The jets belonging to the international alliance targeting the Islamic State (IS) in Syria have triggered many contradictory stances. The Syrian government — which had previously demanded that [the Barack Obama administration] seek prior permission [before launching airstrikes against IS on its territory] and did not grant such a request — welcomed the alliance as a partner.
On the other hand, the moderate armed opposition represented by the Free Syrian Army [FSA], the [party] most affected by the Islamic State's terrorist acts, is against the “incomplete” mission of the alliance. It considers that fighting terrorism should start by targeting the head of the Syrian regime.
The brigades of Ansar al-Sham, Jabhat Haqq al-Muqatala, the Fifth Corps, Liwa al-Haqq Brigade, Harakat Hazm, the Authenticity and Development Front, the Suqour al-Ghab Battalion and Tajammu al-Ezza are all factions affiliated with the FSA. They gathered on the first day of the alliance’s mission to let out a cry [of rejection], which, to many, was more of a surprise than the airstrikes.
In their statements, these factions asserted, “The Syrian regime has committed unfathomable terrorist actions and was the reason behind the emergence of terrorism and extremism,” stressing, “IS poses a threat to the Syrian revolution, as its actions are directly serving the interests of the regime and prolonging its life.” The FSA demanded that “regime locations be targeted alongside IS sites, while neutralizing [not targeting] the locations of civilians and the FSA.”
The regime first
An-Nahar contacted four FSA leaders, who explained their positions toward the alliance. They were clearly affected by the airstrikes in Idlib, which was supposed to be targeting Jabhat al-Nusra sites but resulted in the death of civilians. They also warned against the regime’s attempts to take advantage of such airstrikes by bombing civilians.
The chief of staff of the Fifth Corps, Lt. Col. Fares al-Bayoush, told An-Nahar, “I am for the alliance’s airstrikes as long as they target the locations of the regime, IS and Hezbollah,” stressing that all opposition factions agree to “hit the head of the regime.” Bayoush confirmed, “[The] regime has been resorting to all kinds of violent and criminal actions — the most horrendous of them was the use of chemical weapons — while IS is the fault of the regime as well.”
The commander of the Nasser Brigade (the 13th Division), Maj. Moussa al-Hamoud, said, “The international alliance is an alliance of political interests and does not seek to target terrorism, while the Syrian people are the weakest part of this equation. Who will be pay the price? If the alliance truly aimed at targeting terrorism, it could have started with the regime.”
The surprising thing is that the Nasser Brigade is known to be supported by the United States, which provides it weapons and ammunition and is reputed to have good order within its ranks. Nevertheless, the commander of the Khan Shaikhoun Brigade (13th Division), Maj. Abu Qusay, stressed his rejection of “any strike against factions fighting the regime.” Abu Qusay considers the alliance to be “a carte blanche [excuse] to enter Syrian airspace and hit any faction threatening American policy.”
“The stairs are not washed from the bottom,” said Abu Maaz, an FSA leader active on the northern front. “We support an international alliance that targets the regime and Hezbollah as well,” he said. Abu Maaz, who is active on the northern front, also commented on the stance of Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, saying, “Nasrallah contradicts himself. He rejects a foreign intervention in favor of either party in Syria but he allows himself and Tehran to do so.”
The first to fight IS
Many observers were surprised at the FSA’s position. “Is it not IS that has killed your leaders and stabbed your revolution?” many ask. Bayoush answered, “We were the first to fight against IS, before the international community, and will continue to do so. However, the regime remains our main goal as well as all the factions that support it, whether IS or the mercenaries from Lebanon, Iran and Iraq.”
Maj. Hamoud, commander of the Nasser Brigade active in Aleppo, Idlib and Hama, agrees with Bayoush. He warned, “If the international alliance is not just to the Syrian people, they will all turn into IS.” Abu Qusay added, “No terror is comparable to Assad’s terror. We cannot rant about fighting IS while the regime continues to sit on its throne.”
The people have nothing to cry over
The president of the United States, Barack Obama, acquired the approval of both the Senate and [the House of Representatives] to reinforce and arm the moderate opposition while this party does not approve of the alliance’s mission. Abu Qusay, who “witnessed the airstrikes over the civilians in Idlib,” declared, “If aid and weaponry is given to us at the expense of our dignity, we would rather wait for our death.”
The reason behind this escalation by the party supporting Abu Qusay’s brigade is “the pictures of children and women martyred by the alliance’s strikes over Kafr Derian under the pretext of striking IS, which made many think that the civilians were targeted by these strikes instead of Jabhat al-Nusra.” Abu Qusay noted, “This behavior pushed everyone to sympathize with IS in order for every free Sunni to become an IS member and a target for the alliance.”
Abu Maaz welcomed “any type of support that would help us fight the terrorism represented by Bashar al-Assad’s regime and IS, even if our stance would deny us foreign support. We do not care because we left an army that kills innocent people to be by the side of our people, not a foreign power.”
However, Hamoud did not give much importance to the support and laughed as he was describing it as “a handful of dollars and relief groups.” He wondered, “Where are the anti-aircraft [weapons] to strike the regime’s planes? The US lost the people’s trust and is going to make Assad a national hero. There is no harm in stopping the support, because the people have nothing to lose and nothing to cry over.”
Refusing to strike Jabhat al-Nusra
Listing Jabhat al-Nusra as a target for the alliance came as a surprise for the majority of the armed opposition factions in Syria. Syrians, including the Free Syrian Army, believe that Jabhat al-Nusra never killed the people, and its terrorism was against the regime. Abu Qusay confirmed that he is “against striking any faction that fights the regime, and the alliance should eliminate the regime’s air force, then wait for us to fight the ones it sees as terrorists.”
Abu Maaz said, “As long as al-Nusra, whose members are mostly Syrians, did not attack the Syrian people while fighting the regime, we are against targeting it.”
Hammoud does not deny that “al-Nusra and IS have the same origins, but each group’s course is different. Nusra was closer to the people’s hearts. It stood by the people and supported their demands, and even if it is a terrorist group, it is such in order to fight the regime’s terrorism.”
We will not cooperate with the alliance, however …
The Free Syrian Army stated its conditions for supporting the alliance, but it is well known that this alliance will neither strike the regime or Hezbollah. How will the moderate opposition defend its stance? Abu Maaz said, “Should our demands be disregarded, we will not cooperate with the alliance, and we will consider it an act of aggression in favor of the regime and Iran.”
Abu Qusay believes that the response would be to carry on with the mission to overthrow the regime, “After accomplishing our goal, we will deal with the repercussions and move forward with the reconstruction and eliminate any force that may stand in our way.”
As long as the Free Syrian Army does not cooperate with the alliance, who will replace IS in Raqqa and other regions?
Abu Maaz responded, “Us and the local civil councils, and we have sleeper cells in the city. … We were the ones who freed Raqqa, not IS.”
However, Hammoud has a different point of view: “The alliance is striking IS in order for the regime to replace it.” Yet, he emphasized, “No group can ever replace another unless the people agree to it, and the majority now supports IS since it had previously attacked the regime.”
Maj. Hammoud is well aware of the sentiment on the street and knows exactly what IS is. “It is an ideology that no power in the world can destroy, and no one can eliminate its supporters. Without any intervention, we could have eliminated IS and replaced it. However, the international conspirators are the ones who multiplied this group’s power and made the Arab rulers see it as a frightening boogeyman,” he concluded.