Syria’s rebranded Nusra Front following Hezbollah blueprint


Even if symbolic, the mere rebranding of the militant organization Nusra Front could be enough to prolong Syria’s civil war, according to Colin P. Clarke and Chad C. Serena, political scientists at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation.

The worst-case scenario is that the group, now known as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS ), or Front for the Conquest of the Levant, could embed itself within the Syrian rebel opposition and emulate the staying power that Hezbollah has demonstrated in neighboring Lebanon……Other hints about the long-term plans of JFS can be seen through the group’s extensive social service-oriented da’wa campaigns in Syria, where its charitable actions and provision of public goods aim to simultaneously garner widespread support and recruit new members.

This strategy is strikingly similar to the blueprint used by Hezbollah [and other Islamist groups] to expand its organization and secure political legitimacy in southern Lebanon throughout the 1980s and 1990s. ….To be sure, Hezbollah did not acquire political legitimacy overnight. But the group is a fact of life in Lebanon, a hybrid terrorist organization with political power and the ability to drag Lebanon into a war it did not seek, as happened in July 2006 with Israel.

The operation that Turkey launched Wednesday in Syria, in which Ankara dispatched tanks and special forces to support a rebel offensive on the Islamic State-held town of Jarablus, marks a major departure from recent Turkish policy, writes Henri J. Barkey, the director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center:

Turkey has long been uneasy, and engaged in a great deal of saber-rattling, about the growing alliance between the United States and the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its YPG armed forces. Turkish officials, from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan down, have emphasized that the PYD is as much an enemy as the Islamic State and ought to be eradicated, he writes for Foreign Policy. ……In view of Turkey’s deep suspicions of U.S. motives in Syria and Erdogan’s government, how does one explain the seemingly contradictory developments of this past week? RTWT

“JFS and its ideological sympathizers should never be allowed to entrench themselves in Syria the way Hezbollah did in Lebanon,” Clarke and Serena add. “If this means prolonging the conflict until the jihadists can be separated or isolated from the more moderate elements within Syria’s rebel opposition, then so be it.”


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