Archive for the ‘Al Nusrah’ category

Two Hizballah brigades deployed to Aleppo

November 20, 2016

Two Hizballah brigades deployed to Aleppo, DEBKAfile, November 20, 2016


The two Hizballah brigades carry both American and Russian weaponry. DEBKAfile’s military sources report: The motorized rifle brigade is armed with American armored personnel carriers and tanks, whereas the Light Brigade carries Russian arms. Some of the units use both American and Russian hardware, like the Russian ZPU-2 anti tank guns which are mounted on US M113 APCs.


Hizballah this week transferred two brigades of some 5,000 fighters to the Aleppo front to bolster the Assad regime’s concentrated push to finally rout the rebels who have been holding out year after year in the eastern half of the ravaged city. Indiscriminate Syrian air strikes continue.

The new spearhead is made up of Hizballah’s heavy motorized rifle brigade of tanks and heavy weapons and its light commando brigade, which is trained to operate behind enemy lines. Their arrival brings the total number of Hizballah fighters in Syria to 15,000.

Russian military sources say that, after Aleppo is won for Bashar Assad, the two Lebanese Shiite brigades will turn to Idlib province in the north, to tackle the largest concentration in the country of Al Qaeda’s Syrian arm, the Nusra Front.

The two Hizballah brigades carry both American and Russian weaponry. DEBKAfile’s military sources report: The motorized rifle brigade is armed with American armored personnel carriers and tanks, whereas the Light Brigade carries Russian arms. Some of the units use both American and Russian hardware, like the Russian ZPU-2 anti tank guns which are mounted on US M113 APCs.

Sunday, Nov. 14, on the day that Hizballah started moving the two brigades to the Aleppo front, its propaganda machine released to the Arab media images of a military parade in Qusayr, in the Qalamoun mountain range of western Syria, showing Hizballah troops marching with American hardware. The parade, according to our sources, was faked, the point being to show the world that the Iranian proxy was amply supplied with American equipment.

Assad rewarded Hizballah for capturing Qusayr three years ago by allowing the Iranian proxy to turn the ghost town into a military center. Several workshops for recycling captured weapons for reuse in battle were set up there. (In the same way, the IDF recycled the masses of Russian weapons taken booty from Arab armies in the 60s and 70s.)

Another project was the creation and arming of the Light Brigade modeled on the Iranian Revolutionary Guards special operations units. They are equipped with highly adaptable “jihad-mobiles” which are designed to move in all-terrain and all-weather conditions to take the enemy by surprise from the rear. The the battle of Aleppo sees their first operation in the Syrian war.

Like Syrian special forces units, the Hizballah Light Brigade drives Russian UAZ Patriot-SUV pickup trucks on which are mounted Kord heavy machine guns and AGS-17 grenade launchers. These vehicles are equipped with automatic filters adapted for combat in arid desert conditions to overcome difficulties in vision and breathing.

Can US, Turkey keep up appearances in Syria?

May 30, 2016

Can US, Turkey keep up appearances in Syria? Al-Monitor, May 29, 2016

A terrorist group linked to the Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for suicide bombings in Tartus and Jableh in Syria on May 23 that killed more than 150 civilians and wounded more than 200 others. Maxim Suchkov points out that the attack in Tartus occurred deep inside government-controlled territory. Russia maintains a naval base in Tartus and an air base and reconnaissance center in Khmeimim in the Latakia region. The suicide attacks, Suchkov suggests, could be a catalyst for a Russian “first strike” strategy against terrorist and aligned Salafi groups.

Moscow had already signaled the prospect of escalation against Jabhat al-Nusra and allied groups prior to the May 23 attacks. The Russian Ministry of Defense has announced a pause in its air campaign to allow armed groups allied with Jabhat-al Nusra to distance themselves from the al-Qaeda affiliate. On May 26, Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and allied groups seized the town of Dirkhabiyah near Damascus. Ahrar al-Sham has coordinated more closely with Jabhat al-Nusra in response to increased US and Russian targeting of the al-Qaeda affiliate over the past few months.

