Jonathan Spyer says the moderate rebels in Syria the Obama administration has been touting are really Muslim Brotherhood-types who adhere to an Islamist ideology.
Spyer should know. An academic who lives in Israel and studies the Middle East, he has traveled to and through Syrian rebel-controlled territory, reporting on what he saw for various publications. Asked by The Daily Caller to respond to a much-cited Wall Street Journal article by Elizabeth O’Bagy, which claimed “[m]oderate opposition forces … continue to lead the fight against the Syrian regime,” Spyer said, “I can only speak regarding my own experiences and my own knowledge.”
“Undoubtedly outside of Syria, and in the Syrian opposition structures, there are civilian political activists and leaders who are opposed to al-Qaida and opposed to Islamism,” Spyer explained to TheDC in an email interview. “There are also civilian activists and structures within the country which are opposed to al-Qaida and Islamism. But when one looks at the armed rebel groups, one finds an obvious vast majority there who are adherents of Islamism of one kind or another — stretching from Muslim Brotherhood-type formations all the way across to groups openly aligned with al-Qaida central and with al-Zawahiri.”
“The ‘moderate’ force which we are told about supposedly consists of those rebel brigades aligned with the Supreme Military Command, of Major-General Salim Edriss,” he continued. “Most of the units aligned with the SMC actually come from a 20-unit strong bloc called the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front. This includes some powerful brigades, such as Liwa al-Islam in the Damascus area, Liwa al Farouq and Liwa al Tawhid. These and the overwhelming majority of the units aligned with the SMC are Islamist formations, who adhere to a Muslim Brotherhood-type outlook.”
Spyer, author of “The Transforming Fire: The Rise of the Israel-Islamist Conflict” and a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center in Herzliya, Israel, said there is no question that the leaders of rebel forces are not “moderates,” at least as would be defined in the West.
“I spent some time with the Tawhid Brigade in Aleppo city at the height of the fighting there,” Spyer said. ” I interviewed one of the leaders of the brigade. I’ve been in the Middle East for a long time and have worked on these issues for a long time. This was an Islamist fighting force, adhering to an Islamist ideology. So even those forces nominally aligned with western supported bodies are themselves overwhelmingly Islamist in outlook (there may be a very small and marginal number of forces who are ostensibly secular, but these are of no military significance). It’s my contention that the real power in the rebellion lies not in the external structures, but among the commanders of the major fighting groups. These men are Islamists.”