Extending al-Jolani’s Mission… The “Show” Goes on
Reem Issa Reem Issa

Extending al-Jolani’s Mission… The “Show” Goes on

Since mid-2019, hardly two months pass without al-Jolani makes an appearance to us with a new statement or move. While many see this as his way not to deprive us of his “amiability” and to remind everyone that he is still present and relevant, which is certainly one of the explanations, what is more important is that these appearances have also become one of the tools used by those who have worked tirelessly, and for years on end, on the efforts to whitewash al-Nusra. In addition, each new appearance carries with it its own significances within the timeframe in which it occurs, including the latest appearance.

About a week ago, al-Jolani appeared and got a decent amount of space in the media, when his group, al-Nusra, launched an attack on other groups, “Jund al-Sham” and “Jund Allah”, which are described as “jihadi” groups.

Jund al-Sham is a faction headed by Muslim al-Shishani, a Chechen jihadist who fought against the Russians in Chechnya and continued to do so in Syria over the last few years. This, according to some, makes him and his group very problematic for the Russians one of their most important foes among the terrorist groups in northwestern Syria.

As for the group known as Jund Allah, it has a slightly more complex background. In short, the group, according to some sources, was an extension of an Azerbaijani “jihadist” group. A few years ago, the group had pledged allegiance to ISIS, but parted ways with it after a bloody battle. One of the accusations by al-Nusra against Jund Allah is that it harbors remnants of al-Qaeda and Hurras al-Din, a group also affiliated with al-Qaeda.

According to several media outlets that reported the matter, the disputes between al-Nusra and these groups have been going on for months, eventually reaching the clashes that took place last week, leading to dealing a final blow, though the veracity of that is not quite clear.

Something similar happened previously when al-Jolani and his group went after Hurras al-Din, in an operation that extended over a period of nearly two years. At the time, a US-based think tank used that battle as a clear “argument” and justification for “Syrianizing” al-Jolani and presenting him as a potential partner in dealing with the Syria file, even hinting at the possibility of him participating in the political process and thus being part of Syria’s future.

This latest episode of the series of attacks that “al-Nusra” launches from time to time, was another act that can be filed in the column titled “Combatting Foreign Terrorist Fighters”, within the list of actions that prove “changing the behavior” of al-Jolani and al-Nusra. After all, whitewashing al-Nusra through just changing its leader’s clothing and trimming his beard is not enough and requires corroboration with “tangible evidence” that his Western bosses can rely on in their pleading in his defense, and what better way to do that than to portray him as a partner in the global fight against terrorism. Of course, “terrorism” as defined by the West and in Jeffrey’s own words, is one that would “generate international threats” (and “international” means the West, because groups that threaten, for example, China or Russia, or that wreak corruption in any Asian country, are not necessarily terrorist, as long as they do not threaten the interests of the West. Quite the contrary, when they threaten the interests of the West’s opponents, they can fall under vivid classifications as recent history proves, such as “freedom fighters” for example).

It is worth noting that the last few days have witnessed some protests in a number of locations in the northwest, condemning al-Jolani and al-Nusra for this latest battle, accusing al-Nusra of targeting groups only because the latter do not succumb to al-Nusra even though they are “holding posts directly on the frontlines with the regime and Russia”, according to the targeted groups’ claims. Some have even gone too far in their fantasies claiming that al-Jolani was trying to appease and cajole to the Russians through these last battles.

Based on the above and by following the development of al-Nusra and with it the development of the approach thereto by the different sides whether directly through statements or indirectly through the media and think tanks, and within the current international and regional scene, especially with regards to Syria, we can observe at least the following:

  • There are still some international sides that implicitly tolerate the prolongation of al-Nusra’s existence to exploit it as a bargaining chip for political gains at some point. In return, al-Nusra continues to control this limited area in Syria and “govern” whichever way it wants, while these international side turn a blind eye to most of its practices and suffices with some denouncing statements from time to time.
  • At the same time, al-Nusra is doing its part in prolonging its existence by not eliminating all the other terrorist groups around and near it, but instead spreading out its attacks thereon. Thus, al-Nusra uses this as its own bargaining chip to prolong its own existence and also make whatever gains it can get from those who are benefiting from its continued existence.
  • The ability of al-Nusra to continue carrying out such operations can be categorized within the efforts aimed at establishing an exclusive link between Turkey and al-Nusra, which seeks to remove the US from the forefront of the scene. This complicates the implementation of the agreements reached between Russia and Turkey regarding the northwest, without the West bearing direct responsibility for this, and this helps to create ongoing tensions between the two main poles of Astana, Russia and Turkey. This does not, of course, negate the direct Turkish role in the relationship with al-Nusra, but it places it in its broader and more realistic framework.
  • In the new “show” presented by al-Nusra, there is an additional new element, which is the attempt to portray al-Nusra as targeting elements or sides hostile to Russia. In other words, those in charge of al-Nusra’s whitewashing are seeking to shuffle the cards, perchance this delays or softens the Russian position, which classifies al-Nusra as a terrorist organization.

Based on the above, we can preliminarily conclude at least the following:

  • Of course, among the immediate goals of al-Jolani and his bosses, is to expand the geographical area that he controls, and thus raising his “supposed negotiating weight”.
  • In addition to that, ending the small groups that are also classified as terrorist, whose mission during the past period was to be the “ugly face” that bears the dirty work of al-Nusra, will mean (in addition to the joke that al-Jolani combats terrorism) that the only organization that will remain in the region after the operations is al-Nusra itself, which cannot be removed from the list of terrorist organizations as long as other terrorist organizations close to it and coexisting with it are present.
  • The US long-term goal with regards to al-Nusra is to continue working to have it stay even after the US’s exit from Syria as one of the many mines Washington is planting in the region to detonate later when needed.
  • On the short-term, al-Nusra is increasingly playing the role required of it as one of the actors ensuring that conditions on the ground remain unstable enough to spoil serious efforts to create the right environment for the political process to proceed at the required speed.
  • There are increasing attempts by the West, and particularly the US, to use al-Nusra to undermine the Russian-Turkish relationship and widen any current fissures between the two, within the continued efforts to target the Russian-Turkish rapprochement and the Astana format in general, and to obstruct reaching a real and comprehensive political solution in Syria.
  • The “strategic dialogue” between Russia and the US is still going on with regard to Syria and the region in general, and this dialogue is still oscillating at a point where it is not yet expected to produce final results. Where the US is trying to play all the cards it possesses and can play with in parallel with continuing the dialogue, the US desire of which may seem not to achieve a serious strategic dialogue, but rather a “tactical omission”, within the margins of which there is an acceleration of steps on the ground within the process of “changing the regime’s behavior” by using normalizing Arab regimes, perchance this will lead to economic and political integration of Zionism in the region to constitute a continuation of the American presence and American sabotage.
  • Despite the enormous complexity and interconnectedness that the situation appears to be with regard to al-Nusra, Syria, and the region in general, the limits of the ability of the American and Zionist to act are now primarily dependent on the volume of the contradictions among the relevant actors in our region, and not on the already declining self-power of the West. It is not difficult to predict that all the sides opposite to the American and the Zionist are aware of this and acting accordingly. Astana itself is one of the most important examples of this, but it certainly is not sufficient alone if it does not combine with a Syrian-Syrian consensus. It is also not sufficient at the level of at which it is currently developing if it does not elevate it towards consensus on starting the actual political solution through UNSC Resolution 2254, whether or not the West agrees to that.


(Arabic Version)

Last modified on Wednesday, 03 November 2021 13:34