Will the Jihadists go after Assad in Syria???
His Alawite sect has a lot of enemies...
The Obama administration has signaled in word and deed that a policy change is in the offing, a change that would accommodate the Syrian regime and normalize relations with it. The notion of autocracy as a guarantor of stability is back in vogue after the Bush years, and so the policy is being bolstered by a chorus of analysts and academics. The Syrian regime, the thinking goes, is as good as it gets for helping to keep simmering regional tensions under a tight lid.
But this change would be a bit of a gamble. It is premised on two notions: the idea that the Assad regime is, in fact, stable; and the idea that, by drawing closer to the regime, Washington will make it more stable, not less.
What these assertions ignore is the potential role that jihadism could play in undermining the Assad government. In a speech several months before his demise in a U.S. airstrike in 2006, Abu Musab Al Zarqawi concluded that one of the goals of jihad should be the wholesale annihilation of Shia in theaters of war in which jihadists are engaged, as a precursor to fighting the West and Israel. Zarqawi argued that the Shia constituted the internal enemy within Islam, forever enabling the faith’s enemies from without. Zarqawi had found that sectarian antipathy was a quick burning fuel for the jihadist ideological machine: It was an innovation, and a leap forwards, for jihadist strategy.
Few have pondered the grave implications of Zarqawi’s strategic vision for long-term stability in Syria, a country where a hated minority heterodox Shia sect rules. But Islamists arguing for a jihad in Syria believe that they have hit the trifecta: In the Syrian regime, they have an enemy that is at once tyrannical, secular, and heretical.
Notable jihadist ideologues and strategists, such as Abu Musaab Al Suri and Abu Baseer Al Tartousi, both Syrian, have long argued that Islamists have a score to settle with the ruling Alawites for the brutal manner by which they subdued the Islamist uprising of the late 1970s and ’80s. Obscure jihadist groups have emerged within Syria, making the same claims, only to mysteriously disappear and never be heard from again, probably a testament to the regime’s security successes in dismantling them. Likewise, jihadists in Lebanon, long accused of receiving Syrian backing to undermine the Lebanese state, have made attempts to counter that stigma by launching attacks inside Syria, and with a sectarian tinge to boost, such as the car bombing in September 2008—the first major terrorist attack since the ’80s—at a checkpoint leading to the most revered Shia shrine near Damascus. But such activity has also been easily rolled back by the Syrian secret police.
Now, however, members of the jihadist internationale are asking themselves: Where to after Iraq and Afghanistan? On jihadist online discussion forums, they have been authoring what amount to policy papers calling on the jihadist leadership to take the fight to Syria. The clearest statement of this view was penned a year ago by Abul Fadhl Madhi, a rising star on the forums, who made the novel argument that waging jihad in Syria would preempt the strategic calculation of Western and regional powers: Should the jihadists take over Syria, they would disrupt the strategic balance that the United States was trying to forge across the Middle East by giving the jihadists a base in the heart of the region, within striking distance of Israel.