This column last week suggested that the United States take up a Russian offer to coordinate attacks on Jabhat al-Nusra, which is not a party to the cessation of hostilities. For the record, we have no tolerance or empathy for groups or individuals who stand with al-Qaeda. We hope that this is at least part of the message the United States is conveying to its regional partners who have backed these groups.

With the Geneva talks suspended for several weeks, the prospect of a Russian campaign to deliver heavy and potentially fatal blows to Jabhat al-Nusra and its allies, especially in and around Aleppo and Idlib, could signal yet another turning point in the Syria conflict.

Turkey’s failed proxy war

The United States and Turkey are struggling to keep up appearances in Syria, despite even further signs of division and discord.

Gen. Joseph Votel, US CENTCOM commander, met last week with Syrian Kurdish forces during a “secret” visit to northern Syria as part of a regional diplomatic tour that also included a stop in Ankara. Votel told Washington Post columnist David Ignatius that he is seeking to “balance” Turkey’s role as a “fabulous” partner in the battle against IS with that of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the backbone of the Syrian Defense Forces (SDF), which is a “very good partner on the ground.”

In contrast to the YPG, Turkey’s proxy forces, including a worrying mix of Salafists who are willing to run operations with Jabhat al-Nusra, have been a flop. Last week, IS seized at least seven villages in the northern Aleppo region.

Fehim Tastekin reports that SDF-led military operations to liberate Jarablus, which is an essential gateway along with al-Rai to the outside world via Turkey, were postponed “because of Turkey’s red line against the Kurds.” The offensive against Raqqa has also been slowed, writes Tastekin, because “the SDF’s operational capacity still leaves much to be desired. It is not an option for the Kurdish YPG-YPJ to control Raqqa, because they will encounter local resistance. They also worry that scattering their forces in Arab regions could weaken the defensive lines of Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan). Therefore, Arab forces would have to get in shape to control the situation in the post-IS period.” Laura Rozen reports from Washington that the United States is seeking to boost the numbers of Arab Sunni forces among the SDF in anticipation of an advance on Raqqa.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon found itself in a public relations fiasco after Turkey complained that US special forces in Syria were wearing badges with the logo of the YPG, which Turkey considers the Syrian partner of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and therefore also a terrorist organization. This might be compared with what in the sports world is known as an unforced error, and made Votel’s already daunting diplomacy that much more complicated.

Air Force Col. Sean McCarthy also told Ignatius that US air operations against IS out of Incirlik Air Base were mostly “autonomous” of Turkish missions, saying that “we don’t discuss with them where we’re going.”

Adding it all up, the US-Turkish “partnership” against IS may be more fable than fabulous. The open secret is that Turkey is preoccupied first with thwarting advances by Syria’s Kurds, and second with shutting down the remaining lifelines for IS in northern Syria. These priorities are of a piece. No doubt Turkey is taking up the fight against IS, but first things first. Tastekin, who previously broke the back story on Turkey’s disastrous proxy efforts to retake al-Rai from IS in April, now concludes that “there is no room for optimism that Ankara will erase its red lines vis-a-vis the Kurds. Instead, Turkey is now trying to put together an even more formidable force with Jabhat al-Nusra, which it is trying to steer away from al-Qaeda.”

The catch might just be that many of the Syrian armed groups backed by Washington’s regional partners are proxies for a sectarian agenda that is mostly about toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, however unlikely that now appears, and, by extension, keeping the heat on Iran. The when and where of taking the fight to IS or Jabhat al-Nusra is more or less negotiable, depending on trade-offs and pressure. We do not feel we are out on a limb in suggesting that efforts by Ankara or others to wean Jabhat al-Nusra from al-Qaeda will come to no good. This column has repeatedly documented the fluidity of foreign-backed Salafi groups such as Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam shifting in and out of tactical alliances with Jabhat al-Nusra, all the while preaching an ideology almost indistinguishable from al-Qaeda and IS.

