The war in Syria surrounds the Geneva peace talk meeting with its circle of fire
Key words: al-Qaeda, al-Qaida, Syria, Russia, Turkey, US, U.S., Geneva, Astana.
Elijah J. Magnier: @
Al-Qaeda and Syrian jihadists and rebel organisations attack on multiple fronts around Damascus, Homs and Daraa. These attacks are sending a clear message to the United Nations that the meetings in Astana-Kazakhstan and Geneva are doomed to failure because the political solution is not yet mature for several reasons. The position of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the US are not headed towards a global solution in the Levant but to divide Syria.
In the last few days, thousands of militants led by al-Qaeda (under the name of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham) and others belonging to Faylaq al-Rahman, Jaysh al-Nasr (US vetted group), Ajnad al-Sham, Free Syrian Army in Idlib (US vetted group), Ahrar al-Sham, Hiz-al-Islami al Turkistani and Ajnad al-Kawkaz attacked the Syrian Capital and both northern and southern areas in Syria in what is described as organised (tactical rather than strategic) aggression to reshuffle the peace process and halt it. The super powers (Russia and the US) and Turkey are facing conflictive objectives and hard alliances that inevitably mean an escalation of the military situation. Moreover, al-Qaeda is ready to walk with any country willing to escalate as long as it serves its strategic objectives enabling it to survive in the Levant and expand later to Iraq and neighbouring countries.
Following the failure of Astana-3 meeting (Turkey sent a low – level delegation and armed rebels under Turkish and Saudi Arabia influence did not attend), the fighting in Syria outbreak. Moreover, the Turkish leadership harshly criticised “Russian illegal annexation of Crimea” to coincide with the Russian forces prevention of Turkey and its Syrian allies from advancing beyond the Syrian city of Bab. Russia also stopped Turkey from breaking into the Kurdish area of Manbij with the excuse of fighting the “Islamic State” (ISIS) and, along with the Syrian Army, closed all possible roads leading to Raqqah, ISIS’s Syrian stronghold.
Russia plans to stop the war, impose peaceful solutions, and bring most belligerents to the negotiation table: the situation on the ground, however, may not go as planned. Nevertheless, Moscow will not stand idly by and watch the advance of al-Qaeda, along with other jihadist and US vetted Syrian opposition forces, into areas considered relatively safe. Moscow will not allow its objectives in Syria (establishing peace talks and ending the war to enjoy its military base and window on the Mediterranean) to fail. Russia can’t afford to sink into the Syrian quagmire: that would definitely affect its position as a superpower. Russia is therefore expected to invest its fiercest firepower to stop the jihadists’ advance, recover lost positions occupied in the last days, and give the upper hand to the Syrian Army and its allies on the ground.
On the other hand, the United States may also be responsible for “feeding” indirectly a continuous supply of weapons to jihadists of al-Qaeda and their allies in Syria by turning a blind eye to the supply flowing in the country via Turkey and Gulf countries. The US and countries of the region do not accept the Russian and Iranian upper hand in Syria, which coincides with al-Qaeda’s objectives in the Levant, very happy to escalate the rhythm of the war.
Moreover, the US is giving enough reasons for jihadists not only to stay in Syria but also to plan for Iraq following Washington’s announced decision to stay in Iraq “for a while”. This would fall into line with al-Qaeda’s objectives to expand to Mesopotamia, and would encourage jihadists to expand beyond Syria.
In fact, al-Qaeda has nothing to lose and everything to gain: the group is excluded from any peace deal and is on the “terror lists” by both the US and Russia. It expects to be hunted down sooner or later. Moreover, al-Qaeda is aiming to force all rebel and jihadists group to unit under one single umbrella to prevent exclusion, to recruit more candidates and to protect itself from being attacked by both the Syrian rebels and superpower countries. Under the slogan of “toppling” the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, al-Qaeda is trying to protect its strategic objective even if this slogan is no longer the international community’s option.
Al-Qaeda is issuing English communiqués to address a wider audience, pretending its objectives are domestic whereas its aim goes way beyond Syria. It is leading a multi-front battle, offering suicide bombers, tanks and men to show its readiness to offer “sacrifices to the revolution”, embarrassing any group willing to join Russia or the UN in any sort of peace talks. It is also isolating Ahrar al-Sham, trying to pull the carpet from under its feet due to its rejection of a merger. Al-Qaeda is also aiming to diminish the numbers in Ahrar al-Sham, the largest jihadists-rebel movement in Syria.
