks. At a meeting in Geneva last year, western governments and Russia came to an agreement on transition that fudged that critical issue. It said a transitional government had to be chosen “by mutual consent”.
IAF raids overnight Tuesday struck multiple targets in Syria, Time magazine reported on Friday, citing Western intelligence officials. Syria on Wednesday publicly accused Israel of striking a scientific research center northwest of Damascus, denying … Time quoted a Western intelligence official as saying that the IAF had targeted at least one or two more targets overnight Tuesday and that the US had given Israel a green light to carry out additional strikes.
Patriot Missiles Arrive in Turkey: How They Affect the Syria Equation
By Piotr Zalewski / Gaziantep, TurkeyFeb. 01, 2013
The United States is ready to hold direct talks with Iran if it is serious about negotiations, Vice President Joe Biden said yesterday, backing bilateral contacts that many see as crucial to easing an international…
Roundup: Iran urges “Syrian-Syrian resolution” to Syria crisis
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Salehi said here on Sunday that Iran supports a “Syrian-Syrian resolution” to the ongoing crisis in Syria, and the opposition’s willingness to negotiate with the Syrian government is “a good step forward”.
Sunni Protesters Hold Antigoverment Rallies in Iraq
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, February 1, 2013
Tens of thousands of Sunni protesters blocked a major highway in western Iraq on Friday, as a group affiliated with Al Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq, called on Sunnis to take up arms against the Shiite-led government. Minority Sunnis complain of official discrimination against them, and the arrests of a Sunni politician’s bodyguards in December set off weekly protests. The main rallies on Friday took place in Falluja and Ramadi. Protesters also marched in Baghdad and Samarra. Friday’s rallies were among the largest since the protests began.
BN 02/03 11:16 *PRINCE TURKI SAYS U.S. ACTS LIKE PUSSY CAT IN MIDDLE EAST
BN 02/03 11:15 *SAUDI PRINCE TURKI SPEAKS AT MUNICH SECURITY CONFERENCE
BN 02/03 11:15 *PRINCE TURKI SAYS U.S. CAN’T LEAD FROM BEHIND IN MIDDLE EAST
BN 02/03 11:11 *MCCAIN CALLS FOR SYRIAN NO-FLY ZONE OR STRIKING JETS ON GROUND
BN 02/03 11:02 *DAVUTOGLU SAYS IMPOSSIBLE TO CONVINCE ASSAD TO STOP KILLING
BN 02/03 11:01 *DAVUTOGLU SAYS `IRRESPONSIBLE’ SYRIAN LEADERS COMMIT WAR CRIMES
BN 02/03 10:49 *AL-THANI: ISRAEL’S `BOMBING OF SYRIA’ ADDS `FUEL TO FIRE’
BN 02/03 10:47 *AL-THANI SAYS SAYS ASSAD IS JUST TRYING TO BUY TIME
BN 02/03 10:46 *QATARI PRIME MINISTER AL-THANI SPEAKING IN MUNICH
BN 02/03 10:46 *AL-THANI SAYS UN SECURITY COUNCIL REPONSIBLE FOR SYRIA TRAGEDY
BN 02/03 09:56 *SALEHI SAYS ASSAD TOLD HIM HE’S READY TO HOLD ELECTIONS
BN 02/03 09:45 *SALEHI SAYS IRANIAN TALKS WITH SYRIAN OPPOSITION WILL CONTINUE
BN 02/03 09:44 *SALEHI SAYS OPPOSITION-SYRIA REGIME MUST FORM INTERIM GOVT
BN 02/03 09:43 *SALEHI SAYS PRIORITY MUST BE SYRIAN GOVT-OPPOSITION TALKS
BN 02/03 08:25 *BARAK SAYS ISRAEL DOESN’T WANT ADVANCED WEAPONS IN LEBANON
BN 02/03 08:08 *BARAK SAYS ASSAD WILL FALL VERY SOON
BN 02/03 08:07 *BARAK SAYS `COMING FALL OF ASSAD’ WILL BE BLOW TO IRAN