In an attempt to “settle” the Syrian crisis Washington and Riyadh has put forward a negotiator – the President of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces Ahmad Jarba. But it seems that today there’s a few people who do remember the story of Ahmad’s rise to “prominence”. A former felon, he was detained for drugs smuggling in Saudi Arabia and later transferred to Syria under convoy. In Syria Ahmad Jabra started running disorderly houses, and later on he was hired for the assassination of the runaway Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs, but instead of killing his target he charged ex-Minister for “alarming him”.
The impending rise of Ahmad-al-Jarba to national leadership is disturbing but not unexpected. It is part of a distinct pattern. The same Western powers which are still engaged in a “war on terror” are perfectly happy to use terrorists for their own ends, and promote them to power as respected statesmen, when it suits them. Then their crimes are soon forgotten. Their victims, however, who rightly expected Western help against the terrorists, are then abandoned and told to move with the tide which rapidly washes them away.
There is a long tradition of terrorists becoming respectable political leaders because somebody says so. The present government of Uruguay, popularly elected and popular, is led by former Tupumaro guerrillas, whose decades–long campaign of violence and murder was ultimately legitimised by the corruption of the self-serving regimes they fought against. More relevantly, the West has now decided it likes the people responsible for crimes such as kidnapping the British Ambassador.
Then-Prime Minister of Israel Menachem Begin did not attend the Middle East peace talks at Leeds Castle in the UK because he was still wanted by the British for terrorist activities, blowing up the King David Hotel (British Headquarters in the 1940s). After an agreement was eventually signed at Camp David he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Camp David is of course in the USA, and agreement was brokered by President Jimmy Carter.
In 1982 the FAN rebel movement overthrew the government of Chad, led by Goukouni Oueddei, in a coup and replaced him with its own leader, Minister of Defence Hissene Habre, the most pro-Western of Chadian political figures. Within a fortnight, Habre was being described as “President” and Goukouni as the “Libyan-backed rebel”. Habre and Goukouni had both been members of the same Libya-based resistance movement, and both their competing armies had been trained by Libya.
Police and diplomatic records show that Riyadh handed over “the suspected terrorist and killer Ahmad al-Jarba” to Damascus in 2008, apparently on charges of drug trafficking, in accordance with an extradition agreement between the Saudi and Syrian security services. Then he was considered to be “really a bad guy”. Now he is presented as the number one asset in the country, leading the National Coalition.
In Syria the Baath Party is no longer accepted as “the vanguard party” within society and the Sunni minority wants more influence. Saudi Arabia, the main player in the present crisis, is playing this card well. Saudi Arabia is a Western ally because its oil-rich rulers prefer to influence West than East and can afford to choose their own friends. But it cannot compete in political or intelligence infrastructure with the USA or EU. Join their camp, even on your own terms, you still have to play by their rules.
The role the US, Turkish and Saudi intelligence services are playing in all that is happening in Syria and the region indicates that they want to make a “Disorderly house out of the White House”. At least 20 different terrorist-aligned groups are fighting the government and each other as part of the current game plan, bound by an ever-changing pattern of fragile alliances. It is as if the intelligence agencies can’t survive without keeping the Cold War going; Syria was once within the Soviet sphere of influence, received strong military support from the former Soviet Union and Russia is involved there now, so the US and its allies have to show they are the bigger bastards.
Long tradition of Saudi involvement
Saudi involvement in Syria dates back long before the current civil war. For example, the deaths of Hisham al Badni (the PA of Khaled Meshaal, a Hamas commander), Imad Mughnyeh (Hezbollah Commander in Chief), and Muhammad Suleiman (the link man between Hezbollah, Assad and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards in Damascus have all been linked by local sources with Saudi intelligence, and thee has been no convincing rebuttal of these allegations.
A spree of murder and intimidation of members of the Syrian government is also attributed to the Saudis. In this campaign, all are at risk, including ordinary citizens who may be considered at various times to be expendable by outside entities.
Those close to the Alawi are at particular risk. This sect is considered heretical by other Moslems, and this can be used to justify any action taken against its members, whether or not it has anything to do with religion. A delicate social and political balance between Moslem sects has existed since the death of Mohammed, and the question of who is the Prophet’s rightful successor, the main cause of the various divisions within Islam, is now being used by the US, a non-Moslem country, to upset this balance and provoke fear and division.
Saudi Arabia sees itself as the guardian of the Sunni variety of Islam. The inspiration of the Saudi operations is Prince Bandar bin Sultan. It has been widely reported that he has tried to destabilise Syria both through the National Coalition and with the help of outside forces, regardless of their orientation. In fact Syrian counterintelligence has tried to murder him on several occasions.