The losers, of course, are the people of Syria, including those who suffer under IS’ tyranny that much longer because of Turkey’s concerns about the Kurds, and as Washington’s policymakers and pundits begin another maddening deep dive into how to rejigger ethnic and sectarian fault lines. Syrians fleeing IS terror in Aleppo, meanwhile, told Mohammed al-Khatieb that living under IS is “like hell … unbearable.” While we acknowledge the complexities and challenges of the raw ethnic and sectarian politics of Syria, as well as the potential for vendettas and mass killings, there is, in our score, an urgency and priority to focus on the destruction of IS and al-Qaeda above all else.

Sur’s aftermath

Diyarbakir’s historic district of Sur has witnessed some of the most brutal fighting between Turkish military and PKK forces over the past year. Mahmut Bozarslan reports from Diyarbakir that “historical landmarks in Sur, which was last year added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List, also suffered their share of destruction. The walls of the Armenian Catholic church are partially destroyed, while the nearby Haci Hamit Mosque is missing its minaret, with a dome riddled with bullets. Another Armenian church, Surp Giragos, had its windows shattered and interior damaged.”

“Still, those ancient monuments were lucky compared with more ordinary structures in the area,” writes Bozarslan. “A building with an intact door was almost impossible to find. The warring parties had used some buildings as fighting bases, others as places to rest. Stairways were littered with empty tins; one was also stained with blood. At the bloodied spot, a piece of paper reading “body #1” was left behind, suggesting that the security forces had been there for a crime scene report. A couple seemed relieved that they had escaped with relatively little damage, but grumbled that their apartment had been broken into, with the bedroom and closets rummaged. They claimed it was the security forces who had entered, while their neighbor showed Al-Monitor binoculars that had been left behind.”

IDF Racing to Restructure Itself for New Middle East Warfare

February 24, 2016

IDF Racing to Restructure Itself for New Middle East Warfare, Investigative Project on Terrorism, Yaakov Lappin, February 23, 2016

1362Photo Credit: IDF Spokesperson

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is in a race against time, and it is a race that is relevant to how other Western powers will also deal with the rise of radical, armed, Islamic groups proliferating across the Middle East.

As the IDF’s commanders look around the region, they see heavily armed, hybrid, Islamic sub-state foes that are replacing states. The traditional threat of hierarchical armies is fading quickly away, into obscurity.

The Sunni and Shi’ite jihadist entities on Israel’s borders – Hamas, Hizballah, ISIS-affiliated groups in Syria, Jabhat Al-Nusra, as well as elements of Iran’s IRGC forces – are all building their power and preparing for a future unknown point in time when they will clash with Israel.

The IDF is preparing, too, but it is not only counting how many soldiers, tanks, fighter planes, and artillery cannons it can call up in the next round. The IDF is in a race to adapt to 21st century Middle Eastern warfare, which bears no resemblance to how wars were fought in the 20th century.

In this new type of conflict, enemies appear and vanish quickly, use their own civilians as cover, bombard Israeli cities with projectiles, seek out the weakest link in Israel’s chain, and send killing squads through tunnels to attack Israeli border villages.

In this type of clash, the enemy looks for a ‘winning picture’ at the start of any escalation. This means landing a surprise blow that will knock Israeli society off balance, at least for a short while.

To be clear, all of the hostile sub-state actors currently are deterred by Israel’s considerable firepower and are unlikely to initiate a direct, all-out attack right now.

The price they would pay for such action is deemed too high, for now.

Yet, opportunities and circumstances can suddenly arise that would alter these calculations, and put these terrorist organizations on a direct collision course with the IDF.

Israel has fought four conflicts against Hamas and Hizballah in the past 10 years, and emerged with the conclusion that the era of state military versus state military warfare is over.

