Syrians must not doubt that rejecting extremist jihadist groups in the country, which are mostly non-Syrian groups fighting the regime, does not aim to harm the revolution or alter political stances.
The fear of jihadist groups, such as the al-Nusra Front, has nothing to do with the Syrian regime’s views of the group.
There is a deep conviction that an organization, such as al-Qaeda, has decided to engage in the war in Syria to serve its own aims. It intends to reunite and rebuild its structure in Syria after being overpowered in Afghanistan and after most of its leaders were either killed or arrested after its failures in the Gulf, Iraq, Algeria and Yemen.
Due to the long duration of the war in Syria, the country has become a suitable hotspot for terrorists. The religious dimension of the conflict also attracts them.
Countries like Saudi Arabia, among others, fear that Syria will at some point embrace terrorist groups. This has been the Assad regime’s plan since the beginning of the crisis. The regime wants the Syrian people who revolted against it to inherit a burnt land, like Somalia where al-Qaeda has set up residence amid fighting warlords.
Saudi Arabia’s fear is that these groups will once again target the kingdom. These groups are making use of the fighting in Syria to train, collect funds and recruit young men just as they did in Afghanistan when they used Saudi Arabia’s funds and then, subsequently, turned against it.
It is not farfetched that someone wants this scenario to actually become a reality - that is targeting Saudi Arabia and other countries through al-Qaeda. This is what Iran did. Iran granted refuge to al-Qaeda cells and later used it to carry out terrorist operations in Saudi, Yemen and other countries. This is what Bashar al-Assad’s regime also did. He hosted al-Qaeda during the years of chaos in Iraq which came after the American invasion. Assad used al-Qaeda to serve his political aims and Iran’s interests.
Saudi Arabia’s history with Bashar al-Assad’s regime is older than the revolution itself. It has hostile roots. The historical relationship also makes it clear that Saudi Arabia strongly supports the Syrian revolution. The kingdom is almost the only country which stood up for Bashar al-Assad when he made the move of assassinating former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri.
The regime wants the Syrian people who revolted against it to inherit a burnt land, like Somalia where al-Qaeda has set up residence amid fighting warlordsAbdulrahman al-Rashed
Saudi Arabia realized at an early stage that Hariri’s assassination was an attempt by Assad and Iran to take over Lebanon. The Saudis’ fear of Bashar al-Assad increased with the assassinations that followed the murder of Hariri targeting other Lebanese figures. The Saudi foreign ministry launched a fierce campaign at the U.N. Security Council to restrain Assad, have him withdraw his troops, punish his leaders economically and legally pursue them.
This is why I don’t think Saudi Arabia will accept al-Qaeda hijacking the Syrian revolution. It will also not accept that other countries do so if these countries think of using this evil organization to later attack Saudi Arabia and other countries. At the moment, most diplomatic, humanitarian and military support comes from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Saudi Arabia is believed to alone fund more than half of the humanitarian aid entering Syria. It is also believed that Saudi secretly provides more than 80% of military aid to opposition parties. Of course, when Saudi notices that quantities of advanced arms and huge amounts of funds are being provided to terrorist organizations, like the al-Nusra Front, there are a lot of suspicions as to why these groups are being aided. It does not make sense that groups linked to al-Qaeda are being armed to topple Assad when there are more than 100,000 fighters among the Free Syrian Army requesting the same kind of support!
This discriminates between the revolution and terrorism, many countries, including Saudi Arabia, prevent collecting donations if it does not fall within the state’s monitoring. These countries also refuse to recruit young men to fight under the slogan of supporting the Syrian revolution because similar activity in the past has proven that these groups use attractive slogans that appeal to people’s sentiments. It was later revealed that funds, arms and young men are being used to attack their countries and not to serve the revolution in Syria, like what is happening now.
Jihadist groups infiltrated the Syrian revolution a year after the war erupted and after they found that the crisis in Syria appealed to the sentiment of Arab and Islamic people. Those who want to exploit al-Qaeda in Syria are probably unaware that they are playing with fire, like some have done before them, and got burnt. The last of those who went through this is Bashar al-Assad himself. If they are empowering al-Qaeda in Syria today to use it against someone else tomorrow, then all they are really doing is opening opposing fronts.
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.