by Ben Rich
The assassination of Basir highlights the deep divisions within the opposition rebel movement, and will give Western international backers further pause for thought over the potential flooding of the Syrian conflict with arms.
A house not well in order
Chaos within the ranks of the opposition forces has become the norm in the Syrian civil war. The Syrian National Council (SNC), the major international umbrella group for the opposition, has performed abysmally in its ongoing quest to form a coherent political alternative to the Ba’athist al-Assad government. Ideological divisions and petty rivalries pervade the SNC and the body remains disconnected from realities on the ground.
In the conflict itself the scene is just as dismal. An interview with FSA colonel Mohammed Aqidi, who fought in the recent battle of al-Qusair, paints a picture of scattered militant groups, lacking unified command and poor logistical support. Facing these fighters is a competent and determined Syrian Arab Air Forces (SAAF)-Hezbollah coalition that appears to be retaking ground against the rebel insurgency.
The Islamist-secularist division adds a further variable to this uncertainty. Up until recently, this competition had been more inferred than material in nature. Many analysts had commented on the rising influence of Islamist groups, like Jabhat al-Nusra (JAN), whose efficacy, capabilities and resources seemed to far outstrip their secular rivals. Despite this, outright violence between Islamists and the FSA remained a relative unknown.
Abu Basir’s death has likely weakened this tacit truce, with reprisal attacks already being reported. FSA secularists are now calling on the international community to supply them further weapons to combat “al Qaeda elements”. But regardless of the EU’s recent moves to open arms channels, the confidence of international actors who could oblige this request will have been shaken.
My jihad ain’t your jihad
Things are not peachy in the Islamist camp, however. Jabhat al-Nusra appears to be currently resisting efforts from the ISI (formerly al-Qaeda Iraq) to force it into a grand merger. Pressure from Iraq has been so great that al-Nusra’s leader, Abu Mohammed al-Julani, appealed publicly to his al-Qaeda counterpart Ayman al-Zawahiri to intervene in the dispute.
The al-Qaeda chief responded with a letter, advising both parties to continue operating autonomously in pursuing their own separate objectives against the Syrian regime.
However, orders from al-Qaeda’s central command appear to have fallen on deaf ears. ISI’s commander Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has remain steadfastly committed to the merger and has nowopenly scorned Zawahiri’s orders. This flagrant defying of orders suggests a weakening of al-Qaeda core’s influence over its regional subsidiaries, and a further sectorisation of the movement. At the same time, JAN has seen mass defections to the ISI in some provinces, a phenomenon that will likely lead to a degradation of operational capabilities.
With such bold moves characterising its recent behaviour, the Islamic State of Iraq may currently be in the process of trying to establish itself as the central hegemon within opposition forces. Naturally, this would require the removal of key players in both the secular and Islamist camps. Al-Julani is no-doubt watching his back.
Open hand versus closed fist
For the Assad regime, this turmoil is nothing if not beneficial. Internationally, flagrant infighting, assassinations and backstabbing within the opposition will weaken the confidence Western backers. Domestically, the emergence of a second front between secularists and Islamists will diminish resistance to the cohesive and centralised Ba’athist/Hezbollah forces supporting the Assad regime.
With Russia now suggesting it may revisit its prohibition against selling offensive weapons to the Syrian Arab Armed Forces, the current status of revolutionary forces appears grim. The regime’s strategy of biding its time, staying organised and intervening opportunistically may just be paying off.
Ben Rich is working on a PhD at the Global Terrorism Research Centre, Monash University. His research currently focuses on structural drivers for radicalization in the Arabian Peninsula.
This article first appeared on The Conversation.
In Conversation with singer-songwriter Mark Seymour
At the Melbourne Writers’ Festival this week, a panel of poets, writers and performers will…
Monash becomes WHO Collaborating Centre for Bioethics
Monash University’s Centre for Human Bioethics will play a key role in how the world responds to…
Take time out to to hear Monash authors in conversation
It is scarcely possible to pass an hour in honest conversation, without being able, when…
The truth about meat and three veg
Food memory can be a shifty beast, often determined by our own experiences in adult…
Transcending testimony: an interview with filmmaker Deepa Dhanraj
by Shweta Kishore Deepa Dhanraj is a filmmaker and feminist whose extensive filmography spans issues of…
New Colombo Plan Scholarships – Explore Indonesia this Summer!
The Faculty of Arts is excited to announce that it has been awarded 30 scholarships for its…
Predestination: time is of the essence at MIFF 2014
by Andréa Jean Baker And so, the 63rd Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) is here….
Who owns the myths and legends of the Great War centenary?
By Ben Wellings and Shanti Sumartojo When prime minister Tony Abbottdeclared at Villers-Bretonneux that “no place…
Ten Monash researchers become ARC Future Fellows
Monash researchers will explore the oldest stars in the galaxy, transform the manufacturing of high…
Troops in Terror Zone ‘cutting edge’ in journalism
Monash University’s journalism and multimedia students have joined forces with The Australian editorial team to produce a…
Express Yourself: why do World Cup stars matter?
It’s been a terrible World Cup. Germany and Argentina in the final. Again.
Monash student goes to the United Nations
Alistair Bayley visited the United Nations in New York as one of the winners of the Many Languages, One World essay contest.