Iran’s dangerous play in the Levant
The analysis of the activities of Hayat Taḥrir al-Sham and his Central Asian allies Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad, Katibat al-Imam Bukhari and the Turkestan Islamic Party, affiliated with Al Qaeda, testifies that the recent military successes of the Assad regime forces and Iranian-backed foreign Shi’a militias helped al-Qaeda strengthen its ideology among the Sunni part of the population in the south-west of the country.Inter-confessional contradictions between Sunnis and Shi’asand peculiar ethno religious diversities of Syria, where the civil war has not ceased for more than seven years, created unique conditions for al-Qaeda to establish here, its the newest and most important safe haven.And it is the government of Syria and the Iranian regime, who actively use the Iranian proxy Shi’a militias, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, Lebanese Hezbollah, Zainebiyoun Brigades and Fatemiyoun Brigades in order to preserve Bashar al-Assad’s bloody regime and to exterminate the Sunni majority, are directly responsible for creating socio-political favorable conditions for strengthening the ideology of Al Qaeda in Syria.
Iran, Russia and Syria are spearheading operations to gain territory in Syria and wrestle with al-Qaeda backed Salafi-jihadi groups. Backed by Russian air-power, Iranian-led Shi’a jihadists including Lebanese Hezbollah, Afghan Fatemiyoun Brigades and Iraqi militias and allies are the main boots on the ground.
Liwa Fatemiyoun is the biggest military unit deployed by Iran in Iraq and Syria. It draws recruits from Afghan refugees in Iran and Syria, and from the Hazara Shi’a minority in Afghanistan. Iran offers citizenship to the families of foreign fighters “martyred” in Syria and Iraq, and offers a year’s residency for a three-month deployment to Syria.The Fatemiyoun Brigade has about 20,000 active fighters according to accounts provided by Iranian officials. The Iranian authorities maintain the fighters are volunteers. According to the top Fatemiyoun Brigade’s official, at least 2,000 Afghan Shi’as have been killed and 8,000 more injured in the Syrian conflict.
The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps recruits destitute and undocumented Afghan Shi’a refugees who ran from the war in Afghanistan, by offering them permanent residency, financial aid, and other incentives for their families. Other Shi’a refugees were forced to join Iran’s war in Syria to escape prison sentences. Of some 2.5 million Afghans living in Iran, a third are registered as refugees while the remainder are mostly illegal economic migrants.The salaries of Iranian recruits range from $500 to $1,000 a month. Many captured by Hayat Taḥrir al-Sham Afghan Shi’as say that they are attracted to Syria by the promise of a financial reward. The Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, using the hopeless situation of Afghan Shi’a refugees, cynically and mercilessly sends them as cannon fodder to the conflict points in Middle East to fight Sunni Muslims, whose goal is to create a large Shi’a arc from the Central Asia to the Western Maghreb.
Iran actively carries out extensive ideological indoctrination among the Shi’a militia from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Recruits are told that the war in Syria is a defense of the holiest shrines of the Shi’a faith from attack by Sunni terrorist groups such as ISIS and Al Qaeda, which their recruiters then describe they as a creation of the United States to destabilize the Middle East.
The Iranian authorities keep strictly in secret how much money Tehran spent on financing the pro-Iranian Shi’a fighting groups throughout the Middle East, which have become key players in political and military scenes in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon. But the amount of financing is estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars, which are spent not only to satisfy Iran’s geopolitical ambitions, but this money contributes to increasing Sunni-Shi’a hatred and strengthens Al Qaeda in the Levant, situated in the heart of the most important geography in the Muslim world.
