Sayyed Nasrallah: US Biased, Ready to Stop ’Israeli’ Oil Extraction within Hours

Sayyed Nasrallah: US Biased, Ready to Stop ’Israeli’ Oil Extraction within Hours

Zeinab Essa

16-02-2018 | 22:24

Hezbollah Secretary General His Eminence Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah delivered on Friday a speech in which he tackled various regional and local topics.

Addressing a huge crowd commemorating the anniversary of “Resistance Martyr Leaders”,

Sayyed Nasrallah stated: “‘We Preserved the will’ is title of our commemoration as we are emerging from an international war on the Resistance axis.”

His Eminence further added: “We preserved the Resistance after we emerged victorious from the July 2006 aggression.”

To the Martyr Leaders, he said: “We tell the leader martyrs, Sayyed Abbas Moussawi, Sheikh Raghe Harb and Hajj Imad Mughnieh that your will has always been to preserve the Resistance through dignity and ability to score achievements, and we did this by sacrifices and blood.”

He also addressed them by saying: “Your party still carries the martyrs’ thoughts and aims [of the martyrs]. Today, we are much in need because the challenges are getting bigger.”

In this context, the Resistance Leader announced that it seems that the region has entered “the battle of oil and gas. No one should look at this as a separate dispute.”

According to His Eminence, “Who increases the conflict over oil and gas is the greedy US president [Donald Trump],” noting that “the crisis in the region today is on oil and its led by the US administration, whether in Iraq, the Gulf or elsewhere.”

“The crisis between Turkey and Cyprus is about oil and it is said that the Gulf crisis was also on the same matter,” he clarified.

“”Israel” wants under the Trump administration to obtain an international decision to annex the Golan,” he warned, pointing out that “there exists a huge amount of gas in the Syrian Occupied Golan Heights.”

Meanwhile, Sayyed Nasrallah clarified that “there are several reasons for the war on Syria in regards to oil resources.”

In this context, he underlined that “The US previously said that once Daesh [Arabic Acronym for the terrorist “ISIS”/ “ISIL” group] ends, they would eastern Syria. However, they didn’t. They are protecting the remains of Daesh, who are being trained there.”

His Eminence also warned that”$750 million from the Pentagon’s budget goes for the Kurds or others , who are being used by the Americans as part of their battle in Syria.”

“The Trump administration also looks at Iraq only as an oil country,” he said, advising the Iraqis to be very careful from Trump’s administration.”

Back to Lebanon, Sayyed Nasrallah viewed that Lebanon must speak today from a strong position and away from any weakness. “We are strong and we must negotiate from this strong position. We are able to threaten “Israel” as it threatens us. If the American warns that “Israel” will attack us, tell him to accept our demands or Hezbollah will respond,” he said.

“The Lebanese must not allow the devils to sow discord among them, and by devils I mean the Americans,” Sayyed Nasrallah warned.

His Eminence went on to say: “Today the oil resources that are present in the south and across Lebanon are for all Lebanese. The Lebanese people that are suffering from a debt that might reach $100 billion and their only hope might be in the oil and gas that is present in the coast and land.”

“Does Block 9 belong only to the South? No, it is that for all Lebanon,” he added.
In a sounding message to the apartheid “Israeli” entity, the Resistance Leader said: “Lebanon is strong and “let us try”. If the Lebanese Defense Council took a decides that the “Israeli” oil extraction positions must stop working, we [Hezbollah] are ready to stop it within couple of hours.”

“The Americans know that Lebanon’s only strength in this oil and gas battle is the Resistance,” he mentioned, urging the Lebanese to approach this battle in a different manner. “Since 2000, as a Resistance, we announced that we aren’t involved in land demarcation and this is the state’s responsibility.”

Clearly accusing the US of not being an honest broker in oil and border dispute with “Israel”, Sayyed Nasrallah reminded that in 2000, some Lebanese believed that the battle with “Israel” wasn’t theirs.”

“The Americans want to give us our rights in the disputed land which is a simple thing, but to take our rights in the maritime area which is more difficult. The Americans did not come to Lebanon to resolve the issue. They were here to defend “Israel’s” rights and issue threats to Lebanese politicians. The US gives the most strategic military jets to “Israel” and prevents any defense system from Lebanon,” he cautioned.

In another context, Sayyed Nasrallah wondered: “There is a continuous Zionist air invasion to the Lebanese skies. Are we giving up our air to the “Israel”?”

As His Eminence hailed the Syrian achievement of toppling an “Israeli” F16 aircraft, he unveiled that “the decision to confront the “Israeli” aircraft is a Syrian decision that had been taken by President Bashar al-Assad only. Syria is defending itself and after what happened last week, of course, the future won’t be like the past. And that will leave an impact on the aerial arms.”

“Who toppled the “Israeli” aircraft are the officers and soldiers of the brave Syrian Arab army,” he mentioned, assuring that the “Israelis” have their complex calculations to any war because they are uncertain of victory.”

Moving to the regional front, Sayyed Nasrallah underscored that “the US siege continues on Palestinian people and that the Americans are greatly pressuring this people.”

“There are ideal examples among Palestinians. There are Ahmed Jarrar, Ahad Tamimi and Omar al-Abd, who was sentenced to 3 life times in prison, and he irritated Lieberman with his smile,” His Eminence said.

On the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, Sayyed Nasrallah expressed Hezbollah’s pride with the Islamic regime in Iran, which supports Arab causes and rights. “Iran is a country that no other country can meddle in its positions and strategies. The Islamic Republic has stood by all Arab nations, and defended their rights.”

Regarding the situation in Bahrain, His Eminence confirmed that “the Bahrainis have continued their protests despite seven years of heavy-handed crackdown.”

In parallel, His Eminence slammed the fact that “Bahrain is the only country in the world whose government strips citizens of their nationality.”

Sayyed Nasrallah further confirmed that “there is a great international silence regarding the aggression on Yemen, which must end immediately.”


Back to the internal Lebanese arena, Sayyed Nasrallah tackled the upcoming parliamentary elections. “The electoral law isn’t that of Hezbollah. Hezbollah was a partner in forming it. It is a point of political pride and it is one of the most important political achievements [in recent years]. It has opened the way for those without public representation to be represented in the parliament.”

“The elections this year won’t be bone breaking, this law should take us to calm elections and won’t create strife,” he said, pointing out that “Hezbollah and Amal are together in all districts. We had never thought of allying with the Future Movement and our electoral battle is not targeted against anyone.”

Source: Al-Ahed news 

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Who is doing what in Syria and why

February 10, 2018

by Ghassan Kadi for The Saker Blog

It seems that every time a chapter in the war on Syria comes to an end, a new factor surfaces. Just like the 1975-1989 civil war in Lebanon before it, and which started off with a clash between the PLO and the Lebanese rightwing Phalangist militia and then ended up with an Israeli invasion and its aftermath, the war on Syria is now a totally different war from the one that started seven years ago.

With other players gone or having their roles changed, the only persisting player is the Syrian Army of course, fighting here for the integrity and sovereignty of Syria. We cannot include its allies, because even its allies have changed.

There is much speculation about recent events, a lot of war and fear-mongering, but if all elements of the current powers on the ground are dissected and analyzed, it becomes very easy to see what is going on and who is doing what.

Before we try to understand who is doing what and why, let us first identify who are the main players on the ground and behind the scenes; past and present. This is a short list:

  1. Syria of course
  2. Saudi Arabia
  3. Qatar
  4. Kurds
  5. Turkey
  6. Iran
  7. Hezbollah
  8. Israel
  9. the USA
  10.  Russia

Notwithstanding the inevitable continuing role and presence of Syria and popular national Syrian allied forces in the war against her, we must acknowledge that Saudi Arabia and Qatar have already played their role and walked away as losers. For the sake of historic documentation, this had to be mentioned even though they do not have much of an influence and clout at all at present.

Kurds are playing a role that cannot be discussed without acknowledging the role they played between 2011 and 2015/16. Kurdish fighters, separatists or otherwise, have upheld Syrian border integrity in Syria’s north from as early as 2011 when the Syrian Army had no allies on the ground. And even though the Syrian Army and Kurdish fighters did not fight physically within the same trench, the Kurds fought fiercely in the north, holding their ground, against Turkish-facilitated incursions and against ISIS later on.

However, as Kurdish separatist movements were established and as they were not preemptively contained under the roof of Damascus, something had to give.