Acknowledging this development is one thing; the organizational transformation that must follow is quite another. Israel did not want to enter any of the past four conflicts that were forced upon it, but since they occurred, they have aided in the IDF’s adaptation process, which has been as complex as it has been painful, and is far from over.

“What you have to do against an enemy like this, and it is a great difficulty for militaries, including the IDF, is to operate in a combined, cross-branch [air force, ground forces, navy] manner, and to keep it [operations] focused. Focus the ground maneuver and firepower, on the basis of the intelligence you get,” a senior IDF source said earlier this month in Tel Aviv, while addressing the challenges of adaptation.

Taking southern Lebanon, the home base of Hizballah, as an example, the area has well over 100 Shi’ite villages that have been converted into mass rocket launching zones.

With one out of every 10 Lebanese homes doubling up as a Hizballah rocket launching site (complete with roofs that open and close to allow the rocket to launch), Hizballah has amassed over 120,000 projectiles – some of them GPS guided – with Iran’s help. This arsenal, pointed at Israel, forms one of the largest surface to surface rocket arsenals on Earth.

Would sending several military divisions into such an area be sufficient for Israel in stopping the rocket attacks? Without focused intelligence, the military source argued, the answer is a resounding no. Israel’s reliance on intelligence has never been more paramount in the age of sub-state, radical enemies.

“The urban areas swallow up our forces. If we can’t focus the maneuver, no amount of forces will be sufficient in dealing with this issue. It must be focused, and the information that must direct this focus is real-time intelligence,” the source said.

The IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate has the mammoth task of building up a battle picture and a database of targets ahead of any conflict. After a conflict erupts, it must start the process all over again within a few days, when the entire map of threats changes in the modern dynamic battlefield.

This is a far cry from the old intelligence work that looked at enemy tank divisions and infantry formation.

IDF planners believe that any future conflict with a hybrid, terror-guerrilla military force will consist of five stages. An “opening picture” – that surprise blow intended to shock Israelis – will mark the start of hostilities, in which Israel must deny the adversary its “winning picture.” This will be followed by an exchange of firepower. After a few days, Israel would need to call up reserves, and then launch a ground offensive. Throughout this period, the Israeli home front would absorb heavy rocket fire, while the Israel Air Force would pound enemy targets. The IAF could fire thousands of precision-guided munitions every 24 hours, if it deploys its firepower to the maximum, as it would in an all-out clash with Hizballah.

Israeli air defense systems like Iron Dome could soften the blow to the home front significantly, but this is truer with respect to Gazan rockets than against the downpour of Hizballah rockets and missiles, which would overwhelm air defenses.

The ground offensive must destroy “70 to 75 percent of [enemy] capabilities,” the source said. “If there are 100 missiles and two operatives on the other side, and you kill the operatives, than the missiles become irrelevant.”

The last phase is the end stage, and it is unlikely that an entity like Hamas or Hizballah would wave a white flag when hostilities conclude, even if most of their capabilities have been destroyed.

The era of clear-cut military victories, like Israel experienced in the 1967 Six Day War, is gone, the source said.

With this reality in view, the IDF’s steps to adapt itself to modern threats include the ability to gather huge quantities of intelligence and deliver them, in real-time, to the forces that need them most in the battlefield, right down to the level of a battalion commander.

This requirement includes establishing an “operational Internet,” an internal IDF network that allows battalion commanders to access Military Intelligence target data in their area, and direct their units accordingly.

It would also allow field commanders to communicate directly with a fighter jet pilot or drone operator, or even a missile ship commander, for the type of cross-forces cooperation the IDF thinks will be most effective in shutting down threats.

As a result, the IDF’s C4i Branch has spent recent years overcoming many hurdles and objections and integrating the command and control networks of the air force, navy, and ground forces. It then directly linked them up to Military Intelligence.

By the end of this year, the first IDF division will have a “military Internet” network, complete with applications and browsers, up and running.

“I don’t want a squad commander walking around with a screen in his hand. He has to be aware of his soldiers. [But] the battalion commander should certainly have this,” the source said.

