By Barry Rubin
Can it be more obvious? Thirteen Syrian rebel groups–including the most important in Aleppo and Damascus–demand an Islamist state in Syria and say they don’t care what the official rebel, U.S.-backed politicians say.
By the way, only one of these groups is an al-Qaida group, Jabhat al-Nusra. There is also the large Salafi Islamist group, Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiya. The others include the powerful Liwa al-Tawhid (Aleppo) and Liwa al-Islam. Both groups operated as part of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) umbrella.
What about the U.S-backed Free Syrian Army? As the GLORIA Center’s Syria expert Dr. Jonathan Spyer put it: “This is much of the Free Syrian Army.”
The Syrian rebel statement, distancing these militias from the FSA’s leadership said, “These forces call on all military and civilian groups to unite in a clear Islamic context that… is based on sharia (Islamic) law, making it the sole source of legislation”. “The [Syrian] National Coalition and the proposed government under Ahmad Tomeh [the Obama Administration- supported “moderate” Muslim Brotherhood puppet who wields little power] does not represent us, nor do we recognize it,” said 13 of Syria’s most powerful Islamist rebel groups.
In other words the rebels themselves deny they are “moderates”. Note that when the United States tried to get the Syrian rebels to denounce al-Qaida over a year ago they all refused. They would rather alienate America than al-Qaida.
A question that comes up is would not the people of Syria suffer? The tragic truth is that they will suffer either way. Of course, there will be ethnic massacres. First, the Sunni Muslims will be slain; then the Christians, Druze, Kurds, Shi’ites, and Alawites will be massacred. How many hundreds of refugees will Arab and Western countries absorb?
The current civil war will not be the last war. There will be a civil war between the victorious partners, at least the Brotherhood-types and al-Qaida, and perhaps the Salafists. Then there will be a war between the Sunni Islamists (al Qaida and Brotherhood-types) and the Kurds. There has already been fighting between al-Qaida style organizations and other Sunni Islamist rebels against the Kurds. Intra-Sunni Islamist rebel infighting is increasingly occurring. Al-Qaida groups have also fought one another and other rebel groups.
War without end, amen. Syria will be turned into a smoking ruin for a generation, perhaps 20 percent of the population will flee. This is no war of liberation but a tragedy.
Will America give hundreds of millions to the Syrian economy? Will it train and reform the Syrian Islamist army? Will it advise the Brotherhood against al-Qaida while ignoring ethnic massacres?
But yes the greater strategic danger by an edge is Iran. Yet why would America be expected to handle this danger, an America that is taking the wrong side in Egypt? Better to keep Washington away from being a rent-an-army for the Arab League in direct engagement in Syria.
There is, however, another factor. There are now boots on the ground of Iranian troops in Syria. You think Russia will take care of that as well? Actually, the regime is in long-range trouble. It is running out of reliable soldiers to fight for it. Iranians and their Shi’ite Islamist proxies will predictably make up for these numbers.
These are the unpalatable choices. That’s why President Obama has now changed a regulation prohibiting U.S. aid from being paid to terrorists, believe it or not.
That doesn’t mean we should want the regime to win. It is certainly in U.S strategic interests for the rebels to prevail. But have no doubt that when they do defeat the regime, the rebels will blame the United States and Israel–though they opposed the regime and helped the rebel side–as well as Iran, Russia, and Hizballah for their problems. They will fight against peace, be willing to stage anti-American terrorism, and be against U.S interests. This could be justified by the defeat for Iran but don’t be over-enthusiastic.
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Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.