Kurds who are separatists will do anything and make deals with anyone to make their dream come true. History has shown that they are prepared to join hands with America and even Israel.

It must be acknowledged however that Kurds who are not separatists, and there is no way of telling their percentage any more than there is a way of telling the percentage of those who are, do not seem to have much of a voice in their community. Furthermore, seemingly there isn’t an all-inclusive nationally-endorsed rationale where they can address their concerns against those who are separatists and in a manner that can allay their fears and apprehensions as a minority group in such a way that would quell their desire for independence.

Turkey’s role has been changing with the tides in the last seven years. From wanting to topple the Syrian Government and Erdogan praying at the Omayyad Mosque as the conqueror of Damascus, Erdogan is now in a much more humble damage-control mode hoping to at least be able to prevent the formation of a Kurdish state south of his borders. The turn of events in the war, and the bargain plea reconciliation he has had with Russia after Turkey downed a Russian Su-24 in Nov 2015 has put Erdogan in that position. But Erdogan, the compulsive Islamist and nationalist, will always try to look for opportunities to turn and stab anyone in the back because his dreams of a great Turkey-based Muslim sultanate are bigger than any deal and treaty he signs with anyone.

That said, Erdogan will not settle for any outcome that will mean the establishment of a Kurdish state. Unless the tides change in his favour, it is highly unlikely that he will change course and demand more.

In effect, the war in northern Syria is more or less totally separate from the one heating up in the south with Israel.

Iran: The Syrian theatre has brought Iran physically closer to Israel in a manner that opened up a new border line that is bigger than the one Hezbollah has in Southern Lebanon. Israel does not have the reciprocal privilege. That said, whilst Israeli presence is not officially recognized in states like Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, there is little doubt that the Eastern coast of the Persian/Arabian Gulf is under Israeli direct or indirect control in more ways than one.

That said, it must be remembered that Iran’s issue with Israel is doctrinal and not territorial.

In brief, Iran’s military presence in Syria is in adherence to the common defense treaty it has with Syria, but it is also aimed at protecting Iran’s own interests and establishing military presence and rocket-launching capabilities that are only a few kilometers from major Israeli cities in comparison to the one thousand or so kilometers that separate Israel from Iran, or at best a couple of hundred that separate the east coast of the Persian/Arab Gulf from Iran’s southern cities.

Given that Iran is not a nuclear power and Israel is, based on the above, any conventional military confrontation with Israel will put Iran in a position of advantage.

Iran’s status in Syria can be either seen as offensive or defensive vis-à-vis Israel. Most likely, it is defensive, and Iran is unlikely to use its Syrian-based positions to initiate an unprovoked attack on Israel given Israel’s nuclear deterrence.

Hezbollah: In more ways than one, ideologically-speaking, Hezbollah is an extension of Iran. But strategically-speaking, Hezbollah is a part of the Lebanese political process. Moreover, Hezbollah’s issue with Israel is both doctrinal, and territorial.

Hezbollah went into Syria to defend Syria of course, but in defending Syria, Hezbollah was defending itself and Lebanon.

The supply lines for Hezbollah came from Syria, and this is no secret. But even if Hezbollah had to establish alternative routes after seven years of war, Hezbollah remains dependent on Syria for ensuring the depth of its survival and ability to fight. Even if Hezbollah went further and managed to establish its own military manufacturing base, and this is not unlikely, it remains entwined with Syria at levels that are essential for its survival and continuity.

Ideologically, Hezbollah is perhaps closer to Iran than any other ally, but strategically, it cannot be closer to any other ally more than Syria. To expect Hezbollah to yield to pressure and withdraw from Syria prematurely is tantamount to expecting North Korea to surrender its nuclear arsenal.

Israel: It wouldn’t be surprising to say that the post-Kissinger USA has left Israel feeling secure and privileged to the extent that it was able to coerce the world’s single superpower to rubber-stamp what suited it; even if it was against the interests of that superpower.

However, with all the support America gave Israel, Israel was not able to find peace, real lasting peace. Military superiority and peace are two different things, and America was able to provide Israel with the former, but not the latter.

But even that military superiority that meant once upon a time that Israel was untouchable has been eroded. The rise of Hezbollah to power in a manner that enabled it to bomb “Haifa and beyond” in July 2006 has sent shivers down the spines of Israeli military strategists.

Israel now has no idea what to expect if and when another military escalation ensues with Hezbollah and it is bracing for the worst.

Given the latest confrontations with the Syrian air defenses, Israel seems to be in a similar position in not knowing what to expect from Syria either.

The USA: In all what the USA has done in supporting the initial Saudi/Qatari/Turkish attack in the war on Syria, it achieved nothing more than defeat after defeat.

If there was ever a time during the last seven years for America to launch a major attack on Syria, it would have been done on the pretext of a chemical weapon attack allegedly perpetrated by the Syrian Army on Eastern Ghouta, but Obama did not take the Saudi-orchestrated bait. If Obama took a single and somber decision for which he will be positively remembered once all the dust has settled, it will have to be his decision not to attack Syria in early September 2013.

But Trump’s America inherited a Syria in which America has no presence or influence. The ailing nation cannot be seen to be standing still doing nothing about this.

Russia: Discussing the role of Russia was left till the end because to emphasize once again, as per previous articles, that the role of Russian diplomacy is becoming increasingly important in Syria and the Levant in general.

To put all of the above into a realistic perspective, there is a potential war brewing in southern Syria, a war that has little to do with the one raging in the north, and only Russia has the potential of dealing with the conflict.

There is no speck of doubt in my mind that Russia has a Middle East peace plan.

There is no doubt in my mind that Russia wants to catapult America out of its role as the Middle East peace talk negotiator; a role that it played for more than four decades now without any scores on the board.

It must be remembered that despite all the concessions PLO leaders gave Israel, America was unable to provide any peace to Palestine, and not even to Israel for that matter. It is highly likely that even Israel is growing tired of America’s elusive promises of peace; and the peace Israel was promised was based on quashing the axis of resistance and establishing toothless puppet Arab regimes that dance to America’s tune, and who would normalize relationships with Israel and not pose any threat at all, not now, not in the future.

So Russia is strengthening her position in the Middle East in preparation for the opportune moment to elevate herself to be accepted by all parties concerned as the single arbitrator who is capable of negotiating an all-inclusive deal.

The rest is simply posturing.

The recent escalation between Syria and Israel is not a prelude for a bigger war. Nobody wants a war; not right now, as they are all aware of the damage that can be inflicted upon them.

Israel keeps testing the waters, testing Syria’s air defense capabilities, and above all, testing Russia’s resolve and determination to create a true balance of power in the Middle East.

Some Arabs would be disappointed that Russia would not allow the total destruction of Israel, but Russia has never promised this. On the other hand however, Russia is pushing Israel to be realistic, and has never promised Israel total and unconditional support like the USA did since the days of Kissinger.

Unless Israel can safeguard itself against Hezbollah rockets, and which it can’t, it will never initiate an all-out war with either Syria, Hezbollah, or both; not forgetting the Iranian presence on the ground in Syria, just outside Israel’s borders.

Israel has to either accept that the rules of the game have changed, or risk an escalation that will inflict huge damage on its infrastructure and civilians. The recent downing of an Israeli F-16 by Syrian air defenses and the subsequent call Netanyahu made to Russian President Putin is a clear indication that Israel is not happy with the fact that Russian arm supplies to Syria are changing the balance of power.

An astute look at recent events can only propose that Russia is trying to drag Israel into peace talks that are based on a regional balance of power, but Israel is not convinced yet that it has to do this anymore than it is convinced that it has lost its military upper hand. On the other hand, Russia will find it very difficult to convince Syria, Hezbollah and Iran that they should have any peace at all with Israel. All the while, America realizes that it has no presence in the war in the south, and is using the Kurdish pretext to have “a” presence in the north in order not to miss out on being party to any settlement. Erdogan is doing his bit to prevent the creation of a Kurdish state in Syria. Other than that he has no role to play in the potential brewing conflict in the south. At the end, America will stab the Kurds in the back like it did many times earlier, the Kurdish aspirations for independence will be pushed back for many decades, and the real focus will be on the south, on Russia’s yet undeclared role and plan for a Middle East peace plan.

