We're forgetting something ghastly about al-Nusra Front

It seems that ISIS is the main focus in the resurrected U.S.-led war on terror. What about al-Nusra Front?

Raed Omari
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The terrorism-plagued Iraqis, Syrians and Lebanese are pinning hopes on the NATO Summit for a U.S.-led international coalition to disrupt and eliminate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The summit is also of prime significance for the grieving families of slain American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, needless of course, to say why. Not only those, all good-hearted people of the world, mainly Muslims, are also dreaming of an end to this unsurpassed brutality and violence. In any case, this is not Islam.

Now for the high-profile world gathering to coincide with a set of developments, ranging from the stomach-turning beheading of Sotloff by ISIS to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri’s videoed announcement of his militia’s Indian branch, much is expected in the outcome.


It seems that ISIS is the main focus in the resurrected U.S.-led war on terror. What about al-Nusra Front?

Raed Omari

Remarkably enough, ISIS’ videotaped beheading of Sotloff and Zawahiri’s announcement of the al-Qaeda’s new branch on the Indian subcontinent were released at a time when world leaders were on their way to Newport, Wales for a high-profile summit with terrorism being the third major topic on its agenda. Accepting the challenge, President Barack Obama has pledged to punish, degrade and destroy ISIS, with his Vice president Joe Biden fierily vowing to follow the Islamist militia to “Similar remarks” were also made by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who voiced America’s determination to hunt down Sotloff’s killers.

With the Russian escalation in Ukraine and the NATO forces’ withdrawal from Afghanistan topping the agenda of the summit, ISIS’ alarming threat is surely to be highlighted in the final Communiqué. In other words, the coalition against ISIS may not be announced following the meeting but may be formed soon somewhere else.

Coalition against ISIS

In my estimation, the coalition against ISIS was already formed long before the periodical summit – maybe following Foley‘s execution. The meeting of the 28-member alliance and their partners would be a chance to agree on the best course of action, logistics and intelligence plans regarding the campaign on ISIS.

However, it seems that ISIS is the main focus in the resurrected U.S.-led war on terror. What about al-Nusra Front? Why is the al-Qaeda affiliate not mentioned – or inadequately mentioned – in the international rhetoric on terror?

The world re-shifting focus on only ISIS is indeed understandable with regard to the radical group’s large-scale military operations and brutal atrocities, manifesting themselves in the persecution of minorities and mass killings, among others.
In comparison, al-Nusra Front has suffered from intra-rebel conflicts in addition to the defection of hundreds of its members to the ground-gaining ISIS with regard to the latter’s speedy capture of territories and its advanced weaponry. But the Nusra Front has achieved a series of victories over the last few weeks and, inasmuch as the influence of the al-Qaeda-inspired ISIS is much seen in Iraq and Syria, Lebanon is where the al-Qaeda affiliate’s activity can be spotted.

Lebanon is so far al-Nusra Front’s major domain in addition to other regions along the Syrian-Turkish border and the Israel-occupied Golan Heights. One major proof for al-Nusra Front’s high proportion in the region’s "mosaic of militias," so to speak, is the detention of several U.N. Fiji peacekeepers whose release it has linked to removing the al-Qaeda affiliate from the U.N.’s list of terrorist organizations.

Al-Nusra Front has so far presented a radical approach that is considerably moderate when compared with that of ISIS. However, this "leniency" is nothing more than a strategic tactic the Nusra has been employing to balance its disputes with ISIS. According to Hassan Abu Haniyeh, a renowned researcher in Islamist groups, al-Nusra Front was originally part of the al-Qaeda affiliated Islamic State of Iraq, from which ISIS sprung, but has refrained from unveiling its true identity due to concerns about straining its relationships with other rebel groups in Syria and angering external powers. This low-profile approach by al-Nusra was the reason behind ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s announcement of his organization’s disengagement from al-Qaeda, Abu Haniyeh said.

In brief, ISIS and al-Nusra are just two sides of the same coin with their claimed differences and disputes being on tactics rather than ideology. In other words, during a time of heavy bombardment of the ISIS posts in Syria and Iraq by the U.S.-led coalition or America alone, al-Nusra Front might be a safe haven for ISIS fighters.

At such a time, however, things would fall apart, as it would be very difficult to differentiate between Nusra and ISIS as was the case between al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

With world leaders discussing mechanisms to eliminate ISIS in Wales, it has to be made clear that the Islamist militia and the Nusra Front are just outcomes of the crises in Syria, Iraq and also Lebanon. In the absence of a comprehensive solution to these regional dilemmas, ISIS would expand into an international organization with branches in the MENA region, Asia or Europe.

The U.S. has heavily bombarded al-Qaeda in Afghanistan using Cruise and Tomahawk missiles and B-52 bombers but has not entirely eliminated the radical organization. The same will happen in the U.S.-led war against ISIS should the same strategies remain unchanged.

Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via [email protected], or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2

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