Mixed Signals on Jihadist Role in Syria
by Joel Himelfarb • Jun 29, 2012 at 5:09 pm
As reports mount that jihadists are playing a larger role in the fighting in Syria, Israeli security forces are preparing for the possibility of cross-border terrorist attacks.
Israeli Defense Ministry officials say terror groups are flocking to Syria from Iraq and other countries. While their main objective is toppling dictator Bashar al-Assad, there is concern that terrorists may target Israelis living in the Golan Heights.
The military's working assumption is that a terrorist attack from the Syrian border can occur without the prior intelligence, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Brig. Gen. Tamir Hyman said Thursday.
"Terror organizations may seek to exploit a situation of instability and lack of governability that may develop on the Syrian side of the border," Hyman said at a briefing for reporters on the Golan.
But a number of recent media accounts suggest that Syrians fighting Assad are determined to prevent their revolution from being hijacked by jihadists.
A report in The New Republic this week describes the case of Walid al-Boustani, head of an "Islamic Emirate of Homs" which lasted only a few weeks. The locals did not appreciate an "Emir" who murdered and kidnapped their friends. So, in March a local Free Syrian Army (FSA) brigade executed Boustani, a native of Lebanon.
Many Syrians suspect that jihadists like Boustani are agents of the Assad regime or that their organizations have been infiltrated by Baathist spies.
The author of the New Republic piece, Arab social media analyst Tyler Golson, writes that many in the FSA want nothing to do with jihadists. For these revolutionaries, the critical question is whether Washington is regarded as a serious player in arming the Syrian resistance.
Right now, independent Salafi sheikhs have indicated a willingness to support militant groups outside the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army.
"If a unified jihadist opposition did manage to challenge the Free Syrian Army's primacy in the coming months, it could be an ominous indicator of where Syria's opposition is heading," Golson writes. "We could see the Free Syrian Army's central leadership begin to placate the Islamists by adopting Islamist rhetoric or institutions such as a sharia council, or Saudi Arabia starting to hedge its support for the FSA by taking meetings with upstart Islamist 'emirs.' Either way, it would mean that the jihad is very much on in Syria."
Read the full article here.