سوتشي: إطلاق مسار وليس إصداراً لقرار

ناصر قنديل

– يحاول البعض تصوير مؤتمر سوتشي للحوار الوطني السوري كمجرد احتفالية تريدها روسيا لتأكيد مرجعيتها في الحل السياسي في سورية، أو كمحاولة روسية لتصنيع منصة سياسية تترجم تفوقها العسكري وتشاغب من خلالها على المسار الأممي الذي ينعقد عموماً في جنيف، كما يذهب كثيرون لاختصار سوتشي باستعراض قوة سياسي يقوم به الرئيس الروسي فلاديمير بوتين استباقاً للانتخابات الرئاسية الروسية كورقة انتخابية قوية توظف نتائج حربه على الإرهاب وما قدّمه تحت عنوان شراكة روسيا في هذه الحرب وكانت محور انتقاد خصومه في روسيا ليقول لهم إليكم ما هي حصيلة هذا الدور في السياسة وليس في الميدان فقط، ولذلك يظن هؤلاء أن مقاطعة منصة الرياض للمعارضة هي حرمان لروسيا ولرئيسها مما رسموه لهذا المؤتمر والمكانة التي أرادوها لها في كل هذه العناوين.

– ليس قضيتنا أن نناقش هذه الفرضيات ونفيها، بقدر ما هي مناقشة الموقع الحقيقي لسوتشي في سياق الحرب السورية والتأسيس للحل السياسي في سورية، من دون أن يكون محرّماً على روسيا كدولة قائدة في هذين المسارين السياسي والعسكري أن تجني بعضاً من عائدات دورها. فالقضية هي ببساطة هل يخدم سوتشي طريق نهاية الحرب والأزمة في سورية؟ وهل يخدم مقاطعوه بالمقابل مسعى آخر للحرب والأزمة؟ وما هي طبيعته؟

– الأكيد أنه لولا المداخلة العسكرية الروسية في سورية لما خرجت الحرب في سورية من دائرة حرب الاستنزاف التي فرضها الحلف الذي تقوده واشنطن وكانت تجنّد له مقدرات تركيا والسعودية و«إسرائيل» وأوروبا بقيادة أميركية، وشاركت فيه القاعدة وداعش معاً تحت إطار هذه الرعاية، وأن هذه المداخلة الروسية فرضت مساراً جديداً للحرب وضع انتصار الجيش السوري وحلفائه عسكرياً خياراً بديلاً، وقدّم الحل السياسي مساراً بديلاً لهذا الانتصار في محطات مختلفة يعرضها الروس على المتورّطين في الحرب باستثناء القاعدة وداعش، حيث لم تتوقف روسيا عن تقديم العروض لواشنطن ومَن قاتل تحت رايتها للتموضع تحت راية الشراكة في الحرب على الإرهاب والسير بحل سياسي بين المختلفين في الحلف المفترض للمشاركين في هذه الحرب. وكثيراً ما تعرّضت روسيا لانتقادات من حلفائها في سورية وإيران والمقاومة لتضييع فرص للحسم العسكري بسبب منحها هذه الفرص للمتورّطين في الحرب وفتحها المجال أمامهم لإثبات صدقية الشراكة في الحرب على الإرهاب والتخلي عن وهم إسقاط سورية أو تقسيمها أو إدارة الفوضى فيها.

– الأكيد أيضاً أنه في كل مرة كانت تثبت التطورات أن المتورطين في الحرب يستثمرون الفرص الروسية المتاحة أمامهم لتنظيم جولات جديدة من الحرب على سورية بالتآمر مع الإرهاب. وكانت روسيا تقود مع حلفائها جولات مواجهة جديدة تسقط المزيد من الأوهام لدى هؤلاء حول قدرتهم على العودة لتهديد ثبات الدولة في سورية، وتعريضها لخطر السقوط أو التقسيم أو حرب الاستنزاف. وهكذا كانت حرب حلب ومن بعدها حرب دير الزور والبادية والبوكمال وها هي اليوم معركة إدلب. والأكيد أن هذه الاستراتيجية الروسية المخلصة لفكرتي ثبات سورية ودولتها وجيشها من جهة، والسعي لاستقطاب الآخرين لمسار سياسي صادق في السعي لإعادة بناء الدولة السورية، وفقاً لمفاهيم تحفظ سيادتها ووحدتها، حققت نجاحات باهرة، وكان النصر على داعش من ثمارها رغم اللعب فوق الطاولة وتحت الطاولة مع الإرهاب الذي شكّل سياسة المتورطين في الحرب على سورية. وجاء مسار أستانة أولى ثمار النجاح السياسي للدور العسكري الروسي في هذه الثنائية، وما تضمّنه مسار أستانة من تغيير في المعادلات وخلط في الأوراق ضمن حلف الحرب تبرز بعض نتائجه اليوم في الارتباك بالعلاقات الأميركية التركية والحرب بين الأتراك والأكراد.

– سوتشي هو التتمة السياسية التي تريد أن تقول إن السير نحو إعادة بناء الدولة السورية السيدة والموحّدة ليس خياراً يمكن القبول به أو منعه، بل هو مسار حتمي سيتحقق، وما يملكه الآخرون أن يكونوا ضمنه أو خارجه، فينالون ثمن حسن الاختيار أو يدفعون ثمن سوء الخيار. والمسار السياسي هنا يواكبه مسار عسكري يترجم في إدلب وسيترجم لاحقاً إذا بقيت الممانعة للمسار السياسي، كما حدث سابقاً في مواقع عديدة ربما لا يتوقعها كثيرون. وهذا المسار هو الرد على المشروع الذي أعلنه الخماسي الذي تقوده واشنطن ويضم فرنسا وبريطانيا والسعودية والأدرن ويقوم على تكريس إدارة الفوضى والتقسيم ويدعو روسيا وإيران لحفلة تقاسم نفوذ للدول الأجنبية على حساب سيادة سورية ووحدتها، والذين وضعوا أنفسهم خارج سوتشي من السوريين أعلنوا انضمامهم لمسار الخمسة كعملاء للأجانب يرتضون شراكة في فتات مناطق نفوذ لهذا وذاك، بديلاً عن دور في بناء دولة سورية موحّدة وسيّدة. وهذه هو التوصيف الوحيد لجماعة الرياض في موقفهم المتراجع عن المشاركة في سوتشي.

– ليس في سوتشي قرار بل مسار، وهو مسار متلازم مع السير بتحرير كامل سورية من الاحتلالين الأميركي والتركي ومشروع الانفصال الكردي بعد نهاية الحرب على النصرة والفصائل الإرهابية في إدلب وسواها، إلا إذا سمع المعنيون صوت العقل وقرروا وقف التلاعب ببعض الجغرافيا السورية كإطار لمقايضات وتقاسم نفوذ أو كيانات وكانتونات.

 

JABHAT AL-NUSRA: HISTORY, CAPABILITIES, ROLE IN SYRIAN WAR

South Front

History

Jabhat al-Nusra, originally Jabhat an-Nuṣrah li-ahli ash-Sham min Mujahideen ash-Shām fi Sahat al-Jihad or “Victory Front for the People of the Levant by the Mujahideen of the Levant on the Fields of Jihad”, was founded in January 2012, when military operations between the government forces and groups of armed Syrian opposition were in full force. Jabhat al-Nusra arose with the direct support of the Iraqi cell of al-Qaeda, the “Islamic State in Iraq”, which was at that time led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. At the outset, the leaders of al-Qaeda tried, with the help of their Iraqi ally, to strengthen friendly Jihadist groups in Syria and to unite them into one militant organization.

Abu Muhammad al-Julani, a member of the al-Qaeda branch in Iraq – “the Islamic State in Iraq”, was chosen by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to establish an al-Qaeda branch in Syria under the name of the “Al-Nusra Front for the People of Al-Sham.” Abu Muhammed al-Julani entered Syria from Iraq and began a series of meetings in Homs, Ghouta of Damascus, and Deir-ez-Zor. The first cells of Jabhat al-Nusra were established in the northern Homs countryside, western Ghouta of Damascus, and in al-Bukamal on the Iraqi-Syrian border.

On January 23, 2012, Abu Muhammad al-Julani officially announced the establishment of the “Al-Nusra Front for the People of Al-Sham” and small groups began to carry out terrorist acts against civilians, attacked the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and later began conducting clashes along with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and ISIS.

