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A Major Syrian Rebel Group Is Now Officially Part of al-Qaeda

The emergence of a new. powerful Islamist force in Syria.

Jonathan Spyer


April 18, 2013 - 12:37 am
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A third, even larger alliance, established in September, 2012, brings together rebel units affiliated with Muslim Brotherhood style Sunni Islamism. This is the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front. It includes many of the best known fighting groups in Syria — such as the Farouq Brigade, formed in Homs, the Suqour al-Sham group from Idleb and the Tawhid Brigade of Aleppo. It is reckoned to have around 40,000 fighters.

There are myriad local initiatives which pledge allegiance to none of these alliances. But these are the key players.

Current US and Western policy seeks to centralize the flow of (largely Persian Gulf) aid to the rebels through the Supreme Military Council of General Salim Edriss. The US is also offering training to a select group of non-Salafi rebels, on Jordanian soil.

It is vital to understand that there are no large, secular fighting groups engaged on the ground alongside the Islamist alliances mentioned above. Rather, the bulk of the forces nominally aligned with the Western supported Supreme Military Council are those groups noted above as constituting the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front — that is, the Muslim Brotherhood type groups.

An important concern is the possibility that forces aligned with Nusra or the other Salafi groups could deploy on the border with Israel and begin Sunni jihadi attacks against Israel on the Golan Heights. Western policy appears to include a desire to install non-salafi fighters along the borders with Jordan and Israel to prevent this.

So the range of opinion among the fighting groups currently engaged against Assad in Syria stretches from al-Qaeda style Islamism to Muslim Brotherhood style Islamism. Western and Gulf policy is to back the Muslim Brotherhood type units.

This policy is moving ahead. But the level of support still seems far too low to effect a victory for these forces any time soon. Instead, the de facto fragmentation of Syria along ethnic, sectarian and religious lines looks set to continue apace.

In this regard, it is worth noting that there have already been instances of violence between Jabhat al-Nusra and the Muslim Brotherhood type units (specifically the Farouq Brigade.)

In contrast to the government controlled areas and the Kurdish controlled north-east, the rebel-controlled regions remain divided by factional interests. Increased internecine violence between the various strands of the Sunni insurgency is likely in the medium term.

Bottom line: Sunni Islamism is currently at war with Shia Iran and its allies on the territory of what was once Syria. The likely result: either eventual Sunni victory and the birth of a new Sunni Islamist powerhouse on the Mediterranean, or the long-term Balkanization and fragmentation of Syria.

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Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, and a fellow at the Middle East Forum. He is the author of The Transforming Fire: The Rise of the Israel-Islamist Conflict (Continuum, 2011).

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All Comments   (4)
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Israel, don't let this crisis go to waste, when they have killed as many of the other side as they can strike and strike hard, finish them off then you can concentrate on you southern flank, Egypt.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
We could have helped the rebels when this all started. We'd have been in the right. We sat on our laurels. Al Qaeda came in to "help" the rebels in our absence. Our lack of support left a hole that Al Qaeda was more than willing to fill. Then, almost immediately after Al Qaeda insinuated themselves into the rebellion, we started sending aid. Now the rebels ARE Al Qaeda. We're supporting the bad guys now.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a rising star in the Republican Party and possible 2016 presidential candidate, said Wednesday [Feb. 27] that the United States should provide ammunition and intelligence to elements of the Syrian opposition to help it defeat President Bashar al-Assad and gain influence after Assad falls.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
For months I have been posting that the choice in Syria is between Al Qaida and Assad. Not a pretty choice but the only two possible outcomes. In my opinion both the USA and Israel are missing a historic opportunity. A deal should be made with Assad, offering a slow and smooth transition to a more representative government based on the following-

1- Cut off Hezbolah and root them out destroying their infrastructure.
2- Acknowledge Israel sovereignty on The Golan Heights.
3- Remove all Syrian forces from Lebanon.
4- International supervision of all chemical weapons.

If Al Qaida wins in Syria it will be a disaster of global proportions. Not only will Syria become fundamentalist overnight, as opposed to The Bathists who are secularly inclined, but also Hezbolah ,Iran and Russia will have greater clout in the Middle east than ever before.
The time is ripe for backchannel communication with Assad. I think he would go for the deal.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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