Iran

Syrian Rebel Leader: Assad is the Main Enemy, Not Israel

The leader of a coalition of Sunni rebels fighting against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad expressed that his group, which includes Islamists, has no desire to go to war with Israel, Eli Lake of Bloomberg View reported Thursday.

Mohammed Alloush, the political leader of Jaish al-Islam, which translates to “Army of Islam,” which includes “several smaller Islamist, Salafi and nationalist rebel militias,” told Lake that his fighters “have no intention to make war against anyone except for the Syrian regime.”

“If we compare all the killing in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Syrian regime has committed many more crimes than the whole conflict. Our aim now is to get rid of the Syrian regime,” he added.

Alloush accused Assad and Hezbollah, the Iranian terrorist proxy supporting the Syrian regime, of exploiting “the Israel conflict to recruit supporters and build armies and all of these armies are used to kill us, to starve us.”

According to Lake, Alloush’s attitude reflects the privately-held positions of many Sunni Arab governments. “Israel has enhanced its diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states during Barack Obama’s presidency, as America’s traditional allies fear the U.S. is seeking a new partnership with their archrival, Iran,” Lake noted. “Alloush’s statements also show that Israel has purchased some goodwill among the Syrian opposition.” Alloush told Lake that Israel’s treatment of Syrians fighters and civilians who come to the border seeking medical attention is an important humanitarian gesture.

Lake noted that Alloush still supports Palestinian aspirations, and that a spokesperson for his group quit his post under pressure last month after giving an interview to an Israeli researcher. There are also questions as to how moderate Jaish al-Islam is. Still, according to Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute, Alloush’s attitude reflects one shared by many Syrian rebels. “As far as they are concerned, Assad is the most evil, and anyone who is not supporting Assad is comparatively better. Even Israel, which was seen for so long as the archenemy of Syrians, is considered better than Assad, Russia, Iran or Hezbollah,” he explained.

Lake observed that the question of whether or not to oppose Assad has split proponents of the Palestinian cause. While the activist group Avaaz is trying to convince President Barack Obama to establish no-fly zones to protect Syrian civilians from the Assad regime, the Quds Brigade, a prominent Palestinian militia, is fighting alongside Assad’s forces in the battle for Aleppo.

Alloush said this lack of solidarity confused him. “It’s crazy to think people in a country with 3 million homes destroyed by Bashar al-Assad would want a war with anyone except for Bashar al-Assad,” he told Lake.

Alloush quit United Nations-sponsored peace negotiations for the Syrian conflict this May, saying the international community demonstrated an “inability to enforce resolutions, in particular regarding humanitarian issues, [such as] the lifting of sieges, access to aid, the release of prisoners and adherence to the ceasefire.”

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