As often happens in intra-Moslem conflicts, the Prince justifies his actions by describing them as a jihad: a term meaning “struggle to establish the law of God on earth”, the obligation of every Moslem, but often interpreted to mean “holy war” in which anything is acceptable. The multitude of Islamic Peace organisations throughout the world have long objected to political figures using this term to justify actions against fellow Moslems, inspired by politics, rather than the promotion of the faith.
The true agenda of the Saudi leadership is not to promote “correct” Islam in a country which already largely practices it but to topple the regime, especially by stirring things up in the National Coalition. Islam does not actually preach terrorism, or support those who practice it. But in order to scale back the Moslem Brotherhood’s influence, Saudi Arabia is apparently happy to impose Ahmad al-Jarba as the National Coalition’s new leader.
Saudi Arabia has, officially, no higher value than Islam. The secular West has plenty. So who actually wants to promote a once-reviled terrorist to lead Syria, and for what purpose?
Although regional media reports claim that Ahmad al-Jarba was fasttracked to the highest post in the Coalition by outside intelligence services, mainly Saudi, his advancement also serves the interests of other players in the ongoing Syrian quagmire, including Qatar. In the long years when Jarba was regarded as everybody’s worst nightmare, his notoriety united the Saudi, Qatari and Syrian security services. They had a common enemy, and indeed this was largely true, as his plots and actions were aimed at all of them, indiscriminately.
Standing up to Jarba was a cheap way for the leaders of regional countries to present themselves as men of principle and reliable partners – i.e., acolytes hoping for a handout – in the War on Terror. Now each regional country is trying to use him for their own advantage at the expense of the others. In any such contest, the US generally has the support network to win the day. What Jarba is supposed to do for Syria when he is its leader does not even enter the equation.
Once again a fugitive from justice has become a valued intelligence asset working on the ground to topple a regime, with not only regional but US support. Prince Bandar is no fool and he has carefully calculated the risks involved in getting into bed with Jarba. He, could not have been allowed to take such risks without getting the green light from Washington, the instigatoe of the War on Terror, which for many years has actually meant the War on Jarba in this region.
As has been reported in the regional press, “Bandar bargained with several blocs in the Coalition over installing Jarba as the president of the opposition group in return for delivering game-changing weapons. Ahmad al-Jarba is known for being able to solve problems, and even for being ready and able to carry out paid assassinations, perhaps unpaid if his personal interests are served. For instance, it is known that Emir Hamad’s people asked Ahmad al-Jarba to assassinate the exiled Qatari foreign minister in Syria. Al-Jarba even received payment after accepting the offer.
Ahmad Jarba is an influential tribal figure in Syria, as a member of the important Shammar tribe, in a country with a “delicate balance” of tribal affiliations and political interests. On this basis, he has some claim to a stake in deciding the country’s future. But his long years as a wanted terrorist should cast doubt on his willingness to act as a statesman.
Jarba was an influential tribal figure before he became a terrorist, able to lever the same influence. For Jarba, terrorism wasn’t the only mode of political action open to him, it was a conscious choice. Maybe he will solve a short term problem, as the West perceives it. But what then?
The most likely scenario is that the Saudi and US intelligence services have done a deal to divide influence over the new Syria between them and are using the thorn in their respective sides to remove any obstacles to this hegemony. Jarba is, after all, the man most feared by all the other countries’ intelligence agencies and their chosen combatant factions.
Having served his purpose, he will again be branded a terrorist and replaced with someone with a better track record. All this will cost many lives and rivers of blood. None of it has anything to do with the Syrian people or any problem they are currently fighting about. It is therefore not a solution to those problems, but to the Saudi and US problem with Syria.
The rehabilitation of Jarba has nothing to do with resolving the Syrian conflict. It is a means of terrorizing other countries into extending Saudi and US influence in the region. Apparently no price is too high to pay to achieve this end.
In Afghanistan, the US and its allies now spit on the graves of the hundreds of dead youngsters they sent to fight the Taliban, and the thousands killed during the insurgency, by bringing the Taliban into government. In Afghanistan as in Syria, government of what? An independent country or a corridor of power far away where totally different issues are being discussed?
The question remains, if Ahmad Jarba is the best Washington and Riyadh were able to put forward, can you imagine the rest of the the so-called “National Coalition”? Do felons make good peace negotiators?
Seth Ferris, investigative journalist and political scientist, expert on Middle Eastern affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.