In a short time, Jabhat al-Nusra under the leadership of Abu Muhammad al-Julani achieved a number of military successes and gained fame as one of the most efficient units in the north, north-west and northeast of Syria. A pivotal moment occurred at the end of 2012, when Jabhat al-Nusra seized many military facilities, arms and military equipment in western part of Aleppo. After the movement’s detachments were thus strengthened in the western and eastern parts of the province, the main routes of communication between the economic capital of Syria and the Syrian-Turkish border fell under Jabhat al-Nusra’s control, which forced other detachments fighting in opposition to Bashar Assad to establish relations and coordinate their actions with the organization.

Main operations and spheres of influence

In the Homs province, Jabhat al-Nusra, along with the al-Qaeda branch in Lebanon, Fatah al-Islam, was one of the most powerful fighting factions alongside the Al-Farouq battalion of the FSA, most of whose militants publicly or secretly joined al-Nusra or Fatah al-Islam.

Jabhat al-Nusra led many attacks in the old Homs area, Khalidiya and Baba Amro between 2011 and 2012, and led a large-scale attack on January 29, 2012 to capture the towns of Rastan and Talbisah in the northern Homs and succeeded in that operation.

In the south of Syria, especially in the Daraa province, Al-Nusra managed to form large forces rapidly, and led the attack on Daraa city on March 14, 2012. Within months, it managed to capture most areas within the city of Daraa.

On July 15, 2012, Jabhat al-Nusra participated in their first attack on the capital city of Damascus along with the FSA and Jaish al-Islam. Within days, they managed to capture most areas of eastern and Western Ghouta along with several districts close to the center of the capital Damascus, such as the districts of Jubar and Al-Maydan. Later the SAA managed to recapture most of these areas.

On July 19, 2012, Jabhat al-Nusra participated in the attack on Aleppo city along with groups of the FSA, the most important of which was the “Northern Storm Regiment”. Within days they managed to capture the eastern area of Aleppo. Later, Jabhat Al-Nusra’s influence expanded. At one point al-Nusra became the sole ruler of opposition-controlled Aleppo, especially after large numbers of the FSA jointed its ranks by the end of 2012 and after it took ISIS out of the city in 2014.

Since 2013, Idlib has become the main center of Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria, and the headquarters of its leadership. Jabhat al-Nusra managed to strengthen its influence further in the beginning of 2014 after the departure of ISIS from the province as a result of a number of disagreements between the groups.

Jabhat al-Nusra participated alongside Ahrar al-Sham in the attack on Raqqa city and managed to capture it on March 6, 2013, 3 days after the attack began. Later, in July 2014, ISIS took over control of Raqqa city. Some members of Jabhat al-Nusra decided to join ISIS while the rest refused to fight it. As a result, al-Nusra withdrew from the city.

From the beginning, Jabhat al-Nusra lead battles against the SAA in the Deir-ez-Zor countryside and in Deir-ez-Zor city. By 2013 al-Nusra seized most of the oil fields in the city’s countryside and along with the FSA, started an illegal oil trade with Turkey.

At the beginning of 2014 with the escalation of ISIS influence in Iraq, al-Nusra began to reduce its presence in Deir-ez-Zor city. After some minor clashes, most of al-Nusra’s fighters withdrew from Deir-Ez-Zour to Aleppo and Idlib, while large numbers of al-Nusra foreign militants joined ISIS.

It is believed that on April 6, 2014, the remnants of the FSA detonated a VBIED in the old Homs area with the aim of killing the commanders of Jabhat al-Nusra. The suicide attack was a success, and after the death of the commanders of Jabhat al-Nusra, an evacuation agreement was reached on 2 May 2014.

On March 24, 2015, Jabhat al-Nusra led an attack alongside the US-backed Free Syrian Army factions to capture Idlib city and were able to do so within 4 days. This operation was successful largely due to US support through intelligence and advanced weapons such as the TOW missiles, which reached the hands of al-Nusra militants.

By 14 June 2015, Jabhat al-Nusra and its allies from the FSA had managed to capture the entire western Idlib countryside, including the strategic town of Jisr al-Shughour, and carried out a series of massacres against the pro-government population, expelled even the pro-opposition population from the city, and blew up and demolished most of its buildings.

With Russian military intervention in Syria and the bombing of the positions of Jabhat al-Nusra in Aleppo, Idlib and the northern Homs countryside, both the “moderate” and radical Islamist opposition began to lose strategic initiative in the civil war in Syria. There was a lot of pressure from supporters of Jabhat al-Nusra, Turkey and Qatar, on the leadership of the movement, to disengage from and disavow Al-Qaeda.

After the great advance of the SAA in Aleppo and its success in besieging the eastern districts, Abu Muhammad al-Julani announced on July 28, 2016, the official disengagement of al-Nusra from al-Qaeda and announced the formation of the Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. He stressed that the objectives of the al-Sham Front are the same as those of Jabhat al-Nusra, which is the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate in Syria. In an ironic twist, al-Qaeda leader “Ayman al-Zawahiri” praised al-Julani’s decision and declared his support for the Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, prompting everyone, including the United States, to consider the move as a formality. The Jabhat Fatah al-Sham maintained its terrorist classification in all countries, including the United States, Saudi Arabia and Russia.

On October 28, 2016, Jabhat al-Nusra with its allies from the Free Syrian Army launched a large counterattack south and west of Aleppo city to break the siege of the SAA in the eastern districts; however, the attack failed two weeks later when Jabhat Fatah al-Sham could not hold the points it had taken over.

On 28 January 2017, Jabhat al-Nusra changed its name once again, this time to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). On March 21, 2017, it launched the offensive of the northern Hama countryside along with the FSA factions supported by the CIA, most notably are Jaish al-Izza, Jaish al-Nasr and the Idlib Free Army. These were considered the most important allies of Jabhat al-Nusra in Idlib and a major source of its weapons. The aim of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham’s advance was to recapture the settlements it lost in 2016. The active phase of fighting continued until the end of April 2017. For more than a month, neither side had a decisive advantage, and in fact, prolonged fights began, during which a number of settlements repeatedly changed hands.

Having accumulated enough reserves in the area and with the support of the Russian Aerospace Forces, the SAA launched a counter-offensive against the positions of the Islamists in mid-April and recaptured the territories it had lost at the beginning of the month.

On September 19, 2017 HTS, along with the units of the Turkestan Islamic Party and the FSA, once again made an attempt to advance on the position of the SAA in the northern part of the province of Hama.. The aim of HTS was to take revenge for their defeat in the April 2017 offensive. While fighting went back and forth, with settlements being occupied by both sides several times, the struggle continued until the end of September and ended in a stalemate, with neither side able of winning a convincing victory, with each side remaining in their original positions. As time went on, the situation in the province was further complicated by the appearance of the IS militants in early October 2017, as a result of which armed conflict erupted between all opposition groups in the region, which continues at varying degrees of intensity to this day.

In late November and early December, the SAA carried out a number of operations against HTS in northern Hama and southern Aleppo and achieved some success creating the prerequisites for a push towards the Abu al-Duhur air base. Taking the air base under control will allow government troops to expand the buffer zone adjacent to the road going to Aleppo and cut the front line to the west of Khanaser.

The intensification of the activities of the Russian Air Force in the region in the first half of December 2017 gives grounds to conclude that the preparation of the SAA for an attack on the position of radical Islamists is underway. This offensive is likely to have the goal of delivering a decisive blow to HTS, since it currently presents a greater threat than the IS.

In January 2018, the SAA liberated a large area from HTS in southern Idlib advancing towards the Abu al-Duhur air base.

At the present time (January 2018) the main area of ​​deployment of the armed units of HTS is in the province of Idlib. In addition, the units of Jabhat al-Nusra partially occupy the north-eastern part of the province of Hama, and the western and south-western part of the province of Aleppo. After al-Nusra finally broke off relations with Ahrar al-Sham, one of the most battle-worthy movements in Syria, they gained control of practically the entirety of the province of Idlib.

Structure

The movement avoids publications concerning the structure of the organization, the real names of commanders of its large units and the work of its main bodies. It is known that the advisory body Majlis al-Shura, consisting of 12 people, is at the head of the movement. Based on information surveyed and interviews, HTS operates through eight divisions, namely military, security, services, religious law, courts, media, finances, and politics. For each of these divisions, there is an office for the Shura Council.

