As It Exhausts its Sabotage Tools, the West is Trying its Luck Again with Jolani
Reem Issa Reem Issa

As It Exhausts its Sabotage Tools, the West is Trying its Luck Again with Jolani

The region has witnessed major developments over the last few months, including ones in the Syrian file. The main development of the latter is concrete and quick steps towards a Syrian-Turkish rapprochement within the Astana framework. This would contribute to laying the foundation to creating the appropriate conditions to move forward towards getting out of the Syrian crisis, through a comprehensive political solution through the full implementation of UNSC Resolution 2254. As Kassioun has indicated in many articles, this is a source of major concern for several local, regional, and international players, specifically the extremists in the Syrian sides, “Israel”, and the West led by the US. This makes these playing activate their sabotage tools in a desperate attempt to halt the train, force it off the tracks, or completely destroy it. As time goes on and matters develop in the directions the region and world have witnessed, and as quickly as it has during the last year, the tools at the disposal of these players have dwindled in quantity and quality.

Kassioun had extensively covered the importance of a Syrian-Turkish rapprochement in the context of the comprehensive solution to the Syrian crisis, which means solving the partial issues that were and still are a major factor in the continuance of the crisis. One of these issues is the file of northwest Syria, which is still pending, mainly due to the continued existence of al-Nusra Front.

The West – led by the Americans – has always used al-Nusra Front as a main sabotage tool during the years of the crisis and since emergence of the group. Use of al-Nusra Front by the West developed according to the stage and changes on the ground, which Kassioun had previously highlighted. What was noticeable was the development of talk about al-Nusra Front from being a terrorist organization – and it is still classified as such by the UN and by Western countries including the US – to talking about it as a potential partner to combat terrorism. This was accompanied by many attempts to polish its image by: talking about it as targeting “more terrorist” or “more radical” groups; or trying to portray its leader, Jolani, in a more “civilized” image, with him wearing civilian clothes, having a shorter beard, and posing in photos with Western journalists.

All of that had been previously covered by Kassioun, but apparently this file remains one of the last tools at the disposal of the US and the West, forming an increasingly and rapidly shrinking margin in which they can maneuver in an attempt to obstruct a solution in Syria.

The official Western discourse was not positive towards al-Nusra, at least not directly or blatantly. Nevertheless, there were hints here and there, especially from personalities like the former US envoy to Syria, James Jeffrey, who said in January 2020 when he was still in his position that al-Nusra claims “to be patriotic opposition fighters…. We have not seen them generate, for example, international threats for some time”. Later, in a film about al-Nusra and Jolani, Jeffrey said that al-Nusra are more like “resistance forces, liberation movements or other things who use terror at times as a tactic… [they are] very much focused on overthrowing the Assad regime… and they don’t go after civilians”.

However, the main tool used by the West and the US in trying to polish al-Nusra’s image and soften its terrorist character – even remove altogether – was and still is major think tanks, including the International Crisis Group (ICG), which is a Western think tank. ICG had previously published reports in which it encouraged reconsidering al-Nusra as a terrorist designated group. The most prominent example of this was a report published in February 2021, entitled: “In Syria’s Idlib, Washington’s Chance to Reimagine Counter-Terrorism”. Kassioun discussed in an article the report days after it was published.

The main points the aforementioned report focused on were that al-Nusra in reality is fighting terrorists, treats women and minorities well, and that it is Syria. The last point was of interest by many American reports, which started a few years ago to “Syrianize” al-Nusra.

It is clear that the recent developments in the region and particularly in the Syria file, through the noticeable activity and practical steps by the Astana track, were a main reason in reopening al-Nusra issue and talking about the importance of working therewith. Notably, the ICG published a few days ago, on March 7, a report titled: “Containing Transnational Jihadists in Syria’s North West”. While the report put things in the context of current events, nevertheless, the content was not too different from the abovementioned report, which was published a little over two years ago.

What is new in this report is merely superficial and is consistent with the current stage, where the main focus and from the outset is regarding Turkey’s Syria policy. The report states in the beginning that there is “uncertainty regarding Türkiye’s Syria policy”. It then adds that “Since Türkiye’s military presence is key to preserving the Idlib ceasefire, a turnaround could allow ISIS and other jihadist groups to stage a comeback”. The report ties all this – in order to justify publishing it at this time – with the humanitarian response to the aftermath of the earthquake that hit the region on February 6.

As to what should be done, the report recommends, among other things, that Western governments “should also explore opening communication channels to HTS [i.e., al-Nusra] to better grasp the threat posed by ISIS and other transnational militants in north-western Syria”. The report also notes that “HTS has forsworn transnational jihad, gone after ISIS and al-Qaeda cells, and subdued most other jihadists. ISIS endures in Idlib only because HTS lacks the capacity to quash it fully”. The report adds that “Western countries might also open informal channels of communication to HTS in order to get a better sense of transnational militant activity in Idlib and negotiate better aid access to the suffering population”.

In terms of the content, the report does not present anything new about al-Nusra, as this position has been clear for over two years in terms of trying to polish the image of al-Nusra and Jolani, and considering them partners in the Syrian file. They are certainly so in terms of the Western-American approach to the Syria file. However, on its face, the report clearly targets the Turkish policy towards the Syria file. However, what the report does not say is that today, the main focus of that policy is the Syrian-Turkish settlement, which is going exclusively through the Astana track, and away from the West, its policies, and its tracks.

More importantly, eliminating al-Nusra Front is a main point on the agenda of the Astana track in general, and that of the Syrian-Turkish settlement in particular. This means that any talk today about opening communication channels with al-Nusra and supporting it militarily under the pretext of fighting ISIS, means blatantly pushing towards working against a Syrian-Turkish settlement and the Astana track. That is, working against reaching a comprehensive political solution in Syria, away from the West and the US. This also means working against reaching a solution through initiatives by the rising powers, which has lately proven effective through tangible results, something that generate optimism about getting closer to reaching a solution in Syria and getting out of the crisis, not only despite the West and the US, but necessarily without them.

(النسخة العربية)