For a year now extremist groups have been urging Muslim youths to join the war in Syria. They did in fact succeed in bringing in hundreds of different nationalities. It's said that their number has reached thousands.
The new development is that this number is quickly increasing. The number of jihadists in Syria will be a lot more than the number we've witnessed in the past 20 years in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia.
The major reasons for that are the heinous crimes of the Syrian regime and the involvement of Hezbollah, Iranian forces and Iraqi militias - all of whom are Shiite - turning the war into a sectarian one.
An expert on extremist Islamist groups estimated that the number of Jihadists in Syria will exceed all expectations. He said we should not be surprised if the number exceeds 30,000 within the upcoming months. It's also believed that governments which tightened security will fail to prevent their young men from traveling to Syria although they resorted to the aid of clerics and muftis and other religious figures to help them urge young men not to travel and participate in the fighting.
The war in Syria appeals to the sentiment of many. There are those who feel that a grave injustice has befallen on their brothers there. They have a sectarian religious logic that makes them feel that jihad has been imposed on them and that their Islam isn't complete without jihad. Many websites and podiums are urging young men to join the war in Syria.
To confront these challenges, several countries, including the ones that support the Syrian opposition like Saudi Arabia, sought to convince their citizens not to go to war in Syria.
These countries support the Free Syrian Army and stress that the Syrians themselves who have enough manpower should fight the conflict.
The crimes of the Syrian regime and its allies, Hezbollah, Iran and Russia, have pushed many whether Sunnis or Shiites to go to Syria and fight against each other. The problem will not remain limited to Syria. It will expand to include the entire region. Syria has revived al-Qaeda after it lost its glory and had most of its leaders killed during the past few years.
Don't be surprised if some of al-Qaeda enemies support declaring jihad and sending fighters there to die for the sake of eliminating the regime's militias and its allies. These people think that this is crucial war against the Iranian camp and that the Free Syrian Army with its humble capabilities cannot achieve victory. They also do not think that there is a political solution that guarantees the toppling of the Assad’s regime. Therefore, using the aid of a few thousands of suicide bombers will help defeat the Assad’sregime and the Iranians. The concept of sending mujahideen, who are willing to die, to Syria tempts a lot of people who think that the power balance has shifted to the Iranians' favor.
But this is a deficient perspective. Jihadist groups will later turn into terrorist organizations against the Syrians, the region and the world. They will take the path of Afghanistan's mujahideen who fought the Soviets in the 80's and transformed after the end of the war into a terrorist organization that later became the biggest in the world. Jihadi groups will turn into a problem for the Syrian people. These groups will harm the Syrians' unity and political path. The Syrian people will end up getting rid of a criminal dictator and then find themselves governed by an extremist group that also resorts to crimes to impose its political agenda.
The only military option is enabling the Syrians to defend their country by supporting them with arms and intelligence data and training them. Some may say that aid has been provided and is still being provided but it has not achieved success especially after various professional and well-equipped forces from the Iranian camp entered the battlefield. Yes, support is there, but it's a lot less than the needs of the Free Syrian Army which continues to request more aid. But we must not underestimate the Syrian opposition's power and will. We must not forget that it seized most border crossings, plenty of military airports and expanded its influence over more than half of Syria. This means that despite its recent defeat as a result of the Iranians' and their allies' entrance to Syria, it is capable of shifting the formula again.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on June 13, 2013.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.