Abu Bakr al-Husayni al-Qurashi al-Baghdadi the emir of the Islamic State of Iraq, (ISI) a jihadist organisation formerly affiliated with Al Qaeda recently released an official statement declaring that Jahbat al Nusra, (JN) the jihadist group that has been operating inside Syria, as officially its own product and a franchise of the ISI. The name of both groups has also been revised, signalling the unification of the Islamic State in Iraq and Jabhat al Nusra in Syria, both now officially being named: “The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater al Sham [or Levant]” (ISIS). In the communique Baghdadi states:
“It’s now time to declare in front of the people of the Levant and the world that al-Nusra Front is but an extension of the Islamic State of Iraq and part of it,” …….”We thus declare … the cancellation of the name of the Islamic State of Iraq and the name of al-Nusra Front and grouping them together under one name, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant,”
Syria analysts, and indeed the US state department have long acknowledged that Jahbat al Nusra was at least in some form an affiliate of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), which explains the US designating it as a terrorist group. Most analysts covering jihadist groups in the region have drawn the conclusion that Baghdadi’s recent statement is of no real consequence. For fighters on the ground in Syria, that appears to be the case. The two largest Salafi coalitions currently fighting in Syria under the umbrella groups of the Syrian Islamic Front (SIF) and the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front (SILF) will have no qualms operating with ISIS. As has been demonstrated continuously throughout the conflict. Ideologically, the SIF and the SILF’s main objective is an Islamic state in Syria, yet the SIF’s spokespeople have paid lip-service to fair treatment of minorities in any post Assad Syria. Al Qaeda, on the other hand, is a different matter altogether, their mission is an enforced Islamic world through jihad. This could provide an opportunity for Gulf states and prominent donors of the Syrian Salafi brigades to counter AQ’s prominence and attempt to move away from extremism. But, JaN are revered throughout the Salafi battalions for their fighting prowess, expertise, and overall prominence and success in taking the fight to the Syrian Army. In other words Jahbat al Nusra, now known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. If anything, I expect this statement to further alienate any supposedly ‘moderate’ elements inside Syria and further bolster the already dominant extremists within the opposition.
On the other hand, this ‘new’ development isn’t guaranteed to help the opposition. It could prove to be Jahbat al Nusra’s downfall in Syria, which right now would be a blow to the main opposition objective of ousting Assad. The ‘moderate’ Salafi elements may reject ISIS’ vision for Syria and try to marginalize it, which will result in a violent backlash and infighting. Western actors supporting the opposition will be pushing them to do this, the Muslim Brotherhood dominated SNC will also at least publicly distance itself from extremist elements, but no doubt ties on the ground will remain strong. Evidence of this is already becoming clear, as posted before, US/GCC “increases” and “expansion” of their military efforts on Syria’s southern border toward the middle of 2012 from a multi-national staging ground in Jordan has only resulted in the further bolstering of jihadist elements entering Syria.
“his group [ISI] had deployed battle-hardened fighters and sent funds to local al-Nusra cells set up in Syria to lay the groundwork for the armed uprising“.-Reuters.
In this McClatchy report we learn that despite continuing State Department rhetoric on ‘moderate’ rebels, and the multi-national military presence on the Jordan/Syria border, the flow of fundamentalist militia entering Syria has gone completely unimpeded:
For all the Obama administration’s vocal concern about Islamist extremists fighting in Syria, neither U.S. officials nor regional allies have taken significant action to stem the flow of jihadists to rebel ranks.The jihadist pipelines – mainly via Turkey, but also through Jordan and Iraq – are an open secret, according to interviews this month with fighters and eyewitnesses, as well as analysts……The foreign fighters would be hard to miss for Turkish and Western intelligence operatives – they stay at established safe houses, openly recruit comrades and often stand out with distinctive appearances and habits – yet there’s been no overt effort to crack down on their presence in frontier towns.
“Essentially, Turkey is running a rat line of jihadists into Syria the same way the Syrians ran a rat line into Iraq,” said Joshua Landis, the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma and author of the blog Syria Comment. “Turkey, with America’s blessing, is doing the same thing and we’ve done nothing to stop them. It’s a wink nod-nod situation.”……Analysts offer mixed views on why the U.S. hasn’t done more to block the jihadist routes. They argue that the pipelines are less of a priority for the administration because the jihadists aren’t targeting Americans – as they were in Iraq – that U.S. diplomats want to avoid confronting the Turks on the issue because they need Turkey’s help on other urgent regional matters and, perhaps most importantly, that the battle-skilled jihadists are a necessary evil to hasten the U.S. goal of ousting Assad.
“al-Nusra Front could not take control on Israeli-Syrian borders without the aid of Israel”, declaring that “the injuries of al-Nusra Front are transferred to Israeli hospitals and Israel devotes its military efforts to help the insurgents in the demilitarized zone”.