In fact, since its inception, Jabhat al-Nusra / HTS was a coalition of armed formations.As a result of the rebranding conducted in January 2017, HTS includes such groups as “Jabhat Ansar al-Din”, “Nur al-Din al-Zenki”, “Liwa al-Haqq”, and “Jaysh al-Sunna” . According to information from the organization’s website, the new formation also includes groups: Tawhid Wal-Jihad, Ar-Rashid, Ibn Taimiyya, Liva Abbas, Sukur al-Izz, Al-Sahabat, Kuwafal Shuhada, Usud al-Harb, Liva Ahrar al-Jabal and others. Several large groups withdrew from the Ahrar al-Sham and swore allegiance to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham : Surya al-Aqsa, Liva Ahrar al-Jabal, Ansar Homs, and Kurdish paramilitary groups which together comprised of more than five thousand soldiers. The process of breaking and mending relations is constant and there is an alternate structure of the movement as of April 2017.

The auxiliary functions are performed by Qism al-Ighatha (Department of Relief), Idarat al-Khidarat al-Ammah (Public Services Administration), Idarat al-Manateq and al-Muharara (Liberated Districts Administration). In the so-called “liberated areas” where Jabhat al-Nusra has filled the power vacuum, it has created, along with other jihadist organizations, a system of justice and law enforcement called the Shari’ah Authority (Al-Hay’ah al-Shar’iyyah). The Shari’ah Authority operates its own police force called the Shari’ah Authority Police (Shurtat al-Hay’ah al-Shar’iyyah).

The military structure of the groups varies depending on the geographical location of the fighters in Syria. In Damascus, where the partisan tactics of fighting were employed, the divisions were divided into separate detachments, while in Aleppo, military operations were conducted by full-fledged military formations, consolidated into brigades, regiments and battalions.

The movement actively recruits groups of militants, formed on the basis of national and religious grounds.  There are units of militants from Ajnadal-Kavkaz, Caucasus Emirate (natives of Chechnya), and the Turkistan Islamic Party in Syria (Uyghurs and natives of the Central Asian countries of the former USSR). From a military point of view, this is convenient for management and interaction, since there is no language barrier between the fighters and the commanders. Upon returning to their host country, such a detachment is practically a ready-made cell with combat experience, in which each member knows one another, trusts his commander and is ready to act in the interests of the parent organization. Western experts estimate that in less than 2 years of its existence, there were almost 5,000 people from 60 countries who fought for the movement.

The core military formations varied in their numbers and at times amounted to up to 30,000 people. Together with the added paramilitary groups of like-minded people, the total number reached 70,000. At present, the number of formations is smaller and the core of the grouping, according to the estimates of the General Staff of the RF Armed Forces as of August 2017, consists of up to 15,000 men. Together with units of radical Islamists from other groups, it amounts to a total of 25,000.

The armament of the movement consists of small arms, artillery and tanks seized from the SAA, from various anti-Assad forces, and equipment received from foreign sponsors from the Gulf countries through the jihadist movements with direct or indirect US assistance. In addition, according to reports, the movement has chemical weapon reserves. In December 2012, at the SYSACCO chemical production plant (30 km east of Aleppo), the al-Nusra units captured about 200 tons of chlorine. In May 2013, Turkish special services arrested insurgents of al-Nusra on the border with Syria for attempting to acquire sarin components.

An indicative example of direct or indirect U.S. support is the use of the American ATGM BGM-71 TOW by the al-Nusra forces. These units were transferred to the armed formations by the “moderate” opposition, for example, FSA units (Harakat Hazzm). Subsequently, the ATGM systems were either voluntarily supplied, or forcibly taken from other groups by HTS. At the end of September 2015, the “30th division” of the opposition, supported by the US government, surrendered to the units of al-Nusra and handed over a large number of ammunition, small arms and artillery weapons and a number of light vehicles. The same happened with the FSA’s “13 Division” in March 2016, which directly received American weapons.

Rebranding

At the end of June 2016, the leaders of the Syrian opposition (primarily from Ahrar al-Sham) conducted negotiations and consultations in light of Russia’s actions against al-Nusra, which also threatened other groups. As a result of such meetings in the western part of the province of Aleppo and in Idlib, it proposed to either dissolve al-Nusra into a new association, which would be headed by Ahram al-Sham or to tear it away from al-Qaeda. The situation was such that a third of al-Nusra, first of all the ethnic Syrians, were ready to break with al-Qaeda and join a new group.

Then the leadership of al-Nusra undertook a rebranding, which, on the one hand, was to save it from a split, and on the other, in the eyes of the Syrians, to root it in the Syrian revolutionary movement. As a result, al-Nusra became known as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (Front of the Conquest of Syria) and proclaimed its formal departure from al-Qaeda. After this, the leadership of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham attempted to unite with Ahrar al- Sham and other factions; however, this would have led to the inclusion of all participants of this union on the list of internationally recognized terrorist groups. As a result, the attempt to create a “Syrian Islamic Commission” at the end of 2016, in which A. Giulani wanted to play a key role, failed.

There are other reasons why al-Nusra began to act under a new name.

First, it allows sponsors and leaders of the movement to avoid sanctions, since al-Nusra periodically gets on the “Consolidated List of Legal Entities Affiliated with or Associated with al-Qaeda Organization”, compiled by the UN Security Council. Updating the list, in light of objective reasons, is not keeping up with the evolution and expansion of al-Qaeda and its subsidiaries.

Second, it is more convenient for Western special services to deal with groups not listed on the list of the UN Security Council and/or on the American or European list of terrorist organizations. Instead, they prefer to deal with “rebels” who declared their secession from al-Qaeda.

On January 28, 2017, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham conducted another rebranding and was named Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (Organization for the Liberation of the Levant). This coincided with increased pressure on opposition groups in Syria and with a turning point in the Syrian war – the liberation of Aleppo. The military defeat near Aleppo, where Jabhat al-Nusra lost the bulk of its most trained fighters and much of its technology, was a turning point in reducing its influence.

Relations and relationships with other groups

Military successes in the first years of the civil war declined to the point where, starting from 2014, the movement started to systematically weaken and accept “moderate” groups, which represented secular and national opposition.

In November 2014, Jabhat al-Nusra attacked the “Syrian Revolutionary Front”, a large association that fought under the banner of the FSA and the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces and received assistance from the United States and its allies. Its leader, Jamal Ma’ruf, was forced to flee to Turkey. Then the jihadists attacked the camps of the movement “Harakat Hazzm”, which the US planned to thoroughly train and supply with weapons and which many American analysts viewed as the most acceptable variant of the moderate opposition.

As a result, Jabhat al-Nusra at the end of October 2014, seized the base of the Hazzm Movement in Idlib, and in January 2015 displaced it from Aleppo, effectively forcing it to dissolve and merge with other militant groups. At the end of September 2015, al-Nusra attacked the 30th division of the FSA, forcing some of the fighters along with their arms to cross over to their side. The jihadists particularly intensified the fighting against the “moderate opposition” after the US and its allies began to conduct air strikes at the end of September 2014, not only directed against the positions of the IS, but also targeting “Jabhat al-Nusra.” Thus, the movement played an important role in the failure of the US project to create a “secular military opposition” in Syria.

Since 2012, the FSA’s relations with Jabhat al-Nusra have been excellent. The FSA and the US-backed factions supported Jabhat al-Nusra financially and most importantly with the weapons supplied to them by the CIA and Turkey. However, al-Nusra did not hesitate to turn its weapons against the FSA or hesitate to eliminate any group that opposed its will, especially in the province of Idlib and in Aleppo countryside.

As for the relationship of Jabhat al-Nusra with Ahrar al-Sham, one of the largest groups in the north of Syria, while Ahrar al-Sham obey the orders of Jabhat al-Nusra and treat its leadership with respect, Jabhat al-Nusra takes firm action with Ahrar al-Sham and has not hesitated to use its weapons against it in 2017. It has even issued a statement calling the militants of the Ahrar al-Sham “infidels” after clashes with the 46th regiment in the northwest Aleppo countryside. However, the militants of Ahrar al-Sham, despite a number of them being killed or wounded by al-Nusra tanks, refused to return fire on the al-Nusra militants.

It is also believed that Jabhat al-Nusra pushed Ahrar al-Sham into a losing battle in Aleppo in order to weaken it. The final gulf between the two-armed movements formed in July 2017. The reason for the conflict, in addition to purely ideological differences, was the fact that the Ahrar al-Sham group controlled the Bab al-Hawa border crossing on the Syrian-Turkish border, which was an important transport corridor, as well as a source of finance and the replenishment of the military formations of the “moderate” opposition. Perhaps the most important reason for the conflict was the issue of control over the “civil administration” of the province of Idlib.