Al Qaeda backed Central Asian jihadists in the Shia-Sunni conflict
In the ideological doctrine of the al-Qaeda backed Central Asian Salafi-jihadi groups, who have taken the safe haven in Syria, have recently undergone radical changes in anti-Shia and anti-Iranian trends. While earlier in the propaganda materials Sunni fundamentalists from the Fergana Valley emphasized the struggle with the “unbelieving regimes” of Central Asia and the protection of Islam from the Western crusaders, after the bloody clashes with the Iranian proxy Shia militias in Syria, they equated Iran as the main enemies of Sunni Islam.Since 2015, the Central Asian jihadists’ propaganda has begun to focus on the mass terror of Shias that they commit in the Sunni provinces of Syria after the carpet bombing of Russian Air Force.The information agency Ebaa in Arabic, which is the propaganda mouthpiece of Hayat Taḥrir al-Sham, and the Central Asian jihadists Media Center “Voice of Sham” in Uzbek and Russian languages regularly show on the Internet photos of captured and destroyed Afghan Shia military formations Fatemiyoun Brigade, Iraqi Shia militias LiwaZulfiqar and Harakat al Nujaba, the Lebanese Shia militias Hezbollah, which are controlled by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
In their religious sermons during the Juma namaz, the leaders of the Uzbek, Kyrgyz and Uygur Salafi-jihadi groups in Syria began to agitate to lead the jihad with “Shia invaders that vilify the sacred name of Islam.”The most wanted Islamic terrorist from Kyrgyzstan, the leader of the Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad, Abu Saloh, who is a loyal supporter of Al Qaeda, in his audio message, distributed via the Telegram on March 18, 2018, says that: “despite the fact that Iran calls itself Islamic Republic, it was and remains the enemy of Islam.”He then quotes the words of the medieval Sunni Muslim theologian Taqi ad-Din ibn Taymiyyah that “Shias are asses of the Jews, whom they will ride in any trouble”. “And today, when in Sham the Mujahideen defend Islam from the bloody Nusayri regime, the Shias of Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq came to help Bashar al Assad and declared jihad to us, to the Sunnis.Therefore, the expulsion of Shia devils from the Levant is a sacred duty of every Sunni Muslim,”says Abu Saloh.
The analytical department of the Voice of Sham in Idlib, which highlights the activities of the Central Asian Sunni Jihadists affiliated with al-Qaeda, wrote on April 15, 2018: “The Shi’a’s Jihad begins when the Sunnis go to Jihad. That is, against the Sunnis. So this time. Iran is an animal, brainless, ugly. He is kept in a cage for a suitable occasion. And he was let off the leash when Jihad began in Sham. But now the animal must be driven back to its lair, otherwise it can bite its owners. That’s why the so-called “Israel” attacks the bases of the Iranians. It’s time to put the beast back on the chain.”
The leader of another Uzbek group, Katibat al-Imam Bukhari Abu Yusuf Muhojir, who was designated by the US State Department to the list of global terrorist organizations on March 22, 2018, firmly supported Al-Qaeda’s position in trying to spread the jihadist ideology among the Sunni part of the Levant.As is well known, Al Qaeda’s Sunni ideology regards Shi’as as heretics and describes them as dogs and a thorn in the throat of Islam from the beginning of time. In his religious speeches before the Sunni Mujahideen from Central Asia, he regularly narrates the typical ideology of al Qaeda. According to Abu Yusuf Muhojir the Shias are conspiring to destroy Islam and to resuscitate Persian imperial rule over the Middle East and ultimately the world.In his video message entitled “The Dignity of Ribat” on May 27, 2018, he says that “Shias are traitors to Islam and accomplices of Russian infidels in Syria.They together help Nusayri’s lieder Bashar al-Assad, whose policies harm the country’s Sunni majority».He on Telegram described Shia as a gathering of devils, whom Allah will punish for their betrayal to the American Zionist-Crusaders in Iraq yesterday and to the Russian Christians in Levant today.
Uighur jihadists of the Turkestan Islamic Party, which are the military unit of Al Qaeda from Western China, regularly issue statements in which they position themselves as a true defender of Sunni Islam.On June 27, 2018, TIP announced its “full readiness to support the appeal of Hayat Taḥrir al-Sham to protect the province of Dara from the attacks of the Nusayriregime and its Iraqi Shia henchmen.”Recall that at the end of June, the army of Bashar al Assad and the Russian aviation launched an offensive on the southern province of Daraa, a zone that was under a Russian-American ceasefire.American analysts confirmed that they received the first evidence of the participation of the Iraqi Shia militia Liwa Zulfiqar, which is controlled by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Who will force Iran to leave Syria?
As this analysis has shown, Iran’s escalation in Syria, and its mobilization and widespread deployment of ideologically extremist sectarian Shi’a militias from Afghanistan and from throughout the greater Middle East to assist the Assad government is helping Al-Qaeda backed Hayat Taḥrir al-Sham to acquire the title of a true defender of Sunni Islam.The Media Center of Central Asian jihadists “Voice of Sham” described the leader of HTS Abu Muhammad al Julani as “an indestructible mountain that defending the Sunnis from the powerful attacks of Iran’s Shi’a devils and the Nusayri’s army.”
