Five of the quarreling opposition forces have joined forces to produce a covenant. Will it bring the desired results – and what, exactly, are those results?
The most difficult problem facing the anti-Assad forces is that there is no single Opposition to Assad. Instead, there is a plethora of opposition forces, with different goals and individual plans of action. They have not hesitated, over and over again, to fight one another. This is one of the main reasons Assad’s regime has survived up until now.
The divisiveness among the anti-Assad groups is most pronounced among the religiously-motivated ones, those fighting in the name of Islam. In contrast to them, the Free Syrian Army is a militia that lacks a religious cast, and includes Muslims, Druze, Christians and even Alawites. It does not want to establish an Islamist state, but a modern and democratic one.
Two of the religious militias stand out: “The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria” (Dulat al-Islam fi al-Iraq wal-Sham, Daash, for short) and “The Support Front for the People of the Levant” (Jabhat an-Nuṣrah li-Ahl ash-Shām). The two militias are the largest and wealthiest of them all, and therefore have the greatest effect on what is happening in Syria, but they are at odds with each other and have already clashed several times. What they have in common is that each one was closely aligned with al-Qaeda for a while, and that both want ultimately to establish a Sunni Islamist Sharia state on the ruins of Assad’s Syria.
Out in the field there are tens of much smaller Islamic militias whose names are, for the most part, unfamiliar, whose strengths are unknown and whose influence on Syria’s future is unclear.
Last week five of these militias gathered together and decided on a joint covenant. The groups are, in rough translation, “The United Islamic Forces of the Levant ( al-Ittihad al-Islami li-Ajnad al-Sham)”, “The Levantine Division (Filak Al-Sham)”, “The Jihad Fighters Army (Jaysh al-Muwahhideen)”, “The Salvation Brigade (Al Furqan)” and “The Islamic Front (Al-Itihaad al-Islamiya)”. The names of these militias reflect their Islamic religious ethos, and their military character raises the suspicion that they are the Syrian arm of al-Qaeda.
The five militias are extremely concerned about Assad’s ability to continue to massacre his opponents, that is, the divided – and therefore weak – opposition, The world’s lack of involvement is because of its fears of the rise of another Islamic terror state, something that is actually happening already. This brought the five groups together to issue a “Covenant of Honor’ that is intended to create a new agenda for Islamic groups, one that will unite them and dispel the West’s fears.
The following is a translation of the entire document, with my comments in parentheses:
“The revolutionary forces are aware of the importance of the stage our blessed revolution is undergoing. In order to unify the efforts under one framework of action that will serve the Syrian revolution, the forces have decided:
1. The definitions and rules of revolutionary activity are taken from the tenets of Islam, far removed from extremism and radicalism.
2. The Armed Syrian Revolution has a political goal and it is to topple the present regime with all its institutions and regalia, and to bring it to justice, far removed from vengeance.
3. The revolution’s military goal is the Syrian regime which inflicts terror tactics against our people, using its military strength, a standing army and militias (“hashbicha”), allies such as the mercenaries from Iran, Hezbollah (Lebanese Shiites), “the Abu Alfadel Alabas Battalion (Syrian Shiite militia) and everyone who attacks our people and claims they are heretics such as Daash (i.e.The Islamic state of Iraq and the Levant, a Sunni al-Qaeda type organization).
Our military activities are limited to Syria (i.e. We will not attack our enemies in refugee camps or foreign lands).
4. The actions to topple the regime are joint actions of all the revolutionary forces and result from their awareness of the regional aspect (i.e. the struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia over regional hegemony) and the international dimension (i.e. the decline of America’s power, the rise of pro-Syrian regime Russia’s power) of the Syrian crisis. We encourage the cooperation and connection with regional (i.e. the Sunnis: Saudis, Qatar, Turkey, Jordan) and international forces (Europe, US) who identify with the sad state of the Syrian people in ways that serve the goals of the revolution.
5. It is important to preserve Syrian territorial contiguity and oppose any plans for partition by all means. This is a revolutionary axiom that is not open to negotiation (i.e. we oppose a Kurdish, Alawite, Druze or Islamic state in Haleb or other areas).
6. In their military activities, our revolutionary forces rely on the Syrian components, and believe that the political and military decisions of the revolution must be solely Syrian.We reject all subjugation to outside forces (i.e. if Saudi Arabia, Qatar or the USA want to help us, we will be happy, but will not accept dictates from them).
7. The Syrian people aspire to establish a state based on justice, law and freedom, free of pressures and dictates (i.e. we don’t want a Sharia state, but will not accept western-style democracy either).
8.The Syrian revolution is a revolution bearing morals and values, it aspires to achieve liberty, justice and security for Syrian society and its heterogenic social fabric, its ethnic (i.e. Arabs, Kurds, Armenians) and religious (Moslem, Christian, Druze, Alawite) components.
9. The Syrian revolution is obligated to respect the human rights that pure Islam calls to respect.
10. We reject the regime’s policy of attacking civilians with varous weapons, including chemical weapons. We wish to stress our obligation to remove civilians from the combat arena. We have no weapons of mass destruction and we have not and will not put them to use.
11.Everything recovered from the regime is the Syrian nation’s property. The revolutionary forces use these assets to fulfill the demands of the people to overthrow the regime.
This and more: We call on the other forces acting on Syrian land to sign this proclamation so that we can all work together in the struggle to topple the regime.”
So ends the declaration. It seems to me that the declaration is aimed primarily at US President Obama and some other European leaders who hesitate to send arms to the Syrian rebels in order not to establish another al-Qaeda state. This coalition of militias defines the group called “An Islamic state in Iraq and the Levant” as an enemy, and that suffices to cleanse this newly-formed coalition of militias in the eyes of the American government and European decision makers.
This declaration is intended to attract positive attention – along with financial – from Saudi Arabia and Qatar as well, two countries which distance themselves from the actions of extremist Islamic organizations such as Daash and Jabhat an-Nuṣrah..
Does this declaration mean that all the forces opposing Assad are marching in formation under one command towards the final battle against him?
It is too early to predict this scenario, but it is clear that the source of the document and the understandings upon which it stands are the ongoing weakness of Assad’s opponents as a result of their internal splits and the struggles they wage against one another. The document is an attempt to unite the lines of the Islamic opposition while calming down the West.
Will the attempt succeed? Only time will tell.
Dr. Mordechai Kedar
Dr. Mordechai Kedar is a senior lecturer in the Department of Arabic at Bar-Ilan University. He served in IDF Military Intelligence for 25 years, specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. Thoroughly familiar with Arab media in real time, he is frequently interviewed on the various news programs in Israel.