Consensual Separation

Friday, August 5, 2016

Pir-Mohammad Mollazehi
Political Analyst & Expert on Indian Subcontinent

Abu Mohammad al-Julani, the leader of the al-Nusra Front in Syria has officially announced his group’s separation from al-Qaeda, noting that the al-Nusra Front will be replaced with the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham or the Front for the Conquest of the Levant. In response, the leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has noted that the separation of the group from al-Qaeda is understandable, adding that if it helps the fight against Syrian government, it is of no objection. Therefore, it seems that there has been some sort of agreement between the leaders of al-Qaeda and the commander of the al-Nusra Front in Syria for separation, but the question is what reason has necessitated this separation and, more importantly, what impact can it have on internal developments of radical terrorist and jihadist groups, on the one hand, and their external relations at regional and international levels, on the other hand.

The dominant assumption in this regard is that a recent agreement between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his American counterpart, John Kerry, in Moscow according to which the al-Nusra Front was to be considered among terrorist groups and a target for joint air strikes by the two countries has been the main reason behind this tactical change and alteration of the group’s name from the al-Nusra Front to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. In the meantime, the main goal of this tactic and change of name seems to be rendering that agreement futile or at least creating doubts about it on the American side, not necessarily on the Russian side. This seems plausible in view of the secret support provided to this group by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and to so some extent Turkey, which have been part of the Western front in the Syrian developments and opposed to the resistance front, which is made up of Iran, Syria, Iraq, the Lebanese Hezbollah and Russia. Otherwise, it would be hard to accept that following this change in name, any major change would take place in the goals pursued by the al-Nusra Front and al-Qaeda in Syria in ideological terms. At the same time, this possibility should not be ignored that the Moscow agreement between foreign ministers of Russia and the United States may not be limited to al-Nusra Front and may be a more broad-based deal between these two main powers, which are involved in the Syrian conflict, in order to put an end to the destructive war in the Arab country. If this possibility is taken more seriously, then it would be possible to imagine that some sort of vigilance exists among leaders of al-Qaeda and the al-Nusra Front with regard to forthcoming developments in Syria, which may lead to a cease-fire in the near future.

The importance of this issue will be correctly understood when one pays attention to the fact that all so-called moderate opposition groups have been present in Syria’s peace talks, but since the al-Nusra Front has been introduced as a terrorist group, it has not been invited to negotiations. If this trend continued, the al-Nusra Front, which is a powerful force in Syria’s developments and has important regional allies, would have been barred from playing a role in future developments.  At any rate, by changing its name, the al-Nusra Front not only expects to somehow allay the risk of being targeted by joint US-Russia air strikes, but also to play a more effective role in future developments in the country. It goes without saying that as long as the al-Nusra Front maintained its clear ties with al-Qaeda, the United States and Russia would not allow it to be part of future developments in Syria. However, now, opposition against the group’s role in these developments may not be as strong as before and this will provide Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey with a good opportunity to introduce al-Nusra Front as a moderate group like other moderate opposition groups and pave the way for its participation in possible future peace talks. At the same time, there is doubt that the future Syria would maintain its current central power structure. Under these conditions, a change of name will help the al-Nusra Front to be part of future equations of the country.

At any rate, the al-Nusra Front is among those Syrian groups, which have territories under their control. Therefore, even if it loses all swathes of land, which are now under its control, the al-Nusra Front can continue its activities in other ways because Sunni Muslims of Syria form part of its forces and in this way, it will still be able to cause problems for complete establishment of peace and stability in the country. Therefore, it is possible that the main supporters of the al-Nusra Front are pursuing their special goals through apparent change in the group’s name and this is why they have encouraged it to take this step. At the same time, a fatwa (religious decree) issued by the main theorist of the Salafist and jihadist current, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, has been used as religious justification for the separation of the al-Nusra Front form al-Qaeda. So, it seems that the necessary ground for the announcement of this separation has been prepared beforehand. There are, however, doubts about whether this tactic will really help the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham remain immune to air strikes by Russian and American fighter jets. There is no doubt that in the long run, as various aspects of secret agreements between the United States and Russia over the future power structure in Syria come into the light, efforts will intensify to form a single front of the so-called moderate opposition groups that fight against the government of Syria’s President Bashar Assad, and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham will probably find a place in these equations through support of Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

At least, one can claim that the goal, which is being pursued behind the scene of this change of name from the al-Nusra Front to the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, can be explained in this regard. Apart from these issues, the important reality is that the crisis in Syria is gradually affecting all countries one way or another. The recent developments in Turkey, the spread of terrorism and especially recent terrorist attacks in Germany and France, and the huge wave of immigration toward Europe are all in close relationship with developments in Syria and have already rang the alarm bells for those countries. In view of these realities, the present time is the best time for a deal between the United States and Russia over the future of Syria. The al-Nusra Front and al-Qaeda have been seemingly smart enough to understand that conditions are changing and if they do not adapt themselves to developments on the ground, they will be strongly suppressed. The tactic of changing the name of the al-Nusra Front to the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham can be only understood within this framework. Otherwise, not the slightest change is possible to take place in the common ideological approach followed by al-Qaeda and the al-Nusra Front.

Key WordsAl-Qaeda, Al-Nusra Front, Consensual Separation, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Syrian Government, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, Russia, Sergei Lavrov, US, John Kerry, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Lebanese Hezbollah, Peace Talks, Opposition Groups, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, Ideological Approach, Mollazehi

Source: Farhikhtegan Newspaper
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

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