The disagreement of Jabhat al-Nusra with ISIS began at the end of 2013, when al-Nusra separated its link to the Islamic State in Iraq – now ISIS – and the controversy increased in 2014 when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the formation of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the separation from al-Qaeda and the establishment of the Islamic Caliphate. Al-Julani rejected Abu Bakr’s allegiance to the Caliphate. The basis of the controversy is that Jabhat al-Nusra believes that the Caliphate should be established after capturing the whole of Syria and Iraq, while ISIS believes that the Caliphate should be established in any area under its control. Although there was a great deal of talk about clashes between the two parties, clashes were rare, short-lived. Jabhat al-Nusra withdrew from Deir-Ez-zour and Raqqa, while ISIS withdrew from Aleppo and Idlib, with large numbers of militants from Al-Nusra changing their allegiance to ISIS.

Al-Nusra developed a difficult relationship with the movement of Nour al-Din al-Zenki (numbering 7,000 militants in 2017). In 2015 and 2016, both sides participated in clashes against each other; however, in January 2017, the Nour al-Din al-Zenki group in Idlib joined with al-Nusra. In the second half of July 2017, there was a conflict between the leadership of Nour al-Din al-Zenki and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham  because of a statement, made by an authority figure from Nour al-Din al-Zenki, saying that there is no Sharia rule in the territory controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.

Since HTS strategy is aimed at cooperating with local Islamist organizations that recognize the main goal of establishing an Islamic state and Sharia in Syria, such an approach does not allow Syrian Islamist groups, including Jaysh al-Islam, to oppose Al Qaeda in Syria in the face of Jabhat al-Nusrah / HTS. Both groups profess Salafi Islam and both groups raise the issue of overthrowing the existing power.

According to a former leader of Jaysh al-Islam, Muhammad Zahran Allush, there was a fraternal relationship between his organization and Jabhat al-Nusra, and the existing insignificant ideological differences could be resolved through the discussion and application of Shariah norms. In his interview, Zahran Allush said that he personally met with one of the leaders of “Jabhat al-Nusra” Abu al-Qahtani, and found no difference between the Shari’ah of Jabhat al-Nusra and the Shari’ah of “Jash al-Islam”.

In 2013, Jaysh al-Islam, together with Jabhat al- Nusra, organized a bloody massacre in the city of Adra, directed mainly against minorities, most notably the Alawites. After the death of Muhammad Zahran Allush as the result of an airstrike conducted on December 25, 2015, the new leadership of Jaysh al-Islam soon began to disagree with the leadership of Jabhat al-Nusra. This took place in light of the fact that the Islam Army has taken a strong stance in favor of negotiations, with Zahran Alloush’s cousin and close companion, Mohammed Alloush, heading the opposition diplomats in Geneva.

Participation of various groups of “moderate opposition” in the Syrian settlement under the patronage of Turkey, Iran and Russia led to a “split” in the ranks of these groups, which significantly weakened their position in the country.  In this respect, the case of the Jaysh al-Islam movement can serve as a prime example. Since the movement formally participates as a group and represents the “moderate opposition”, it had to sever its ties with HTS. In practice, the situation is quite different.

Jaysh al-Islam has several regional branches: Eastern Ghouta, Eastern Qalamoun, Daraa, and Idlib.

Eastern Ghouta – Jaysh al-Islam, HTS, Ahrar al-Sham and al-Rahman Corps are the most influential groups in this area near Damascus. All of them, in spite of some tensions, actively cooperate against the SAA. The peak of Jaysh al-Islam’s participation in the fight against HTS was when the group allegedly did not come to the aid of HTS during the battles in the area of ​​Jobar (Guta district). However, the truce in the region is very controversial. Not long ago, Ahrar al-Sham conducted a series of major attacks against the army in the area south of the Duma – the area of the Army Armored Vehicles Base.

Eastern Qalamoun – the militants did not show much activity here and before negotiations in Astana, there was a truce.  In fact, Jaysh al-Islam is forced to share resources and interact with HTS in this region.

As a result, it turns out that the leaders of this “moderate” opposition did not actually do anything of substance in constructively participating in the Astana process and limited themselves exclusively to vague formal gestures (such as sending delegations and making loud statements in the media).

Therefore, one can make the disappointing conclusion that the real influence of the Astana format on the situation in Syria is of much significance than originally thought, and the format is not very effective. Statements of the high-ranking officials of the Russian Foreign Ministry about successful negotiations are not accurate. To date, the moderate opposition does not want peace. It continues fighting, repeatedly delays negotiations, and awaits the intervention of other countries.

The Idlib de-escalation zone

Separately, it is necessary to focus on 4 zones of de-escalation in Syria, the boundaries of which were determined by the agreements in Astana on September 16, 2017. The agreement established the boundaries of de-escalation zones, where, as agreed, military operations between government forces and forces of the armed opposition groups which have already joined the truce or will join it in the future, are to be halted. To prevent incidents and clashes between various sides along the borders of zones, security bands were created. They include observation posts and checkpoints for the movement of unarmed civilians, delivery of humanitarian aid and facilitation of economic activities. The work of the checkpoints and observation posts, as well as the management of the security zones, is carried out by personnel from Russia, Turkey and Iran. This begs many questions, chief among them: Why is there is no mention of withdrawal of heavy weaponry nor the surrender of weapons inside the zones?

The most extensive zone of de-escalation is located in northern Syria. It contains the province of Idlib, as well as the bordering northeastern parts of the province of Latakia, the western provinces of Aleppo and the northern regions of the province of Hama. It is worth noting that the province of Idlib is one of the most problematic. It is here that the main forces of the terrorist organization Jabhat al-Nusra / HTS are based, and it was here that the Syrian authorities brought militants and members of their families from Aleppo.

According to Turkish President Recep Erdogan, Russia will provide security outside of Idlib while Turkey will ensure security inside of Idlib. Turkey had the right to deploy in Idlib, via a small group of troops, whose task is to organize observation posts, but they are not to form a full-fledged army group. However, by October 13, 2017, about 50 units of armored vehicles and 200 servicemen crossed the Turkish-Syrian border. The pro-government Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak claimed that 25,000 Turkish soldiers were mobilized to carry out military operations in Syria.

Thus, in the northern part of the Idlib province, the so-called free zone from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham  is created under the auspices of Turkish forces. The area will host the forces of the “moderate” opposition and Turkish troops. In the south, the province of Hama will host Russian observers. The forces of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham will be moved to a zone located in the middle. This way HTS will be deprived of any possibility of reaching the border.

Meanwhile, in the zones controlled by radical Islamists, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham  blames the “moderate” opposition, for abandoning the war against the Assad government and entering into peace agreements. At the same time, the movement, aside from fighting battles against the SAA, is actively engaged in attacks against factions of the “moderate” opposition.

Financing and communication with external sponsors

“Jabhat al-Nusra” is considered to be one of the most well-equipped and well-armed formations fighting against government troops. According to some estimates, before the conflict with the Islamic State (January 2012-April 2013), half of ISIS’ budget was sent to Jabhat al-Nusra. At the same time, the group received significant funds from Syrians with sympathies for radical Islam. From April, 2013 to the end of 2014, the budget of the movement was largely replenished by the illegal trade of oil acquired from the east and northeast of Syria. When the oil prices dropped, IS exerted control over these oil fields, and the movement lost this source of financing.

From the end of 2014 until the present, al-Nusra’s main source of financing comes from external sources. Most of the funding comes from the charitable Salafi foundations in Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and from high-ranking clerics and wealthy businessmen who sympathize with the ideas of Salafi Islam of Jordan and Turkey. Hamid bin Abdallah al-Ali is an example of a person who sympathizes with the ideas of the movement. He is an influential Salafi cleric in Kuwait. He has facilitated the transfer of funds, weapons, supplies and fighters to and from Syria for Jabhat al-Nusra,

Shafi Sultan Mohammed al-Ajmi is a native of Kuwait. He is included by the UN Security Council in the list of persons sponsoring al-Qaeda and related organizations. Together with his assistants, he raised funds and gathered weapons under the pretext of charity. He personally delivered the collected funds to various groups, including Jabhat al-Nusra.

