The mistake of betting on Al-Nusra Front

Al-Nusra’s aims have nothing to do with the demands of Syrians during their revolution

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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Attempts to embellish Al-Nusra Front and include it within the Syrian revolutionary camp have failed, despite all the sponsorship and armaments the party has received, and despite its portrayal as less brutal than the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Both are terrorist and extensions of Al-Qaeda. ISIS is an extension of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who was killed in Iraq, while Al-Nusra officially follows Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda’s current leader.

There are three parties fighting in Syria today: the regime and its allies, terrorist groups such as ISIS and Al-Nusra, and the national and moderate opposition, of which the biggest party is the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Those who support these parties are three; the first is Iran and it supports the Assad regime, the second party supports the national moderate opposition and the third supports terrorist opposition groups, specifically al-Nusra. The latter party thought it was smart and thus decided to tame either of the two beasts. It chose al-Nusra because unlike ISIS, it did not broadcast horrific videos and accepted to negotiate and bargain.

Al-Nusra’s aims have nothing to do with the demands of Syrians during their revolution. Its aim is to establish a state that competes against ISIS.

Al-Nusra’s aims have nothing to do with the demands of Syrians during their revolution

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Despite the clear differences between patriotism and terrorism, some foreign parties support Al-Nusra in the belief that they can control this wild beast until the crisis is over, then just get rid of it. Al-Nusra’s command was smarter than that of ISIS, as it humored those foreign parties and made compromises over those it kidnapped and did not slaughter them all. As a reward it was not pursued, and the movement of its fighters across borders was overlooked.

Defeating Assad

The motives of the party who adopted al-Nusra is that it wanted to employ a fierce group which it believes is capable of defeating Assad’s forces - who are also well-known for their brutality - and of fighting Hezbollah and the rest of extremist militias whose ideological and military background are similar to al-Nusra itself.

Al-Nusra has achieved military victories, and hundreds of its members carried out suicide bombings in Syria, some of them altering the balance of power on the ground. Despite that, it remains a terrorist group that is impossible to tame. Its aims clash with the rest of the Syrian opposition, whom it considers infidels and must be fought. So what is the use of getting rid of the Syrian regime and replacing it with an equally bad one?

Those strategists who think only of how to resolve today’s problem are turning a blind eye to the destructive results that will come tomorrow. They are repeating what happened two decades ago, when some parties fully supported Hezbollah and certain defecting Palestinian groups until they became a graver threat against Lebanon and Palestine.

In the past three years, the FSA - which refused to raise slogans of religious extremism or elimination of others - has been marginalized. Al-Nusra has benefited from playing the game of contradictions, such as exploiting its enmity of the Syrian regime to facilitate its own attacks against the opposition.

Western strategists thought that restraining Syrian national and moderate organizations such as the FSA would force them to accept working under the command of the Syrian regime to end chaos. The result backfired, as moderates were weakened and replaced by extremists.

Moderate opposition groups have become victim of the two parties competing over managing the crisis. One party wanted to weaken these moderate groups in order to reach a political solution while another party wanted to strengthen extremist groups to attain a quick military victory. The situation on ground has proven that both parties were wrong.

Weakening the moderates expanded the vacuum in Syria, where the regime has semi-collapsed since 2012 and can only govern areas that support it on a sectarian basis, which are relatively small.

Al-Nusra has become besieged - this is why it has directed its efforts toward fighting the Syrian opposition, under the excuse that the latter is allied with the West against it. The organization has recently announced its capture of 54 opposition members whom it claims received military training in Turkey as part of an American program. Al-Nusra says they crossed into Syria to fight it and ISIS.

Whether this news is true or not, the number of those involved in this program does not exceed 100, as most of the opposition has rejected this program, and the Americans have rejected most applicants out of fear that they would turn against them and join other armed opposition groups.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on August 4, 2015.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former 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.

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