A recent announcement from Al Nusra leader Abu Mohammed al-Julani has stated that it is to separate from Al Qaedia and rename itself to “Jabhat Fateh al-Sham” (Front for the Conquest of the Levant). Does this change anything?
First off, here is the video of the announcement :
Al Nusra was known by several names, most commonly Al-Nusra Front or Jabhat al-Nusra. Effectively they were the Al Qaedia franchise in Syria. However recent Syrian government victories and Russia’s devastating air campaign against terrorist groups have forced Al Nusra to try and change their image.
So What has changed?
On the ground, literally nothing. There is no mention of greater tolerance to religious minorities or ethnic groups. There is also no mention of any apologies for any of the crimes in the past. I suspect being a franchisee of Al Qaedia has not been as rewarding as they hoped, with little support from “head office”. One has to question if Al Qaedia are actually a going concern. The brand is now also second rate in the world of Salafi jihadists who seem to flock to ISIS.
Too Little Too Late?
The cross hairs were firmly placed on Al Nusra when Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said announced Russia would target ISIS and “other terrorists” back in October 2015. When pushed to define “other terrorist groups,” Lavrov said: “If it looks like a terrorist, if it acts like a terrorist, if it walks like a terrorist, if it fights like a terrorist, it’s a terrorist, right?” Not good for Al Nusra.
This is also the underlining point. It was never the name, or even affiliation, but their actions and intentions that were the problem. If those haven’t changed, then I can’t see how the worlds view of this group will change either.
So now that they have re-branded, will Russia and the Syrian government look a them differently? Unlikely. However, they may have a different objective in mind. Its not secret that the Western Alliance and their Saudi partners are keen to see Bashar fall, will they be willing to arm this new group and forget its murky past?
Again, I feel this is unlikely, especially following the negative publicity and absolute failures of the US backed rebels. I suspect other than turning a blind eye to the atrocities, the US and the West is disengaging in Syria. This leaves the Saudi’s, Qatari’s and Turks who have a lot more invested in Syria and can not simply “stop”. Mean while, the poor Syrian civilians are trapped and feel the real pain of this global chess battle.