Abd al-Rahman al-Nuaimi is a Qatar-based terrorist financier and a facilitator who has provided money, material support and conveyed communications to al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Syria. In 2013, Naimi ordered the transfer of nearly $600,000 to al-Qaeda via al-Qaeda’s representative in Syria, Abu-Khalid al-Suri.

Ali bin Abdallah al-Suwaidi is the general manager of Mu’assasat ‘Eid bin Muhammad Aal Thani al-Khayriyya (the Eid bin Muhammad al Thani Charitable Society). In this role, Ali al-Suwaidi manages the budget and directs the activities of the charity, including its work with organizations that have been tied to al-Qaeda. According to media reports, Ali al-Suwaidi worked with US sanctioned al-Qaeda financier Abd al-Rahman al-Nuaimi to transfer funds to jihadist militants in Syria, including al-Nusra.

Social networks are another important source of financing. Recruiters in social networks are urging a transfer of money for the aid of militants fighting in Syria. Given that financing terrorism is prosecuted in many countries, the fee is made in disguise to a bank account of an intermediary. The sponsors transfer sums not large enough to attract the attention of bank employees and law enforcement officials. The intermediary then sends money to a foreign bank – to the owner of a money transfer office in Turkey or Jordan for example. He informs his colleague in Syria that the money has come, provides the name of the recipient and gives a password. Money is given from a cash register. Such transactions leave no traces and are hidden from those who are fighting to interdict and disrupt the funding of terrorism.

In addition, the group continues to actively engage in kidnapping, extortion, and collection of taxes from citizens and businesses in controlled areas.

The group also developed a scheme to collect funds from small and medium-sized businesses in territories which are not directly controlled by HTS, but territories that host enough HTS emissaries and combat groups to the extent that those groups can facilitate racketeering.

Al-Qaeda, as the lead organization which promotes the idea of ​​ultra-radical Islam, is in financial crisis. It receives less and less financing from sympathetic individuals and from so called charitable foundations, to carry out its terrorist activities. This necessitated some optimization of costs. The movement had to change its tactics and constructed a new model, aimed at interacting with self-sufficient extremist organizations which do not require support from the lead organization. In this format, al-Qaeda plays a dual rule. First, it acts as a military adviser and mediator for radical Islamist groups. Secondly, it sends authoritative clergymen to various war zones. Al-Qaeda also provides local groups with their own schemes for the transfer of funds, facilitates the creation of enterprises, and provides information to support local organizations.

Loss of influence after the battle for Aleppo and the role in Syria after ISIS

When Aleppo was captured by government troops in late 2016, the appearance of HTS signaled a new phase of restructuring of the radical opposition in Syria. Yet another attempt to rebrand was nothing more than a formal effort by al-Qaeda to dissociate itself from its supporters in Syria, as well as its desire to withdraw moderate Islamists from the negotiation process on the future of Syria in Astana. The leadership of HST wanted to overpower and if that failed, to destroy the entities that are part of Ahrar al-Sham. They sought to become the single center of Sunni militarism in Syria. This caused a split among the opposition, and the most radical of its representatives moved to the newly created Hayat Tahrir al Sham, which marked the beginning of a conflict between the two largest groups in Idlib.

To support its strategy, HTS operates through four main bureaus: General Administration of Services; Military and security operations wing; Dawah and Guidance Office; and Sharia courts.

There are 156 Local Councils operating in the Idlib province with the following administrative divisions: 9% City Councils, 30% Town Councils, and 61% Municipal Councils. Of these Local Councils, 86 operate in HTS-controlled areas—14% City Councils, 39% Town Councils, and 47% Municipal Councils.

In August 2017 a conflict arose between the local city council of Idlib and the General Administration for Services, which is connected with HTS. The latter began the process of making unilateral decisions. The General Administration for Services issued circulars for local councils, informing them that it was the only body with the authority to monitor their work and required the transfer of the relevant council departments to the specialized agencies of the movement. In particular, this affected services which supply water and bread as well as transport. The city council rejected the request and on August 28, 2017, HTS units stormed the city council building of Idlib and ordered all those who disagreed with the policy to leave the building. In this way radical Islamists gained control over administrative services of the city.

The process where smaller formations join or leave the grouping is not static. On November 14, 2017, representatives of the group “Ajnad al-Sham” announced through twitter that they are joining Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. Ajnad al-Sham militants participated in earlier clashes with the Syrian Arab Army in western Aleppo, in the north part of the province of Ham and in the province of Idlib. In late October, there was information that the central division of the FSA, Faylaq al-Sham, and Jaysh al-Izza also joined Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.

Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham also conducted operations against smaller militant groups, who then sought support from Ahrar al-Sham. For instance, the group “Jash Mujahideen” was attacked by terrorists of Hayat Tahrir al- Sham in January 2017. At this time the radical Islamists seized warehouses with weapons. After that, part of Jash Mujahideen’s forces were forced to join Ahrar al-Sham, while the other part joined HTS.

Be that as it may, year after year HTS leadership adamantly follows its goal – the unification of all jihadist organizations in Syria under its leadership and the construction of the emirate. Radical Islamists are strongly established in the province of Idlib, and will do all they can to prevent the creation of a de-escalation zone.

Conclusion

The following conclusions and analysis can be drawn from all the information presented thus far. After the defeat of the IS in Iraq and Syria, the most effective group that stands to oppose Assad’s regime remains Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. This movement has the necessary number of trained militants in its ranks to confront the government army, it has a rather positive image when compared with the IS, and advocates the idea of opposing “the betrayal of the interests of the people of Syria.” Meanwhile, the conflict between the factions within the movement itself, the conflicts with other armed groups, the reduction of logistical support, and problems with financing, all lead to a gradual degradation of HTS. We can conclude that to overcome these problems, the leadership of the movement may hold another re-branding. This conclusion is based on the fact that, at a turning point in its existence, al-Nusra / HTS is able, in words, to abandon the ideas of radical Islam in order to preserve their ability for an armed struggle, and to establish itself as a legitimate and independent force in the ongoing war . It seems that there is a desire on the part of HTS to become a Sunni version of Hezbollah. In this effort, the group could receive support from some concerned foreign parties.

The clashes and reluctance to compromise with the moderate opposition, continued conflict with the increasingly capable government army, and the never ending struggle for resources – have all reaped poor results for the group, and highlight the poor choice of strategies adopted by HTS thus far. Without external help, HTS will not be able to confront, for any extended periods of time, the SAA and the Russian Aerospace Forces.

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 اجتماع بوتين والأسد حضره قادة عسكريون كبار

يناير 26, 2018

ناصر قنديل

– لم يكن في الحساب الغربي والتركي والسعودي عندما أطلقت موسكو الدعوات الأولى لملتقى سوتشي للحوار الوطني السوري أن المشروع سيتحوّل العنوان الأهم للمسار السياسي الخاص بسورية، كما لم يكن من قبل ثمّة مَن توقّع أن يكون في أستانة إطار يوازي جنيف في الأهمية وتشارك فيه الفصائل السورية المسلّحة التي تشغلها تركيا والسعودية والدول الغربية، تحت رعاية روسيا بالتشارك مع إيران. وعلى ضفّة أصدقاء ومؤيدي سورية كان النظر غالباً يتسم بالريبة تجاه كل مفردات الحل السياسي التي تطلقها موسكو تحت تأثير الدعاية الغربية والعربية التي قدّمت روسيا دائماً تحت صورة الجهة الجاهزة للبيع والشراء متى تلقت عروض التفاوض تبيع حلفاءها.

– قدّمت التجربة الروسية خلال سنوات الحرب على سورية ما يكفي للقول: أولاً بأن قيادة الرئيس فلاديمير بوتين ممسكة بمؤسساتها العسكرية والسياسية، ولا صحة لكل ما أشيع عن تيارات متهاونة وتيارات متشدّدة، ولعب على الحبال، بقدر ما ثبت أن الكل منضبط بأدوار منوطة به من مصدر قرار واحد هو الرئيس بوتين. كما ثبت أن هذا القرار مخلص وصادق لفهم التحالف مع الدولة السورية والجيش السوري، ولا يبيع ولا يشتري، وقد تعرّض للإغراءات ورفضها وتعرّض للتهديدات وواجهها، وهو يدرك مصلحته العليا بنصر سورية، سواء لمكانته كدولة عظمى أو لمصالحه الأمنية والاستراتيجية، ولكن أيضاً لقيمة ترسيخ مفهوم الوفاء والصدق والإخلاص في التحالفات والأخلاق في السياسة.