In 2014, the IDF did not do a good enough job in detecting, in real-time, the location of Hamas rocket launches in Gaza. It got away with this failure because of the effectiveness of the Iron Dome anti-rocket batteries. But against Hizballah’s much larger arsenal, no amount of air defenses will be sufficient, and the IDF therefore is working on improving its rocket detection and accurate return fire abilities.

“In the next stage [of our development], if you detect the rocket launch areas and the centers of activity of the enemy, and transmit them [to your own forces], you can learn the enemy’s patterns better,” the officer said.

Knowing the enemy has never been more important for Israel’s ability to defend itself against the jihadist entities that are replacing states in the Middle East. As these radical Islamist organizations prepare for the day of battle, Israel does the same, through updating its old 20th century battle doctrines and bringing them up to speed with its rapidly changing and chaotic environment.

Jihadists reinforce other rebels during key battle in Aleppo province

February 7, 2016

Jihadists reinforce other rebels during key battle in Aleppo province, Long War Journal, February 6, 2016


An Al Nusrah Front convoy streams into Aleppo province in late January.

Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, sent a massive convoy of fighters to the Aleppo province in late January. The jihadists’ redeployment was promoted in a short video posted on Twitter. More than 100 vehicles filled with fighters streamed into the province.

It was a harbinger of the heavy fighting to come.

Bashar al Assad’s regime, backed by Russian airstrikes, Iranian-sponsored Shiite militias and Hezbollah, launched a major offensive in Aleppo earlier this month. The fight for the province is likely the most important battle in Syria since early last year, when the Jaysh al Fateh coalition, led by Al Nusrah and Ahrar al Sham (an al Qaeda-linked jihadist group) swept through the neighboring Idlib province.

If Assad and his allies are successful it will not only allow them to lay siege to the city of Aleppo, parts of which have been controlled by the insurgents since 2012, but also to cut off Idlib. Assad wants to secure the northern part of the province, which borders Turkey and houses vital supply routes for the insurgency.

The Syrian government claims to have made gains in pursuit of this objective in recent days.

The Syrian Army, “in cooperation with” paramilitary groups, “restored security and stability to Rityan and Mair towns in the northern countryside of Aleppo province,” Assad’s propaganda arm, SANA, claimed on Feb. 5.

The purported gains came two days after SANA reported that the Syrian Army and its allies “broke the siege imposed on Nubbul and al-Zahra towns by terrorist organizations.” SANA claimed that “[s]cores of terrorists were killed, most of them from [Al Nusrah Front] during the operations.” Nubbul and al-Zahra are both Shiite-majority towns in the northern part of Aleppo.

There is an ebb and flow to the fighting in Aleppo, as elsewhere, making it difficult to tell if the government’s gains are lasting, or just temporary. For example, although SANA says Rityan has been retaken from the insurgents, Al Nusrah continues to post images from the fighting there.

And although SANA says all of the opposition to the government in Aleppo comes from “terrorist organizations,” the reality is more complex. Jihadist groups such as Al Nusrah are partnering with other rebel organizations, including Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Islamist factions, in an attempt to thwart the Syrian government’s advances.

The opposition in Aleppo

One of the strongest rebel groups in Aleppo is the Nur al-Din al-Zanki Movement. Members of Zanki and Al Nusrah clashed at a checkpoint in late September and early October of last year. Zanki’s “political bureau” then denounced Al Nusrah in tweets that were published in both English and Arabic. However, the infighting did not lead to a permanent rift between the two. Instead, Zanki complied with Al Nusrah’s demands and quickly apologized.

In a statement written in Arabic and released on social media, Zanki said its criticism of Al Nusrah did “not represent the [Zanki] movement’s official position…and we owe [an] exoneration of our brothers from what was attributed to them – accusations, insinuations, and slander [libel] – to God Almighty, and we only think properly of them.”

