The situation in Syria for both the US and Saudi Arabia is getting more complicated on a daily basis. The White House started investing even more resources in the Free Syrian Army to oppose the radical Islamists that entrench themselves in the regions of Syria that are not controlled by the regular armed forces. But as the confidential sources say this tactics has already backfired.
On September 24 a total of 11 Islamist armed groups have thrown the secular opposition under the bus by signing a collective letter that states that they deny the authority of the National coalition and now they regard the Sharia law as the only possible form of governance in Syria. And shortly after, on September 29, all the rebel armed groups that were operating in the vicinity of Damascus have merged together, forming a Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam). This step have undermined the FSA authority in this region of Syria, since it has been regarded for a long period of time as the most potent rebel group around here.
“The Syria’s Southern Front” has always been a major “internal” threat for FSA. For months the rebels have been working hard to unite all the groups around Damascus and in the Daraa province, in order to coordinate their war efforts. This work was controlled and sponsored by the United States and Saudi Arabia, the foreign “allies” have created training camps and command centers for those groups to prevent extremism from spreading across the Syrian soil.
But today the Salafis forces have become the dominating force in the “liberated” parts of Syria and those support the most radical of Wahabiite ideas. So today the Banner of Islam (Al-Islam Liwa) group that is the core of the Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam) is the most influential rebel group in Syria. The military efforts in Syria have long been organized by a military board of rebel leaders, but in the light of recent events the radical group Аl-Ahrar Al-Sham left this board. The representatives of Аl-Ahrar Al-Sham say they don’t like the dominating role of a single group over all the others.
But the news doesn’t end just yet. The Salafis rise will create competition for radical extremists like Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant that are connected to “Al-Qaeda”. Those two groups have recently started fighting each other in the northern regions of Syria. The Syrian rebels are falling apart, since the secular, the extremist and the Islamist groups are starting to fight each other. All this is a major fail of Saudi Arabia and its cunning policy.
Saudi Arabia did play a major part in bringing the different rebel groups together. But despite the fact that El Riyadh supported Al-Islam Liwa as a part of FSA, a representative of this group stated in an interview to Al Arabia that Banner of Islam is not a FSA member anymore. The better part of rebels decided at some point in time that creating a country governed by Sharia law is a better strategy than supporting FSA.
The tension among the rebel groups won’t always transform into direct military clashes since they have a common mission together– to make the Assad regime fall. And the sheer number of the extremist rebels is not an indicator of the moods of the Syrian society. For instance the militants of «Al-Ahrar Al-Sham» in the southern regions of Syria can differ greatly in their moods from their northern counterparts, since the northern regions of Syria are known for the conservative moods. Some groups like «Аl-Suqour» have the secular oriented members that live side by side with the Islamist members, the latter are usually the veterans of the military opposition to the US armed forces in Iraq.
So the vast majority of the moderate Islam supporting militants are more concerned with the foreign mercenaries fighting in Syria than with their extremist counterparts. One of the FSA officers said in his interview: “We’re not especially worried with Jabhat al-Nusra members, once the war is over they will join us. We know them. They are our brothers, our neighbors they are the children of our tribes. Who we are going to fight is Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and the leaders of Jabhat al-Nusra”.
But all this weakens the rebels and their ability to fight the Assad regime, since the clashing ideologies are no match to the legitimate State and constitution the Syrian armed forces are fighting for.
Alexander Orlov is a political analyst and an expert Orientalist. Exclusively for New Eastern Outlook.