– قدّمت التجربة الروسية السياسية في إدارة ملف الحرب والتفاوض حول سورية ما يقول إننا أمام قيادة ماهرة ومحترفة وتعرف كيف تنجز الانتصارات العسكرية وتوظف اللعبة السياسية لتحقيق هذه الانتصارات وتحييد قوى وعزل قوى، وكسب قوى، لكنها تعرف أيضاً كيف توظف الانتصارات العسكرية سياسياً بمبادرات وفك وتركيب تحالفات، وترسم استراتيجية واضحة تعرف كيف تصبّ مصادر القوة في صناعة جناحيها السياسي والعسكري بتكامل نادر مبهر في آن.

– ما يجري على جبهة العلاقة الروسية التركية في ظل الحرب التركية في عفرين من جهة، والعلاقة الروسية بحرب الأكراد خلال معارك دير الزور والبوكمال والدعم الأميركي لهم من جهة مقابلة، وبحرب سورية وحلفائها في إدلب من جهة ثالثة، ومن ثم ما يجري في السياسة على جبهتي فيينا وسوتشي وكيفية توزيع النار ومقادير المواد اللازمة لإنضاج الطبخة التي يشتغل عليها الطبّاخ الروسي، يستدعي رفع القبعة للطباخ الروسي مع التشظي الذي بدأ يصيب هياكل المعارضة والارتباك الذي يعصف بخياراتها وصفوفها، وتحوّل سوتشي لمسار حاكم للحل السياسي في سورية، لتصير الإدارة الروسية للحرب والتفاوض في سورية مدرسة بحدّ ذاتها لفنون الجمع العسكري والسياسي في لعبة الدول العظمى، كما هي علامة على معنى الصدق في التحالفات والحسم الواضح في الخيارات إلى جانب الحلفاء، مع هوامش لا حدود لها للقدرة على المناورة، تحميها ثقة لا حدود لها بين الرئيسين فلاديمير بوتين وبشار الأسد، ثقة مبنية على تفاهمات يعترف أقرب المقرّبين منهما أنهم لم يكونوا في صورة تفاصيل التفاهمات التي يقيمانها في أغلب الأحيان، منذ الاتفاق على الحل السياسي للسلاح الكيميائي السوري، وصولاً لسوتشي، وما بينهما من محطات ومفاجآت وألغاز سياسية وعسكرية، تحققت خلالها إنجازات وانتصارات مبهرة ومذهلة تأسست على هذا التفاهم وهذه الثقة.

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Saudi VS the Victims’ Families of 9/11: The battle is not yet resolved!

25-01-2018 | 08:03

Saudi Arabia’s print and broadcast media outlets as well as social networking sites have been celebrating the so-called “Saudi victory” for days now over the families of the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Saudi media claims that US District Judge George Daniels in Manhattan has refused to accept a lawsuit filed by 800 families of 9/11 victims as well as insurance companies against the Saudi regime for supporting the perpetrators behind the attack. The families reserve the right to sue under the provisions of JASTA passed by Congress in September 2016.

Saudi Arabia September 11


The Saudi regime has been trying for years to upend all attempts to convict it of supporting the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks. It spared no effort, method or form of pressure in an attempt to deny the charges and even overturn the law that empowers the victims to sue it in American courts. It has been trying for a while to accuse Iran or Qatar of supporting and harboring al Qaeda leaders before and during the attacks to escape responsibility.

The truth about what happened last Thursday is that Judge George Daniels listened to the statement of Attorney Sean Carter, the lawyer representing 800 September 11 families. He asked that the case be accepted on the basis of evidence built by his team, which points to Saudi officials providing support for the perpetrators of the attacks through charity organizations. The judge also listened to Michael Kellogg, the representative of the Saudi embassy in Washington, who asked the judge to reject the case on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence.

The families are armed with the content of the 28 pages of the Congressional Inquiry into the attacks, released in July 2017. It contains a clear indication that some of the attackers were assisted by diplomats at the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles just a few months before the attacks. What the Saudi media tried to falsify and alter in Judge Daniels’ verdict is that his decision on whether to accept or respond to the lawsuit has not been finalized. But US media quoted him as saying that “the evidence presented by the prosecution may not amount to a level that authorizes it by law to formally indict Saudi Arabia”. However, the spokeswoman of the Sept. 11 families, Terry Strada, denied that the judge has made his final decision on wheatear to accept or reject the lawsuit. She quoted the victims’ lawyer as saying that the judge will continue to study the file and will not issue his final decision for at least two months.

Those closely following the attempts of the Saudi regime to have the charges dismissed are well aware that since the adoption of the JASTA law, Saudi Arabia has been pressuring American legislators and even US citizens to drop the law or amend it so that Riyadh can avoid being held accountable.

At the beginning of last November, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds (1) announced that her office had asked the Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board to investigate the involvement of two current [Iowa] state employees in lobbying for Saudi Arabia while holding important government posts – something punishable by law.The state governor accuses Connie Schmett and her husband Kim Schmett of receiving $ 101,500 to work for Saudi Arabia to bring down the JASTA law. The scandal was not the first of its kind in the past year. The US media was overwhelmed with leaked information about the lobbying firm Qorvis – a Saudi agent for lobbying. The firm brought 50 retired US veterans from various states to Washington DC, who stayed at the Trump International Hotel for days at the expense of the company (the company spent about $ 270,000 in the hotel (2)). The veterans would visit Congress, meet with its members and talk about the JASTA law and the need to “modify it because it affects the safety and security of American soldiers in general.”

I was a double scandal (3) for both the Saudis, who exploited the retired military, and Donald Trump, who is accused by organizations monitoring the performance of the US administration of receiving personal benefits from the Saudis by hosting the servicemen in his hotel while lobbying members of Congress against JASTA.

Last June, the Maryland District Prosecutor filed a lawsuit against Trump (4) for using the presidency for personal gain in relation to the incident.

What is noteworthy in the records of the lobbying groups that Saudi Arabia deals with – some of these are devoted to modifying the JASTA law – is that their activity has almost ceased since May. This is the same month of Trump’s visit to Riyadh. A number of US media outlets have circulated information about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his brother Khalid (who was appointed ambassador to Washington in April) being able to build a personal relationship and direct contact with Trump through his son-in-law Jared Kushner (5).

The basic idea is that the JASTA Law must be amended in Congress to be ratified by Trump. With a Republican majority in Congress, it is possible to talk about an agreement between the US President and the Republicans in both chambers of Congress that would approve the amendment to the law in the next stage. The absence of Saudi pressure on JASTA based on the available data can only be explained according to this analysis. It is noteworthy that Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham launched a campaign after the law was passed in late 2016 to call on their colleagues in Congress to amend JASTA on the grounds that the law would affect the safety of US citizens and military personnel in the world.

Even if we concede that there is an agreement between the Saudi Crown Prince and Donald Trump to amend the JASTA law, it is impossible to predict how the Republicans and Trump will commit themselves to implementing this agreement. It is certain that the US president seeks to benefit from Saudi wealth to the greatest extent possible, and he will not hesitate to exploit any opportunity to capitalize on the Saudi regime’s financial assets that contribute to improving his economy and foreign investments in his country. He regularly tweets about economic and financial achievements and falling unemployment achieved by his administration since he took office last year.

Source: Al-Ahed

1-Iowa Governor Seeks Review of Officials Who Worked for Saudis
https://28pages.org/2017/11/08/iowa-governor-seeks-review-of-officials-who-
worked-for-saudis/#more-8892

2-Bill of financial expenses between October 2016 and 2017 for the lobbying firm “Qorvis” – Saudi Arabia’s main agent in lobbying

3-Saudis foot tab at Trump hotel
https://www.politico.com/story/2017/02/trump-hotel-saudi-arabia-23487810

4-D.C., Maryland attorneys general file a lawsuit against President
Trump
https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/06/12/attorneys-general-
plan-lawsuit-against-president-donald-trump/102774884/

5-Jared Kushner, Mohammed bin Salman, and Benjamin Netanyahu Are Up to
Something
http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/11/07/jared-kushner-mohammed-bin-salman-and-
benjamin-netanyahu-are-up-to-something/

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