Under the title “Syria will only bow to God”, Al Qaeda leader Ayman Al Zawahiri called on his followers in Syria to “wage a guerilla warfare in order to weaken and drain the enemy”. Zawahiri was urging his followers to do what we all expect to happen anyway. And this should urge us to connect what we do now, in terms of efforts to find a solution, to what will happen tomorrow, as Zawahiri promises us all.
The simplified, and utterly false, mantras of “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”, or “Choosing the lesser evil”, must be thrown to the garbage pin. For one example, ISIL and Al Qaeda are enemies. Should we side with ISIL to defeat Al Qaeda? And allegedly, Al Qaeda is less savage than ISIL. Can we consider it the lesser evil?
This formal and corrupt “logic” was the one that led the Obama administration to support the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in the Arab World, particularly after the Arab Spring. Zawahiri himself admitted twice that Usama Ben Laden was a MB member at the beginning of his militant life. Moreover, Zawahiri himself was a product of Egypt’s Islamic “Sahwa” (revival), instigated by the MB in the 70’s among Egypt’s university students. All this was pushed under the carpet in Obama’s White House, which saw in the MB a “democratic, political and anti-violence group”.
But, in Syria, it is much more complicated. From all the tiring details, smoke of bombed sites and screams of victims, we can see the “bones” of the conflict starting to appear slowly. The war’s skeleton is coming down home: Iran wants to control the country and it is urging Assad to never give up, and to carry on until he (read: Iran), “liberates” every inch”. Russia does not want to lose its valuable new allies in Tehran, while it wants to keep the bridges with Washington
Here, we see once more how the game is complicated. Hezbollah, the main Iranian force in the east Mediterranean, is now negotiating with the Lebanese government a plan to abandon a chain of hilltops on Lebanon’s eastern borders with Israel to the Lebanese army. Hezbollah wants to free its fighters there in order to send them to control Hama province in Syria.
These negotiations summarize the whole story in that part of the world. While Hezbollah promoted itself as “the main resistance force against the Zionist entity”, its leaders and Tehran reveal that their main fight is actually meant, under Iranian orders, to grab more land and complete their land-bridge from the Iranian borders to the shores of the Mediterranean, even if it means pulling forces away from “the Zionist entity”.
The deformation of the Iranian geostrategic ambitions that expresses itself in the form of Shias against Sunnis help the likes of Zawahiri to promote his “guerilla warfare”. Zawahiri considers himself, as his supporters consider him, the ultimate defender of Sunnis.
This is precisely why the nature of the fight has to be redefined in the perceptions of all Syrian. This is not a fight between Sunnis and Shias. It is not a fight between Sunnis and Alawis. It is a fight against terrorists, who promote themselves as the defenders of Sunnis, and a dictator, who happens to be an Alawi, that killed half a million of his people in cold blood. The Iranians interfere to support their loyal head of state to achieve their own regional geopolitical plan.
Therefore, besieging Kafraya and Foaa, in Idlib, under the pretext that they are Shia villages, and negotiating the recent deal to move all the inhabitants away from their homes, should be defined as forced sectarian cleansing, hence it is an abhorrent war crime. Waging a guerrilla warfare under the banner of Sunni Islam against non-Sunnis is an abhorrent crime against the Syrian people and their revolution which erupted to gain dignity and basic rights.
Some people would say that arguing against a Shia-Sunni division is not realistic because this is the nature of things as they stand. Those are the same who promote “the lesser evil” and the enemy of mu enemy’ empty slogans. They will argue that choosing the “lesser evil” is an idealist, half-baked illusions. The beauty of the human spirit is that it never accepts what exists as right. It is always capable of stretching the horizon and moving towards its ideals.
Moreover, when you think about it, it is realistic and doable. Al Qaeda and ISIL’s rise in Syria is attributed mainly to the fact that when Assad used brutal force against peaceful protesters, the two terrorist groups presented themselves as the “protectors” of the majority of Syrians, who happen to be Sunnis. Protesters were not armed to defend themselves against the army. They, in the context of the confrontation, accepted the offer of the armed groups which started to spread fast. The nature of the conflict was gradually deformed.
But the overwhelming majority of Syrians are historically moderates. Even the armed groups are, in good part, anti-ISIL and anti-Qaeda. We even claim that part of the foot soldiers of Hay’at Tahrir Al Sham (Nusra and others) are not ideologically hardcore adherents to Zawahiri’s views. The point is how to find a regional-domestic path to galvanize all the relatively moderates in order to fight the terrorist, supra-national fanatics.
This path should include distinctive landmarks: cutting the cords between the war and the fierce regional competition, getting rid of the dictator who turned into the focal point of hatred of most Syrian after killing nearly half a million of his people, preserving the Syrian state and national army, considering all non-government organized arms as illegal and enemies of all Syrian, reaching a form of governance that gives moderate Islamists their right of representation so long as they fight radicalism, sectarianism, violence and terrorism, respect the law and abandon any transcendence of the central concept of the nation-state.
The moment all relevant parties, Russia, the US, the Arabs, the Turks and the Iranians are ready to accept those general outlines of the solution, all should cooperate to implement it. If they remain driven by their destructive illusions and individual interests, the should be isolated and pressured until they accept. If one or more refuse, then those who accept should build a force on the ground that accept those principles. And we not only know, but absolutely certain, that there are a lot of Syrians who accept those principles, including foot soldiers within the terrorist groups.
Russia is working on community reconciliation deals. It is a good “face lift”. But it is not a remedy to the ills that led to the war. It may gain time, but Zawahiri’s people will go ahead with their plans, and they will expand to turn Syria into another Afghanistan. Russia failed to pacify Afghanistan. The US failed to pacify Afghanistan. Did we learn anything from this failure?
April, 27 2017