Jeffrey Finally “Spills the Beans”: We Didn’t Target al-Nusra at All and We’re in Contact with It!
Reem Issa Reem Issa

Jeffrey Finally “Spills the Beans”: We Didn’t Target al-Nusra at All and We’re in Contact with It!

A few days ago, PBS released a film titled “The Jihadist”, which was the final product of the interviews that Martin Smith, an American journalist, conducted with several people, including ones he conducted in a visit to Idlib with the film’s protagonist: Abu Muhammad al-Jolani, as well as with the film’s creator (who at times tried to disguise himself as the antagonist, but no longer even bothers to do so): James Jeffrey.

Two month before the release of the film, a teaser was released by the same media outlet with excerpts from the interview and an article about it, which we covered in an article in Kassioun (issue # 1012) titled: “A New Act in the Jeffrey-Jolani Play”.

On its face, the film is a documentary about al-Jolani and his rise to where he is today, and the film disguises itself as being objective and factual, with interviews of the aforementioned in addition to other interviews with a few contradictory views.

The filmmakers try to come across as neutral, which is common in documentary films to make them seem like they are merely stating facts and their purpose is purely educational. However, in reality, most people know that there is always a message and objective of these films.

In the film, it is not hard to see that there is a clear attempt to humanize (in other words, whitewash) al-Jolani, and present him as a potentially acceptable partner for the West, particularly the US, through most of the commentary by Jeffrey in the film.

Perhaps the main feature of this film is that it contains Jeffrey’s comments after he became “liberated” from the diplomatic restrictions imposed by his official position, although even when he was at the helm of his work, he did not skimp on rudely expressing Washington’s policies, but now things are really different. Jeffrey’s remarks in this new film are a full-fledged scandal.

We’ve Said That Years Ago

Before diving into the details of this film, we think that it would be good to recall that Kassioun revealed the content of this film years before its release, and persisted in exposing it, which we will quickly cover through some quotes from several articles that dealt with the subject over the past three years:

In an article titled: “RAND – Al Nusra”… Pandora’s Box! (January 9, 2018), we talked about a US plan, advanced through the US-based think tank, RAND, aiming to ensure “the continuation of the battle and not reaching a comprehensive political solution, that is, the non-implementation of resolution 2254”. We clarified that our understand of al-Nusra’s role involved two main tasks:

(1) “Taking the responsibility for violations of the de-escalation, whatever the real party that performs the violations, whether it is a regional party: such as Turkey or ‘Israel’ in particular, and others of course, or internal party: the opposition and the regime. This is because all official parties are unable to publicly take the responsibility for violating the de-escalation, because they are unable to manipulate openly before the Russians.”

(2) “Covering violations committed by various internal parties of ‘moderate factions’, or by parties within the regime, in a way that allows keeping the spirit of both the ‘military quell’ and ‘overthrow’ scenarios”.

Therefore, more than three years ago, we saw that the role of al-Nusra was to contribute to the efforts of dividing Syria, perpetuating such a division, and doing its part in obstructing the political process. All of this under the auspices of and within plans drawn by the US.

In the same article, we also said: “If we call the plan above ‘RAND - Al Nusra Project’, it entirety seeks to divide Syria in the real sense, despite the fact that it remains legally one state.”

The role of al-Nusra within the US coordinates became clearer and more blatant during Jeffrey’s last year in his position as the US Special Representative for Syria Engagement, when he started openly making remarks aiming to exonerate al-Nusra from things that got it designated as a terrorist organization.

On January 30, 2020, Jeffrey said that al-Nusra “claim to be patriotic opposition fighters”, something that “we (the US) haven’t accepted yet, but we have not seen them generate international threat for some time”; though the main objective was “the US’s insistence to prevent resolving al-Nusra issue... The general logic is that resolving al-Nusra issue would mean getting closer to ending the crisis”. (Washington’s Agenda: One Item… No Solution!, February 10, 2020)

We covered more of these types of remarks by the US, whether directly or indirectly (through US-based think tanks and research centers), in other pieces including:

The Comedic Play Starring the Trio: Jeffrey, Malley, and Jolani (February 23, 2020)

The “Compassionate” US, Abu al-Fath al-Farghali, and Wholesale “Coincidences” (April 13, 2020)

Some of the Actors Left the Stage, but the Play Goes on, with Jolani in a New Costume! (February 8, 2021)

Back to the Film

Thus, the film at issue comes as a continuation of a work in progress, taking a different format every time, but always reinforcing the same objectives.

While the film includes dispersed comments from Jeffrey, we should thank the filmmakers for making the entire transcripts of their interviews available, so we can see exactly what was said. Of particularly interest is the transcript of the interview with Jeffrey, who makes a series of remarks that unequivocally aim to whitewash al-Jolani and with him al-Nusra, in a manner that would make them come across as not only a potential partner, but as an actual partner with whom the US has had a partnership for some time, and the time has come to announce this partnership.

In one part, where Jeffrey talks about the process of designating groups as terrorist, he distinguishes al-Nusra from groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda by saying that al-Nusra are more like “resistance forces, liberation movements or other things who use terror at times as a tactic”, which is evident from them being “very much focused on overthrowing the Assad regime” and in that “they don’t go after civilians”.

