Although both sides are being supported by different countries that support either the Assad government or the fighters attempting to topple them one thing is very clear and that is there are a number of new terrorist organisations that have emerging and are fighting in Syria not just to topple the reigning government but hoping to achieve ideas of their own.
The West does not wish to engage in another fight on Arabian sand after the bitter conflicts of Iraq and Afghanistan (not an Arab state but whose religion is Muslim) it is clear that although the west is interested in Assad being replaced by a more pro-west regime they do not want more of their troops to die in a conflict that could resemble Iraq. Support for the opposition is therefore carried out under somewhat clandestine operations with the provision of communications equipment, the flow of arms into the country and more importantly money to fund them. Various Arab States within the region are also supporting the opposition fighters by various means to allow them to continue the fight. Here in lies the new unconventional war similar to those in Kashmir by India and Pakistan and Vietnam by the United States and communist forces.
On the other hand the Syrian government is being propped up by its strong ally Iran which is seen as the destabilising influence in the region, if Syria falls this will give Iran a huge problem on that side of the Arabian Peninsula and in its covert fight against Israel. Currently Iran who supports and funds Hezbollah in Lebanon and also supports the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank feeds weapons and funds through Syria which they then control. If the Syrian government is toppled who and where would the funds and weaponry be channel led through? Through open source media reporting it appears that they are now attempting to bring in weapons through the Suez Canal in Egypt since they flexed their muscles by sending two of their navy ships through the Suez Canal in February 2011. However, in October 2012 the Iranian Navy docked two ships in the Sudan (several days after the Sudanese government complained to the United Nations claiming that an air-raid on one of its factories was carried out by the Israeli air force) claiming it was a peace mission for those in the region. This could be the new route for which the Syrian Army and the Palestinians bring in weapons and funding.
The League of Arab Nations or The Arab League and the United Nations (UN) have failed to stop the violence in Syria. The Arab league sent in monitors during Dec 2011 in an attempt to see what was going on in the country but was stopped entering various parts of the country and attempting to find out the truth regarding reports of the killing taking place. This mission was failed from the start with insufficient monitors to report on the atrocities that were allegedly taking place and the restrictions imposed by the Syrian government. After a short unsuccessful stay they suspended their mission on the 29 Jan 2011 and left.
Kofi Annan the former UN leader was asked to intervene in the Syrian conflict and along with the Arab League brokered a ceasefire with the Syrian Government and the opposition forces. Unfortunately this did not take place but the UN did manage to place its observers for a few months prior to the violence escalating and resulting in several of its observers nearly being killed. Shortly after the UN Peacekeeping mission left leaving no-one in the country to verify the atrocities that were taking place. Fortunately for the world they did manage to travel around and were able to state whether some of the violence that had been reported did happen.
The UN keeps attempting to arrive at a decision in order to bring all parties to the table but with China and Russia vetoing all the time this will not happen. During the build up to the Iraqi invasion during 2003 France and Germany also vetoed any attempt to resolve the problem. The two countries were owed billions of dollars by the Saddam Hussein regime and they knew only too well if the country was invaded then the likelihood of them collecting their debt would be very unlikely. So Germany and France declined to get involved and the conflict went ahead without them. With this in mind it is more than probable that China and Russian are owed billions of dollars and will see their debt unpaid if Assad is toppled.
With no other options open the conflict was only to get much worse and many more Syrians have lost their lives since, and, no doubt will do so until the fighting has stopped between the rival groups and the fall of the Assad regime. Or will it?
Because of the vacuum that has been left by the two unsuccessful attempts by the Arab League and the UN to broker a ceasefire and bring parties to the table for talks it has been left open for others to attempt to fill in this void. The main group that is attempting to overthrow the government is the Free Syrian Army (FSA) which was set up to fight against the violence conducted against the Syrian people by the Assad government forces. With no outside assistance similar to that with the overthrow of the Libyan dictator Gaddafi, from the West or other Arab countries the FSA has basically being left on its own and to get assistance from any location.
Ayman al-Zawahiri the leader of al-Qaeda in Feb 2012 stated on a video statement that all Muslims should rise to the aid of the downfall of the Syrian government and not to trust the West or Arab countries for support. The al-Qaeda leader sees this as means to establish a ‘base’ in the region to carry out its ideology having failed in other locations.
This statement has led to a larger influx of foreign fighters arriving in Syria but not in the support of the FSA but with their own agenda of setting up a Muslim state where it can be used as a base to fight against not only the Assad regime but against al-Qaeda ideology. The first phase would be to get rid of the government and to put in its place a Muslim Caliph where it could be then used as a base to fight other Jihads against the West, Israel and support the Palestinian people.
