Commenting the war in Syria, which has now prolonged for more than two and half years, an American said it’s better for the fighting to continue until Hezbollah and al-Qaeda destroy each other so the U.S. can get rid of two fierce enemies.
I previously discussed this when I said that Syria represents a fly trap, meaning it is the candy which lures jihadist groups from across the world and make them perish. The problem with these two arguments is that they will not succeed. The result may be the complete opposite of the desired aim as it may just strengthen these two groups’ ability to engage in larger regional wars later.
There is a huge difference between intellectual wars – religiously motivated in the Syrian case - and gang wars that occur in South America or even in Los Angeles’ suburbs. Al-Qaeda is a religious ideological organization, and so is Hezbollah. Both organizations, whose mentality and actions are similar, grew up and developed through different conflicts and confrontations. Al-Qaeda has lost most of its top ranking members who had been with the organization since the 1990s. Despite the pursuit and elimination of its members, the organization has expanded. It did not expand because it was winning militarily, but because it used both its defeats and victories to market extremist ideas. The biggest mistake is to leave Syria an open battlefield. This simply facilitates the growth of extremist groups. The Iranian and Syrian regimes have realized the value of these groups in intimidating the West. As a result, they used al-Qaeda in Iraq, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Before that, and since the 1980s, they also used Hezbollah to carry out proxy wars, suicide operations and hijacking operations.
The Syrian regime does not mind the presence of al-Qaeda in Syria, whether that presence makes itself felt through the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) or the al-Nusra FrontAbdulrahman al-Rashed
The tragedy in Syria has increased the number of recruits to the huge number we see today. It is what enabled al-Qaeda to return to the Islamic street while raising the slogan of defending the persecuted Syrian people.
The Syrian regime does not mind the presence of al-Qaeda in Syria, whether that presence makes itself felt through the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) or the al-Nusra Front. The regime is aware that al-Qaeda fighters will commit the most hideous of crimes and will thus grant the regime the opportunity to improve its own standing before the world. It’s either al-Qaeda or the Assad regime, they will say. We know that both are equal, and both are rejected by most Syrians.
Hezbollah too has gained a new military and political role in Syria, which it is being financially rewarded for. Hezbollah knows that it can compensate its victims even if it loses thousands of its fighters. It’s in the name of religion that it can recruit thousands of others. Therefore, he who draws the comparison between drug cartels and extremist religious organizations and builds his conclusion that these organizations will eliminate one another is actually wrong. Extremists, like ISIS and Hezbollah, can fight or co-exist within the Syrian struggle for another 10 years. Especially as al-Qaeda has in the past, and continues to, deal with Iran. Some al-Qaeda leaders still live in Iran. Extremists can move into the region’s countries and into the world from the destroyed Syria, just like al-Qaeda did when it carried out its operations which shook the world in East Africa and then followed them up with the Sept. 11 twin attacks.
This article was first published in al-Sharq al-Awsat on Oct. 27, 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.