Bilad al-Sham and Mesopotamia are the strategic objective of al-Qaeda due to the historical value, the place where the long awaited Imam Mahdi is expected to rise carrying “the flag of Islam, the one of justice against the crusaders (Russia and the US in this case united on one soil) and where blood will flow like river”, according to the myth.
Bear in mind that the US is building military bases in the north of Syria and that Russia is planning to stay for another 50 years at least. Both countries are offering the perfect project, enabling al-Qaeda to develop its propaganda and narrative campaign to recruit and prepare itself for a very long fight in Syria, the country which is expected to be “the cemetery of the invaders and the place where justice will prevail”, says the Islamic myth.
The same “Islamic State” (ISIS) group believe in the myth: ISIS removed the borders between Syria and Iraq, giving an incentive for foreign fighters to reach the land of “the true Islamic Caliphate”, in this case Syria and Iraq. The same head of al-Qaeda Ayman al-Zawaheri asked all fighters to join Bilad al-Sham (the Levant), not only to overthrow the regime but to reach the final objective, jihad al-Tamkeen where al-Qaeda consolidates its base, build its Islamic Emirate and hits the western presence and interests in the Middle East.
At the beginning of the war, Al-Qaeda did in fact succeed in finding a supportive society in Syria, a country devastated by six years of war so far, taking advantage of the weakness of the regime and the existing “savagery” unstable state. Bilad al-Sham is al-Qaeda main objective since its existence drove it to the geographical location; the historic place and the presence of Sunni tribes allow the proliferation of jihadists. Despite the US targeting of many al-Qaeda leaders, the US administration is more interested in reaching a relatively quick victory over ISIS in Syria (Raqqah) and in creating “safe zones” to divide the north of Syria. Moreover, the US is not expected to be in harmony with Russia’s objective in the country, hence the targeted killing of leaders of al-Qaeda without crippling the organisation.
During the last few years, the US counter-terrorism military responses killed, using drones and air strikes, the Egyptians Abul’Kheir al-Masri (Osama Bin Laden brother in-law and the vice leader of Ayman al-Zawaheri), Rifa’ei Taha, the Syrian Abu al-Hammam al-Shami, the Saudi Abdel Mohsen Abdallah Ibrahim (Sanafi al-Nasr), Abu Firas al-Suri, Khattab al-Kahtani, Abu Omar al-Turkistani, Abdallah al-Jalil al-Muslemi, Mohamad Habib Bin Saadoun al-Tunisi, Abu Hani al-Masri, Abu al-Abbas al-Darir and much more AQ leaders all killed in Syria. All were present in Bilad al-Sham, mainly Idlib and Aleppo, and many of these were operating under Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham that pretends to have has nothing to do with al-Qaeda. So what where these doing in the country?
There is no doubt there was a security breach within al-Qaeda in Syria due to Signals Intelligence and Human Intelligence, allowing the US military to kill these leaders. Nevertheless, al-Qaeda is a decentralised non hierarchical networked organisation, therefore it is resistant to decapitation: the killing of its leaders have little effect on the functioning of the group as a whole and won’t alter its strategy nor its long term project in general and in Bilad al-Sham in particular.
It is also clear that al-Qaeda postponed its plans to attack American targets in the United States because the war in Syria became a priority for gathering strength and building its power. The Jihadi organisation was close to its objectives before the interference of Russia and Damascus allies in the war.
Even if Osama Bin Laden prioritised attacks against the US to postpone the “local domestic enemy”, nevertheless, the circumstances have changed due to the importance of Syria and Iraq, now that the occasion is presenting itself in both countries.
Moreover, what Abu Bakr Naji promoted under “the management of savagery” (asking jihadists to infiltrate societies and work for a non secure state) Osama Bin Laden was against. Bin Laden’ theory when, in his letter found in Abbottabad and released by the US, he asked the “base” in Yemen to avoid creating unstable societies where people would be busy surviving rather than ready to join jihad”. Moreover, Bin Laden asked his franchisees to “refrain from declaring their belonging to al-Qaeda to avoid paying the consequences” (by the US) of the 9/11 attacks.
This is why Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, al-Qaeda in Syria, is pretending to be a Syrian organisation (with thousands of foreign fighters as stated by its same Emir Abu Mohamad al-Joulani), holding core leaders of al-Qaeda, but in total denial to benefit from the chaos, aiming in fact to recruit and gather more strength. The conflictive interests of the US and Russia will allow the survival of al-Qaeda unless the people of Syria themselves choose the peace process and lift the protection they have been offering to the Jihadi organisation. No organisation can survive with the loss of popular support.