The “relationship between us and our [Nusrah] brothers is proceeding on even better terms than what it was in the past, and this incident which occurred between us and our [Nusrah] brothers will not deter us from vigorously continuing to strengthen the bond of Islamic brotherhood between us and them, and which obligates us – religiously – to cooperate and combine efforts and fight off the aggressor enemy,” Zanki’s apology continued.

The statement ended with a call for both Zanki and Al Nusrah “to [ensure] that the only judgment in any dispute between us should be based on religious law.”

Zanki is not al Qaeda. But as the skirmish with Al Nusrah demonstrated, Zanki does not want to offend al Qaeda’s men, cooperates with them on the battlefield and believes in a version of “religious law” (sharia) that is at least similar to Al Nusrah’s.

Despite its adherence to an Islamist ideology and alliance with Al Nusrah, Zanki has received American-made TOW missiles, which it has used against both the Assad regime and the Islamic State.

Another Islamist organization in Aleppo is Faylaq al Sham (Sham Legion), which fought as part of the Jaysh al Fateh coalition in Idlib. In early January, however, Faylaq al Sham announced that it was leaving Jaysh al Fateh to concentrate on the fighting in Aleppo. The group subsequently merged with others to form the “North Brigade” in Aleppo.

In late December, Sheikh Umar Huzaifa, a senior Faylaq al Sham official, was one of 38 ideologues who signed a statement proclaiming that jihad is an “individual obligation” for all Muslims “in situations like this.” The statement’s signatories, who belong to the “Association of Scholars in Sham,” portrayed the war in Syria as one pitting a “Crusader-Zionist-Safawi [Shiites and Iranians]” alliance against Sunni Muslims.

The association’s scholars claimed it “is no longer hidden from our Beloved Ummah [community of worldwide Muslims] what has reached the land of Sham with the rushing forward of the entire nations of Kufr [disbelief] against it,” because it “has become manifest in the Crusader-Zionist-Safawi coalition rushing to eliminate the revolution of the people of Sham and their blessed jihad.” The “battle of Sham has become a decisive battle against the nations of Kufr,” the statement continued, as the rebels’ enemies “gather to establish the Rafidhi [rejectionist] Shia to fulfill their drawn up plans for their (Shia) crescent (on the map) and to eliminate” Sunni belief in Syria and elsewhere.

Other signatories on the statement issued by the “Association of Scholars in Sham” included Sheikh Abdallah Muhammad al Muhaysini (an al Qaeda-affiliated cleric and “judge” in Jaysh al Fateh), members of Al Nusrah Front and Ahrar al Sham, Sheikh Sirajuddin Zurayqat (emir of the al Qaeda-linked and Lebanon-based Abdullah Azzam Brigades), as well as a number of other officials.

The battle for Aleppo is a complex, multi-sided affair. The organizations discussed above are just some of those fighting on the ground. The Islamic State, the Kurds, and the Western-backed Syrian Democratic Forces all have a presence.

Another group is Liwa Suqour al Jabal, which has reportedly received assistance from the CIA. Liwa Suqour al Jabal fights in Aleppo and has been targeted in Russian airstrikes.

“The Russian (air) cover continues night and day, there were more than 250 air strikes on this area in one day,” Hassan Haj Ali, the leader of Liwa Suqour al Jabal, told Reuters in an interview. “The regime is now trying to expand the area it has taken control of,” Ali explained. “Now the northern countryside (of Aleppo) is totally encircled, and the humanitarian situation is very difficult.”

The fight for Aleppo may very well shape the course of the war. And as the battle has raged on, jihadists have called for even more reinforcements. Sheikh Muhaysini, a popular jihadist cleric, has repeatedly urged Muslims to join the rebel’s ranks and for the existing insurgent organizations to unite under a common banner.

It remains to be seen if the jihadists, Islamists and other rebels can thwart the Assad regime’s advances.

