The Islamization of the Rebellion

DAMASCUS/BERLIN | | syrien

DAMASCUS/BERLIN (Own report) - Berlin is intensifying consultations on the support for the Syrian insurgents with Saudi Arabia. The German foreign ministry announced that in the German capital this week Foreign Minister Westerwelle was coordinating with the Saudi deputy foreign minister steps to "strengthen the Syrian opposition." Riyadh is one of the main financiers and suppliers of arms to the insurgents, among whom the militant Islamist forces are increasing their influence - not just Islamist militiamen from abroad, but also from local organizations, whose radicalization potential should not be underestimated, according to US experts. If the Assad regime is overthrown, these militiamen would surely "demand their rewards" - observers warn - since they have more combat power than the Free Syrian Army's non-Islamist brigades. Major media organs in the USA are drawing parallels between Afghanistan in the 1980s - when Islamist militias, with western support, plunged the country into catastrophe, a catastrophe from which it has yet to recover - and today's Syria, which is threatened with a similar development.

United Against Assad

The German foreign ministry has announced that the Saudi deputy foreign minister has held consultations with Foreign Minister Westerwelle in Berlin this week. The talks were focused on the "conflict surrounding Iran's nuclear program" and the situation of Iran's ally, the Assad regime.[1] The discussion was particularly centered around possibilities for "strengthening the Syrian opposition." Saudi Arabia is among those countries, which, soon after the beginning of the upheaval in Syria, in March 2011, had taken sides with the insurgents to remove Bashar al Assad from office. This must be considered in the context of Saudi-Iranian rivalries and the efforts to overthrow the Assad regime, which is cooperating with Iran. The dictatorial Al Saud Clan is therefore allying itself with Germany, the EU and the USA, which, in the past, had occasionally cooperated with the regime in Damascus. But because of its relationship with Teheran, they too are now seeking to overthrow the Assad regime. For quite awhile, Saudi Arabia, serving as the driving force, has been arming the insurgents, and has even suggested supplying heavy arms.

Inner-European Rivalries

The German-Saudi coordination should be given particular attention in light of inner-European rivalries for influence on the Syrian insurgents. Berlin, in closest coordination with the USA, has organized and assisted the "The Day After" project, in which around 45 Syrian exiled opponents of the regime - representing various political orientations - agreed on a roadmap for the reconstruction of Syria - along fully compatible lines with western political conceptions. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[2]) Paris, which had not been included, is now making its own steps. It is backing former members of the military and political leadership in Damascus, such as former Prime Minister Riad Hijab and former General Mustafa Tlass, smuggled out of Syria by the French secret service. France has also begun furnishing medical and other supplies to the insurgent-controlled areas in northern Syria, evidently in coordination with Turkey. To its advantage, in this struggle for influence, Berlin can provide the insurgents with intelligence the BND has received from allied services such as the CIA. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[3]) The German Foreign Ministry is also coordinating measures to prepare for Syria's economic reorientation after Assad is overthrown.[4] In close coordination not only with the USA but also with the dictatorships at the Gulf, the German government is seeking to enhance its standing with the insurgents.

Islamist Militias

Berlin is supporting the insurgents, in spite of the fact that the militant Islamists within their ranks are clearly gaining influence. Their activities are being monitored by the Washington-based think tank, the Institute for the Study of War, which is an advisor for US policies and, therefore, can hardly be suspected of partisanship for the Assad regime. In a recently published analysis, the institute confirmed that the Syrian insurgency, which began as a mainly secular revolt against a repressive regime, is, to a growing extent, taking on a religious component. According to the think tank, this involves not only foreign militant Islamists, but also the radicalized domestic forces, which the institute considers much more dangerous for Syria, in the long run. Their interests coincide largely with the interests of the Gulf dictatorships, which is why it can be expected that the militant Islamists will be receiving special support, for example, from Saudi Arabia. The western powers will also not be able to avoid cooperating more closely with these Islamist forces, if they do not want them to turn against the west. The Institute for the Study of War considers that compared to uprisings in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, the opposition in Syria faces a much greater threat of jihadist infiltration.[5]

Discipline and Combat Experience

According to experts of the region, this development is serious because a rapid end to the war cannot be expected. An excellent authority on the Arab World predicts a shift in the balance of power among the insurgents due to combat. In the Free Syrian Army brigades, "considered chaotic and not very effective," there are growing signs of "fatigue," while the militant Islamists have "discipline and combat experience," allowing them to systematically expand their influence. Syria currently finds itself "in a protracted civil war." "It could end, when local warlords pacify the territories under their control and establish the mini-states, into which Syria will probably disintegrate."[6] Needless to say, by this time, at the latest, the forces, whose military efficiency is decisive, "will demand their rewards." Without a doubt, the militant Islamists, mentioned above, will be among those forces.

Spooky Parallels

The similarities between these developments in Syria with those in Afghanistan in the 1980s, have become an openly discussed subject in major US media organs. Back then, domestic militias were fighting, with western - US-American and even West German - support against the government in Kabul and the Soviet Army, which was supporting it. "The parallels are spooky," the Washington Post recently wrote. In Syria, as in Afghanistan, CIA officers are operating at the borders (in the '80s they were stationed in Pakistan in this case, mostly in Turkey), helping Sunni insurgents. Today, as before, western countries supplied training and communications equipment, while other countries furnished weapons. Saudi Arabia is making huge sums available today, and had been the financier for the insurgents in Afghanistan - where the spectrum of the militant Islamists were primarily benefiting. In the Afghan proxy war, Moscow was successfully defeated, opening the way for decades of chaos and jihadist extremism. Afghanistan is still suffering from this today. If the West again commits the mistake it had at the Hindu Kush, it may "take a generation to undo" the chaos and jihadist extremism.[7]

Further information and background on Germany's policy toward Syria can be found here: War Threats against Syria, Iran's Achilles Heel, War Scenarios for Syria, War Scenarios for Syria (II), With the UN toward Escalation, Market Economy for Syria, The Yemenite Solution, Smuggle Supervisors, The Day After, The Day After (II) and The Day After (IV).

[1] Außenminister Westerwelle: Syrische Grenzverletzung sofort einstellen; www.auswaertiges-amt.de 09.10.2012
[2] see also The Day After, The Day After (II), The Day After (III) and The Day After (IV)
[3] see also Verdeckte Kriegspartei
[4] see also Market Economy for Syria and Im Rebellengebiet
[5] Elizabeth O'Bagy: Jihad in Syria. Middle East Security Report 6, September 2012
[6] Rainer Hermann: Syriens Bürgerkrieg; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 28.09.2012
[7] David Ignatius: Syria's eerie parallel to 1980s Afghanistan; Washington Post 06.09.2012