There are a number of terrorist groups that are fighting in Syria alongside the FSA and their aim is solely to get rid of the current government. The FSA also wants the same but also wishes to put in its place a government far better than the Assad regime and end its dynasty. However, the FSA is slowly losing to outside or new terrorist organisations which are mainly Salafists and are attempting to overtake the Syrian revolution. Each group operating in Syria is doing so for its own ends and ideology. But these groups have different interpretations of the way Salafism should be implemented which not only complicates matters but will also result in further fighting between themselves at a later date.
According to the “Long War Journal” published on the 23 Sep 12 there were a number of groups that are new. These are:
1. Tawheed Brigade (aka the al-Tawhad Brigade).
2. The al-Nusrah Front.
3. The Farouq Brigade (possibly a brigade of the FSA)
4. Military Council.
5. Al-Qaeda Tawheed Brigades.
6. Open Battalion.
7. Dawn of Islam Battalion (possibly the Briagde of Islam or Liwa al-Islam)
8. Free Sham (aka Ahrar al-Sham or Free Men of Syria)
9. The Brigades of Unity.
Along with this list it gave another couple of groups that are foreign fighters and not aligned to any other organisation. Most of the organisations listed are fighting in various parts of the country and only occasionally fighting in a similar city although it is in different areas of that particular city.
Until the uprising in Syria these groups were unheard of and most are made up of foreign fighters from other Arab countries and other such nations as Turkey, Chechnya, Libya and Afghanistan to name but a few. All of these fighters have their own reason for being in Syria and the most common denominator of all is to set up a Muslim state in which to rule by Sharia Law.
The Syrian government is keen to hang on to its position and its country and it seems to be fighting a losing battle against opposition forces. With the encouragement and assistance of Iran, President Assad will put up a very convincing fight with no fear of outside help.
Syria would prefer that these groups did not exist and are attempting to stop their influx of support, funding and weapons. This has proven unsuccessful and logistics are getting into the country from Turkey and Lebanon.
The Syrian government is obviously against these imports and has attempted to stop these routes being used by carrying out its own terrorist attacks. Syria has for a long time being involved in Lebanese politics and has been involved in the assassination of prominent figures that are either outspoken against the regime or supporting opposition forces against him. The killing of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri on the 14 Feb 05 and on the 19 Oct 12 the Head of Lebanese Internal Intelligence Wissam al-Hassan are just two examples of this. As a result of the last atrocity the Lebanese government deployed its soldiers on the streets of Beirut and Tripoli in an attempt to control and stop further attempts to kill foreign nationals on their home soil.
In Turkey which houses many Syrian refugees and the Syrian National Council, the opposing leadership, and which allows arms to be brought into Syria has also felt the Syrian government wrath. In Apr 12 Syrian soldiers fired over the border at refugees, in Jun 12 the Syrian air force shot down a military Turkish aircraft and in Oct 12 mortar rounds were fired just over the Turkish border at the village of Akcakale killing several Turkish nationals.
Both of these incidents are aimed at involving the two countries and a hope of destabilising them in order to take the spotlight away from Syria. By involving other countries, especially those supporting terrorist organisations, Syria hopes to highlight that it is fighting not only the rebel groups but the countries that are supporting them possibly in the hope of changing world opinion that it is fighting terrorism and those countries that are supporting them. Another possibility is that it is attempting to divert internal critical politics by getting the country to unite together which would give Assad time for redeployment and a fresh look at stopping the revolution.
But aside to all this the terrorist organisations that are fighting in Syria are going to continue for some time. As stated earlier they have their own agenda and have no concern regarding the Syrian people. Indeed in areas and boundaries controlled by Liwaa al-Islam (number seven in the list above) they have already set up Sharia courts and are using them even though the majority of Syrians do not want this path.
During the revolution that fighting continues some of the organisations will either dissolve or amalgamate into other organisations. Especially if they see that there is strength in numbers to achieve their aim or to fight other groups who they disagree with, or, see as strong opponents to their own ideology. Al-Qaeda ideology thrives on chaos and Syria has an abundance of it. Terrorist groups will either grow, get subsumed or get destroyed by other organisations. Whatever happens there will be a long aftermath from these groups. Should a major unrest occur in other Gulf countries these organisations have the ability to export their ideology, experience and ability to continue their struggle elsewhere.
In the past groups with Marxist/Lenin ideologies have come and gone as the world changed. Unfortunately, there is now a bigger scope for Salfist ideology to attempt to gain ground and roots in countries such as Syria and if other countries do not stamp out militant acts then they too may fall under the same strain as the Syrian groups.
Paul Ashley is the Senior Counterterrorism Analyst at 361Security.