Israel’s biggest fears are materializing

September 27, 2015

Israel’s biggest fears are materializing, Israel Hayom, Boaz Bismuth, September 27, 2015

144334028328300476a_bThe Munich moment is upon us. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif at U.N. headquarters on Saturday | Photo credit: AP

Washington is reaching out to Russia, which is openly helping Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is working in conjunction with Iran, which in turn supports Hezbollah. Now Europe is prepared to talk to Assad, but what about us, for heaven’s sake?

Two years ago to the day, in September 2013, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry compared Bashar Assad to Adolf Hitler, after the Syrian dictator once again used chemical weapons against his own people. “This is our Munich moment,” Kerry said at the time.

As far as the Americans were concerned, Assad had crossed a line. In those days (more like in those hours, actually), Washington briefly believed that a failure to respond to Assad’s actions would send a dangerous message to Iran regarding its nuclear ambitions.

“Will [Iran] remember that the Assad regime was stopped from those weapons’ current or future use, or will they remember that the world stood aside and created impunity?” Kerry asked at the time. History and retrospect have turned what may have been Kerry’s greatest speech into remarks entirely detached from reality.

The United States did not attack, Assad is still in power, and an ominous nuclear deal has been signed with Iran. It is no wonder that there is a new kind of atmosphere in the region, under American auspices. There are no more good guys and bad guys; everyone is a partner. And thanks to this new reality, Assad now has a renewed license to rule, after having received a license to kill.

Washington is reaching out to Russia, which is openly helping Assad in Syria, who is working in conjunction with Iran, which in turn supports Hezbollah. Europe (Angela Merkel), in the meantime, startled by its refugee crisis, is already prepared to talk with Assad; the same Assad who was compared to Hitler only two years ago. But what about us, for heaven’s sake?

Regretfully, Israel’s biggest fears are now materializing. Instead of being the architects and shaping a new reality in the Middle East, Washington is falling into line with the existing reality. Russia, Syria and Iran are enjoying the consequent vacuum. When the cat is away, the mice will play. Now, all of a sudden, even Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah is letting himself go on television, beaming with joy. Aside from the 75 tanks Damascus is giving him, he now sees his two patrons (Damascus and Tehran) become partners with the West, without having to change one bit.

There is no diplomatic vacuum

The latest developments in Syria are not encouraging: Assad’s first target, with Russia’s help, is expected to be the Nusra Front rebel group, which not only threatens Assad but is also a bitter enemy of the Islamic State group. In other words, somewhat paradoxically, Islamic State could initially benefit from the Russian intervention in Syria.

And one final word about Iran’s rapprochement with the international community: We have been told repeatedly that this was only about the nuclear deal, but in reality we can see cooperation between the U.S. and Iran in Iraq and in the war against Islamic State. We can also see American-Iranian dialogue regarding Syria’s future, and on Saturday night we learned of a gigantic deal worth upwards of $21 billion between Iran and Russia. This time I am forced to agree with Secretary Kerry: This really does look like a Munich moment.

US-backed rebels handed over equipment to al Qaeda in Syria

September 26, 2015

US-backed rebels handed over equipment to al Qaeda in Syria, Long War Journal, September 26, 2015


[T]he Jaysh al Fateh alliance, which is led by Al Nusrah and its closest jihadist allies, has captured more territory from Assad’s regime this year than the Islamic State has.

Not only has al Qaeda thwarted America’s first efforts under the overt $500 million train and equip program, which is managed by the US military, it has also taken out rebels who received unofficial support from the US intelligence community.


US-backed rebels in the so-called “New Syrian Forces” (NSF) have turned over at least some of their equipment and ammunition to a “suspected” intermediary for Al Nusrah Front, US Central Command (CENTCOM) conceded in a statement released late yesterday. The coalition-provided supplies were given by the rebels to Al Nusrah, an official branch of al Qaeda, in exchange for “safe passage within their operating area.

