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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Jihadis Turn their Eyes to Syria

August 20, 2009
By: Murad Batal Al-shishani

In what might be described as Syria from a jihadist perspective, an article entitled “Al-Qaeda al-Sulbah” (the Solid Base) was posted to the jihadi website on July 21 by active al-Faloja contributor Abu Fadil al-Madi. The article urges Salafi-Jihadis to reconsider the importance of the political and strategic changes in Syria. The title of al-Madi’s posting is borrowed from a 1988 article by Palestinian jihad ideologue Abdullah Azzam. [1]

Al-Madi claims there was a kind of agreement between the jihadis and the Syrian regime, an “unannounced agreement to stop mutual hostilities,” but the situation has changed since the latter part of 2005. It was then that the regime launched a campaign against “all the components of the Sunnis in Syria; the traditional religious groups (al-Khaznawi Naqshbandiya [a Sufi order] and al-Qubeisyat for example), the Shari’ia institutions (al-Fatah Institute and Abu Nur Institute, in particular), and even against those who were considered to be close allies of the regime, working with all their strength as a trumpet [of the regime] (Muhammad Habash, as an example).[2] As well, there is the fierce security campaign against the Salafi-Jihadi movement, which has escalated since [Fall 2005].”

Al-Madi’s post asserts that there is an alliance between the Syrian Alawite regime and Ja’afri-dominated Iran. [3] This alliance, based on the religious links of these two branches of Shi’ism (though not all Shiites recognize the Alawis as Shi’a), created the division in the Middle East between “the Shi’a crescent” and the “moderate axis.” Despite these ties, the article claims the Syrian regime is pragmatic in terms of its relations with the United States, especially when it comes to coordination against jihadis. Washington’s extradition to Syria of jihadi ideologue Abu Mus’ab al-Suri is an indication of the degree of this cooperation, claims the writer.

Having concluded that the Syrian regime is working hard against Sunnis in general, the writer asks, “What is the Salafi-Jihadi movement’s strategic vision for Syria?… Will it remain a potential passage for supplies [to Iraq] or has the time come - or close to it - for a radical strategic change?”

Al-Madi’s post states that the jihadi movement has concentrated its efforts on the Iraqi front since 2003 and “developed its political-strategic project by proclaiming the Islamic State of Iraq.” However, the geographically sensitive location of Iraq and the international and regional strategic conflict over resources such as oil have pushed both the states of the moderate axis and the Shi’a crescent to try to contain the jihadi movement, penetrate its apparatus and “adapt” it by all means, “each in its own way.” Accordingly, the Awakening councils (al-Sahawat) of Iraq were created by exploiting tribal relations with Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The councils also had connections to Syria, benefitting from the latter’s close ties with some Iraqi Ba’athist elements. Al-Madi believes that such policies wasted the efforts of the jihadis since 2007 in a battle of attrition instead of a final battle with “the Crusaders and their supporters in Iraq.”

Al-Madi continued by saying that “the fall of the Syrian regime or its collapse into chaos will have a direct impact on the neighboring Sunnis in Iraq and Lebanon, and they will liberate themselves from the constraints on their movement and will find in Syria, a free, important space for movement and supply.” In such a scenario the writer thinks that the “fall of Syria” will cut off land transport of Iranian land supplies to Hezbollah in Lebanon. This will equalize the strength of the Lebanese Sunnis with Lebanon’s Shi’a community. According to the author, Syria will serve as a backyard to support the fight against Americans in Iraq. “More importantly, the jihadi project will be in direct contact with Israel in an area which is ideal for guerrilla warfare, namely the occupied Golan Heights, without having to fight a costly battle to overcome the Shiite strongholds in southern Lebanon”.

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Source: The Jamestown Foundation

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