The destruction of predominately Sunni communities by Assad’s army, with the assistance of Iranian-imported, sectarian Shi’a militias, gave al-Qaeda an opportunity to expand its roots in the local Sunni communities.This was facilitated by two factors. First, the fall of the Islamic state who was Al-Qaeda’s ideological competitor in the struggle for leadership in the jihadist world.Secondly, when the international coalition was engaged in the fight against the ISIS, Al Qaeda’s structural units in the Levant restored strength and continued to introduce their ideology among the population.
Today, al-Qaeda’s ideologists have put forward a new thesis that the Assad’s armed forces are helping the Khawarij of ISIS to commit the attacks against Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Free Syrian Army and Ahrar al-Sham. One of HTS’s ideologues Abdulfattah Farghaly wrote on Telegram that: “Khawarij again launched an offensive from the Nusayrite territories to the sacred lands of the Sunnis to overthrow these territories in favor of the Assad’s regime, which is evidence that they work for Nusayrites, Shi’as and Russians. Khawarijs are foot soldiers for Shi’a.”In this connection, one of the ideologists of modern Salafism Shaikh Abdul Aziz Al-Tarifi issued the Fatwa that “the Sunni Mujahideen killed by the Khawarijs and Shi’as in paradise will have more reward from Allah than those who were killed by Nusayrites.”
Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri subtly feels the changing sentiment of the Sunni majority of Syria and their discontent with the military expansion of the pro-Iranian Shi’a military formations.Al-Qaeda backed Sunni jihadist groups Hayat Taḥrir al-Sham, Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad, Katibat al-Imam Bukhari and the Turkestan Islamic Party put forward the idea of fighting the Shi’a invaders and protecting the Sunni territories as the main slogan in their propaganda.
The escalation of Iranian-imported, sectarian Shi’a militias, in the Levant, helps drive recruitment of new Salafi-jihadi fighters for al Qaeda’s military structures.Leaders of jihadist groups from Turkey, Central Asia and China’s Xinjiang have stepped up video, audio and text appeals to recruits to come to join the jihad to protect Islamic lands from Shi’as.My sources in the Fergana Valley reported that the ideology of Al Qaeda is actively spreading among the youth in the region.
After the brutal activity of Iran and its proxy Shi’a militias in Syria and Iraq, the profound transformation took place in the ideological views of Ayman al-Zawahiri about the Shi’as. At the beginning of the Syrian war, he was very tolerant of Iran.On September 6, 2013, in his message “General Guidelines for Jihad” he asked Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to refrain from attacking the Shi’a sanctuaries and their mosques, bazaars, and killing Shi’a women and children, and concentrate their attacks on the military, intelligence agencies and police.ISIS accused al-Zawahiri of being venal to Shi’as and Christians for his calling “Avoid fighting the deviant sects such as Rawafidh, Ismailis, Qadianis, and deviant Sufis” in this guidelines. After Iran’s activity in the Middle East, the leader of Al Qaeda in August 2016 called Sunnis to jihad against the Shi’a and Crusaders, and to prepare for guerrilla war in Iraq and Syria.
Zawahiri has ambitions to make al-Qaeda’s Salafi-jihadi ideology the guiding principle and normative experience of Sunni Muslims in the Levant.While there is a threat of armed expansion of pro-Iranian Shi’a formations, the growth and influence of Al Qaeda’s extremist ideology in the Levant will be difficult to stop.Therefore, Russia and Iran, which allowed Bashar Assad to play a Shi’a adventure, are fully responsible for the reincarnation of Al Qaeda in the region.
The problem is that by military methods alone it is impossible to defeat Al Qaeda in Syria.Unlike the ISIS, al Qaeda does not hold the defense of a particular territory: it does not have its own state with its own management system.Al-Qaeda is a network project that leads a subtle ideological struggle for the minds and hearts of Sunnis in the world.The strength of Al Qaeda is in the skillful adaptation to local conditions, which avoids the advertisement of scenes of cruel executions, as ISIS did.Thanks to skillful propaganda work, the group today acquired the image of a defender of the oppressed part of the Sunni majority in Syria.Iran’s Shi’a expansion and the bloody cruelty of the Assad’s regime, which violated the religious and ethnic balance of Syria, is grist to Zawahiri’s mill.
In this situation, only the withdrawal of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its proxy Shi’a militias from Syria can knock out the support of al Qaeda.But, despite the efforts of the United States and Israel, Iran as a magnet will be staying in the Levant. Only international economic sanctions, strong political isolation and the growing internal protest of the Iranian people can force Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to leave Syria. Then the counter-terrorist force against al Qaeda would be led by moderate Sunni Arab fighters as Syria is a majority Sunni Arab country.
Source » moderndiplomacy