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Is Syria a fly trap for extremists?

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

Ever since battles intensified a year ago, Syria turned into the biggest war in modern history between Sunni and Shiite extremists. It also turned into an open war between Iran and the Gulf countries. The situation in Syria is still as such.

Since then, there have been many questions regarding the West’s lackluster approach to Syria, especially that of the United States despite a rare opportunity presented by this conflict. The Syrian crisis brought together the desire of the Syrian people, who hate the regime of Bashar al-Assad, and the desire of the West to defeat Iran and its allies, like Assad’s regime in Syria. But two years have passed, 100,000 people have died and the war continues. The West was settled with delivering condemnation and only provided a little military aid.

A sticky theory

One of the theories that spread is that of the “fly trap” against terrorism. It’s a theory claiming that Syria’s war is like a sugar pan left to seduce the worst of Islamic extremists, Sunni and Shiite, to go there from across the world and fight each others. And so, al-Qaeda Sunnis from the al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham stood against the Shiites of Hezbollah, the Iraqi of the League of the Righteous and the Iranian Quds brigade.

If it’s true that the sugar pan in Syria attracted thousands of extremists to kill one another, then it’s a grave mistake for anyone to bet that this fighting will eliminate extremism

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

The “fly trap” suits the imagination of those who believe in conspiracy theories. The theory previously took hold before at the beginning of the invasion in Iraq. It was claimed that the invasion was a trap to seduce al-Qaeda to make it fight on a land far away from the United States. Of course there’s no logic in this because the number of the Americans killed in Iraq was more than the number of those killed in the September 2001 terrorist attacks.

But the unfamiliar American absence raised speculations because the Americans are usually present and influential in the region’s clashes. They were the ones who tipped the balance in favor of Saddam Hussein during the eight-year war against Iran. They expelled Saddam’s troops from Kuwait in two weeks. And they eliminated al-Qaeda’s leadership in the Middle East by launching a huge war. On the other hand, the Americans failed in the confrontation against the terrorism of the Iranian regime that spread like a disease. They failed ever since the first significant operation by Hezbollah. The operation was carried out under the slogan of “Islamic Jihad,” and it was carried out in Beirut in 1983 against the U.S. Marine headquarters, 241 people were killed. There was also the Khobar explosion in Saudi in 1996 in which 16 Americans were killed. There were also two operations in Argentina and plenty of operations - hijacking planes and assassinating diplomats - in Europe and Asia. Almost all of these operations were managed by Iran. The al-Qaeda organization’s footsteps were exactly like Hezbollah’s as it targeted Western interests and goals. These groups now fight in Syria for the first time after they had been allied together.

If it’s true that the sugar pan in Syria attracted thousands of extremists to kill one another, then it’s a grave mistake for anyone to bet that this fighting will eliminate extremism and its organizations. In fact the opposite is true, they will increase like flies. Leaving the humanitarian Syrian tragedy to worsen for almost two years and a half has led to expanding violence and extremism. It once again has revived new organizations that had been weakened and that were beginning to fade away, like al-Qaeda. Besieged groups like Hezbollah and al-Quds Brigade were also activated. Since money and men are the cheapest thing in the Middle East region, the crisis will worsen until it turns into the biggest terrorism threat in the world. Syria will become a worse situation than Afghanistan, Lebanon, Somalia and Yemen put altogether.

In order for the number of flies not to increase, the world must support the moderate parties like the Free Syrian Army and the National Coalition. It must support such parties to help them be the core of a responsible, modern and moderate Syria that saves the people from their horrifying tragedy and guards the world from the repercussions of extremists’ wars in the future.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on June 30, 2013.

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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.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.