The “NSF unit contacted Coalition representatives and informed us that on Sept. 21-22 they gave six pick-up trucks and a portion of their ammunition to a suspected Al Nusrah Front intermediary, which equates to roughly 25 percent of their issued equipment,” CENTCOM spokesperson Col. Patrick Ryder said. “If accurate, the report of NSF members providing equipment to Al Nusrah Front is very concerning and a violation of Syria train and equip program guidelines.”

While Ryder left open the possibility that the report is not accurate, he did not offer any explanation for why the NSF unit would lie about giving the equipment to Al Nusrah. The admission further jeopardizes the unit’s ability to receive American arms in the future.

Rebels belonging to Division 30, a group supported by the US, suffered losses immediately upon entering the Syrian fray earlier this year.

More than 50 members of Division 30 were sent into Syria in July. But Al Nusrah quickly thwarted their plans, even though the US-backed rebels intended to fight the Islamic State, Al Nusrah’s bitter rival. A number of Division 30 fighters were captured or killed within days of embarking on their mission.

Al Nusrah released a statement at the time saying that Division 30 is part of an American scheme that is opposed to the interests of the Syrian people. Al Qaeda’s branch accused the group of trying to form “the nucleus” of a “national army” and blasted the attempt to bolster the “moderate opposition.”

Al Nusrah also attacked Division 30’s headquarters in Azaz, a city north of Aleppo. The US responded with airstrikes, killing a number of jihadists, but the damage to the limited US effort was done. US officials said earlier this month that only four or five rebels were left in the fight. Dozens of additional US-supported rebels have entered the war in recent weeks, according to US military officials.

Not only has al Qaeda thwarted America’s first efforts under the overt $500 million train and equip program, which is managed by the US military, it has also taken out rebels who received unofficial support from the US intelligence community.

Al Nusrah Front has consistently resisted the West’s meager attempts to build a reliable opposition force. Late last year, al Qaeda’s branch pushed the Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF), which had reportedly received some support from the West, out of its strongholds in the Idlib province. The SRF’s demise helped pave the way for Al Nusrah and its allies in the Jaysh al Fateh (“Army of Conquest”) coalition to capture much of Idlib beginning in late March.

After being vanquished, SRF head Jamaal Maarouf accused Al Nusrah’s emir, Abu Muhammad al Julani, of being a “Kharijite” (or extremist). This was an about-face in the relationship, as the SRF and Al Nusrah had previously fought side-by-side. Maarouf also publicly lamented the limited support he had received from the West.

Earlier this year, Al Nusrah also took the fight to Harakat Hazm (the Hazm Movement) outside of Aleppo. Despite receiving Western support, including US weaponry, Hazm had fought alongside the jihadists in the past and its leaders had praised Al Nusrah. Regardless, it was eventually forced to disband under Al Nusrah’s relentless pressure. Hazm’s remaining members were folded into other rebel groups.

It is suspected that American-made anti-tank TOW missiles fell into al Qaeda’s hands as a result of the battle against Hazm. The weapons were used during the jihadists’ successful assault on Idlib in March, as well as during other key confrontations with the Assad regime.

Recent events demonstrate that the US is consistently underestimating al Qaeda’s presence and capabilities in Syria, and does not have a true strategy for the multi-sided conflict. The rebels who have gone through the train and equip program are supposed to fight the Islamic State and not, according to public accounts, Al Nusrah. But it is Al Nusrah, which has been seeded with al Qaeda veterans in its upper ranks and is openly loyal to al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri, that has interfered with the US effort.

The US apparently did not anticipate Al Nusrah blocking Division 30’s first foray into northern Syria in July. The al Qaeda branch did so not to support Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s men, but because it is opposed to any US presence in the country. The US has targeted individual al Qaeda commanders in Syria, especially those believed to pose an immediate threat to the West, but has not sought to degrade the Al Nusrah-led wing of the anti-Assad insurgency. However, the Jaysh al Fateh alliance, which is led by Al Nusrah and its closest jihadist allies, has captured more territory from Assad’s regime this year than the Islamic State has.