The UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson: “We certainly don’t want al-Qaeda to control Syria”.
Key words: Europe, Syria, US, UK, Germany, Norway, Russia.
Elijah J. Magnier – During the Brussels Foreign Ministers meeting “Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region”, I asked the UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson in private about the intentions of his country towards Assad and al-Qaeda:
Q: You said you can’t imagine Assad in power; do you have an alternative in mind?
BJ: “I think what we need to have is a proper transition. I spoke to my colleagues and we are going to be discussing this issue at the G7 meeting (in Italy scheduled on the 26 of May). We are working on a proposal”.
Q: None of you meeting today actually mentioned the danger of al-Qaeda. There are tens of thousands of fighters on the ground (in Syria) and these are much more dangerous than ISIS (The “Islamic State” group).
BJ: “Yah…Yah… Yah… We certainly agree with that”.
Q:Do you have a plan against al-Qaeda? Why is nobody mentioning AQ?
BJ: “Yah…Yah…Amm…well…sorry! We certainly don’t think…want them to take control…”.
Q:Are you thinking of doing something against al-Qaeda?
BJ: “Amm…Amm” (ending the conversation).
The Norwegian Foreign Minister BørgeBrende, present in Brussels, said that “the liberation of the north-eastern area of Syria, actually controlled by the Kurds and the Arab local tribes (supported by US Marines, Special Forces, tanks and Air Force)” is the top priority. The EU seems to concur with President Donald Trump in beginning the partition of Syria in order to register a “victory” over ISIS.
Nevertheless, Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, was clear when she pointed out that “Houdna” which involves both the cessation of hostilities and a global political settlement is the priority. Mogherini wasn’t clear about the European process for halting the war and obtaining a ceasefire that Moscow has been trying to achieve for months. With al-Qaeda present on all fronts (under different names, the most recent is Hay’atTahrir al-Sham), how is it possible to reach a global ceasefire or cessation of hostilities?
As its Emir Abu Mohamad al-Julani said himself in a recent interview, this is impossible when this group is excluded from any ceasefire deal. Moreover, there is no obvious strategy for how the European-Arab financial plan to support Syria ($6 billion agreed so far) is going to be distributed. Is it going to be given to the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad hence recognizing his authority, or it would be financial support for the area in north-eastern Syria under US control?
When EU members state “there is no possible solution in Syria with Assad in power” – as the German Foreign Minister Sigmar and his British counterpart pronounced in Brussels – it indicates that European countries have no intention of collaborating with Russia to end the war because they have no obvious plan of action or any visibility of what can be done against al-Qaeda.
European leaders express no view on the tens of thousands of jihadists stationed in the northern Syrian city of Idlib, around Hama, Damascus and the south of Syria. Moreover, there seems to be no plan to divide the Syrian rebels (most are fighting with al-Qaeda) from al-Qaeda itself. The rebels join jihadists’ ranks for fear of reprisals (annihilation, blackmail) or by their own “free” will. However, they all live in one trench in one city, and all bear the consequences of the al-Qaeda military plans when they mount attacks, as was done in Jobar, Hama and in the last few hours in rural Latakia and Jabal al-Akrad.
The rebels won’t be able to split from al-Qaeda nor fight against the jihadists if there is no specific plan or instructions by their sponsors to do so: we don’t see any halt whatsoever to the financial and weapons flow to the proxies in Syria. This indicates an international and regional will, a desire to see Russia sinking as much as possible into the Syrian quagmire, prolonging the war for as long as possible in the area where Russian, Iranians and their allies are present, and of course where the US forces are not deployed.
This may be the reason for the UK Foreign Minister’s hesitant answer when mentioning al-Qaeda in Syria and their fate. Europe cannot say it is supporting al-Qaeda in the Levant because it is the organization responsible for many attacks on European and American soil (without even mentioning the countries of the Middle East!), and it is held responsible for the US’s “War on Terror” for which the US is investing over $100 billion per year on counter-terrorism and invading Muslim countries.
But Russia is aware of the international community’s unstated intention in Syria. The US and the EU are determined not to allow Moscow to register any political/military victory that will offer the Kremlin a permanent and active place in the international arena. For this reason, Russia is expected to hit hard any attempt to disrupt its ceasefire plan. Any disruption of this kind will result in an increase in the numbers of those killed in the Syrian war and postpone further any political solution.
In Syria, a very complicated war started 6 years ago and is still going on. Its consequences for the many countries which are directly involved are huge, and create an unpredictable future. This a dangerous situation, and it is in the vital interests of the international community to prevent further complication and unwanted drift by working together. The two superpower countries are on opposite sides in this small and therefore very dangerous territory,Bilal al Sham.