He even expresses in twisted manner that designating al-Nusra as a terrorist organization is mistake by Washington by saying that in making this designation, “it began to sound like we were buying into Assad’s rhetoric about ‘everybody who’s me is a terrorist’.”

Jeffrey goes further by justifying some of al-Nusra’s operations targeting certain groups in Syria. When the interviewer asks him about al-Jolani calling for indiscriminate attacks on Alawite villages in October 2015, Jeffrey says: “It also is what national liberation movements and resistance organizations do, what the IRA did in Northern Ireland: Go after strong supporters of the other side”.

Later in the interview, when asked about whether he thinks al-Jolani is willing to guarantee rights to minorities in Syria, Jeffrey says that he does not believes that al-Jolani is one of those “people who nurse a hatred of anybody who isn’t like them”.

Finally, Jeffrey admits having had open indirect channels with al-Nusra, through media and NGO people, who would carry “messages” to them, things like “The United States is not targeting these people. The United States is focused on our policy in Syria, which is mainly to put pressure on the Assad regime. So go draw your own conclusions”.

These same channels would also bring messages like “we want to be your friend. We’re not terrorists. We’re just fighting Assad”. Jeffrey notes that there were no “specific channels directly with them: in part because the Russians would exploit it, as would Assad; in part because we didn’t want to make the Turks nervous”.

Even more shamelessly, Jeffrey says: “it was important to us that HTS not disintegrate or become a terrorist force (as if saying it is not terrorist!). Therefore, the fact that they were talking to media people, talking to NGOs, talking to humanitarian organizations, dealing with humanitarian organizations, as opposed to beheading them, was a good thing, because that made it easier for me to ensure that nobody somewhere in the terrorist bureaucracy would decide to take a shot at him. And that would have been bad… I just did everything I could to be able to monitor what they were doing and ensuring that those people who spoke to them (i.e., al-Nusra) knew what our policy was, which was to leave HTS alone and would communicate (that is, the US ensuring that al-Nusra is left alone, while at the same time wanting to communicate with it) – and I assumed would communicate that to them (i.e., al-Nusra)”. He further admits never targeting them: “we haven’t targeted him ever… we have never raised our voice to the Turks about their cohabitation with them”.

Jeffrey adds that “HTS is an effective fighting force against the real terrorists”, that is al-Nusra is not real terrorists, and that al-Jolani is “the least bad option of the various options on Idlib, which is one of the most important places in Syria, which is one of the most important places right now in the Middle East”.

Much of what Jeffrey says is supported within a comprehensive scenario by what al-Jolani himself says in the film, but in more detail in the transcript of his own interview. This includes reassurances like “this region does not represent a threat to the security of Europe and America. This region is not a stage for executing external operations” and “through our 10-year journey in this revolution, we haven’t posed any threat to Western or European society: no security threat, no economic threat, nothing”. In his lengthy interview he frequently indicates disagreement with ISIS and al-Qaeda leaders, eventually resulting in al-Nusra dissociating itself from both, and even going after their fighters.

Jeffrey summarizes the US position with the following: “in the here-and-now are the folks (i.e., al-Nusra) you have to deal with to avoid even worse things”.

What are the Worse Things?

It is necessary to understand those “worse things” that drive the US to act in this manner that is blatant and dangerous in every sense (and perhaps the next candidate to act likewise among Westerners, as many indicators show, would be the British). It is true that most peoples absolutely do not believe the US’s lie “fighting terrorism”, but not all of them believe the fact that the US is the primary manufacturer of terrorism around the world. Jeffrey’s method helps in convincing those who are not yet convinced that the US is so. Therefore, there is a real and urgent need for a discourse of this degree of scandal to emerge.

We believe that the interpretation of the issue, in these times, and in addition to the interpretations previously mentioned by Kassioun in past articles, is represented in the following:

First: Jeffrey’s insistence on accelerating the process of whitewashing al-Nusra indicates that he has assessments and perhaps information that it is no longer possible for al-Nusra to continue as is for a long time, and that there is something in the works against al-Nusra, not only by Russia, but perhaps Turkey as well, that is, through Astana itself, which is the track that did not hide its position with regards to al-Nusra at any point, but set the task of dismantling it.

Second: The US policy in northeast Syria, which includes daily escalation attempts (and it is not the only side that seeks to escalate, but it is key in that escalation), indicates that there is also the possibility of an imminent withdrawal from Syria, which means that maintaining al-Nusra, in parallel with igniting warring and chaos in the northeast, and perpetuating the de facto division, including the dominance of the big corruption and extremists in the regime’s areas and through behind the scene and public links with some Gulf and non-Gulf countries, and above all, the continuation of sanctions. All of this collectively is the US withdrawal from Syria plan, in a manner that would allow the fires to continue and possibly expand, and to allow the quagmire to continue and deepen.

However, all of that is the US’s dreams and aspirations, which will not turn into reality if the patriotic Syrians from all sides, primarily in cooperation with each other, and by taking advantage of the nature of international balances, can quickly move towards the full implementation of UNSC Resolution 2254.

(Arabic version)