by (Ariel Ben Soloman
Is the group’s presence, which is growing due to spillover from the war in Syria, a reality or a Syrian/Iranian propaganda?
Al-Qaida’s presence in Lebanon is growing, partly because of the spillover from the civil war next door in Syria. There are reports that Jabhat al- Nusra, a.k.a. the al-Nusra Front, which the US last month designated as a terrorist group affiliated with al-Qaida, is using Lebanon as a staging ground from which to launch its operations in Syria. A Lebanese expert claims, however, that many of these claims come as part of an effort by the Iran-Hezbollah-Syria axis to push this story in order to keep the West from toppling the Assad regime.
Great numbers of Lebanese Sunnis have been joining Islamist opposition forces in Syria in recent months, according to a senior Lebanese security official quoted in The Washington Post in the past week. The report quotes the official stating that the Sunni al-Nusra Front is establishing links with extremist cells based out of Tripoli, Lebanon, which is a center of Sunni extremists.
“Small groups were organized in north Lebanon to facilitate the transport of weapons, ammunition and logistical equipment, as well as fighters, across the border into Syria with the help of smugglers. These groups initially communicated with their Syrian counterparts with cellphones but eventually began using more sophisticated and secure communication methods, such as Thuraya satellite phones,” the story read.
A key man on the Syrian side is Khaled Mahmoud, a known Lebanese Islamist, who according to senior Lebanese security officials has urged Muslims to wage jihad in Syria, forming a group called Jund al-Sham, “the first Sunni armed opposition group in the Syrian conflict led by a Lebanese militant.”
The key question about this report is, who is the “senior security official” being quoted? It could very well be a Hezbollah- affiliated intelligence official trying to push the pro-Assad line that the battle in Syria is a battle against al-Qaida. The story also quoted Hilal Khashan, a professor of political science at the American University of Beirut, as saying “Sunnis in Lebanon, whether they are extremists or not; whether they are religious or not, side very strongly with the Syrian uprising.” Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, says that of course there are Sunnis in Lebanon who are crossing the border to take part in the fighting, but not all are al-Qaida sympathizers. He says that you have Shi’ites and Hezbollah-affiliated fighters also crossing over to aid Bashar Assad’s forces. The Jerusalem Post spoke with Badran about a recent report published on the website Al- Monitor, which is connected with pro-Hezbollah and pro- Assad circles. The website often translates articles into English from the Lebanese media affiliated with the Hezbollah-Assad- Iran axis, mostly from the newspaper As-Safir. Also many of its stories on Lebanon are written by writers coming from this camp. For instance, the man behind Al-Monitor, Jamal Daniel, owns a 20-percent stake in As- Safir and writers such as Jean Aziz and Nasser Charara, for instance, are columnists for Al- Akhbar, which in Lebanon is seen as little more than a Hezbollah mouthpiece.
A story published on Al-Monitor on Monday titled, “Al-Qaeda Taking Root in Lebanon,” by Mohammad Harfoush, argues that al-Qaida is building “structural roots” in Lebanon “following instructions from Ayman al- Zawahri,” its leader. It cites “reports in Beirut” as saying that the organization has named Majid al-Majid as the organization’s new emir in the Levant and that it will begin terrorist operations against political leaders, religious institutions, and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon.
The report goes on to say that al-Nusra is using Lebanon as a base for its operations in Syria and is trying to unite various Sunni extremist groups such as the Palestinian group Fatah al- Islam and Jund al-Sham.
Badran is skeptical of reports that al-Nusra is setting up a base in Tripoli, and suspects that the source for these claims might be security officials sympathetic to Hezbollah, especially since these claims are being pushed in pro- Hezbollah media.
“There is now a very systematic propaganda effort by the Syrian regime and its allies in Lebanon, whose voice is given a platform in the US by Al-Monitor,” he says.
Badran adds, “They would like to drive home two points: First, Assad is not going away, and second, that the whole world, and specifically the US, is reassessing its policy of regime change because it sees that the fight is between the regime and al-Qaida. And second, they want to create the impression that the US, in particular, is reassessing its policy of regime change. The regime is trying to rebrand itself, as was its message for many years in the past, as a bulwark against al-Qaida.”
The primary strategic goal in Syria for the West should be, according to Badran, to deal with Iran and its network in the region, “where Assad is a critical linchpin.”
When presented with the counter-argument that the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists are the most powerful force in the Syrian opposition and very well may take power after Assad falls, Badran responds: “The idea of the brotherhood taking control in Syria glosses over the deep fissures in that organization, as well as in Syrian society more broadly. The Sunnis of Syria are historically, and continue to be today, a deeply divided and fractured group that are not cohesive. There is a natural fragmentation in Syrian society and amongst Sunnis that would mitigate against any project to reconstitute a massive Islamist Sunni block.” Badran does not deny that the Brotherhood would have a role to play but says that it is a secondary problem to that of Iran.
“One year ago, concerns over al-Nusra’s role and size were much less than they are today,” he says. “By not interfering, the US has stayed out of the game entirely, and allowed the Turks, Qataris, Saudis and others to support their own local assets, be it the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafi groups, or Syrian tribes. “Being neutral has consequences.”
I didn’t catch the political slant till after I published this. America should not be neutral. America should regard Sunni and the Shia as dangerous ideologists that kill Jews, Homosexuals and infidels. If we arm one side here then we should be sure to arm the other… that last suggestion was a joke. Stay the hell out of Syria. Let these morons gas each other.