Borders will be one of the most crucial issues that will face Syria’s revolution after toppling Assad’s regime.
In the past 40 years, the Syrian regime succeeded in making the border issue an integral part of the country’s politics. It is the border that leaks everything. Borders separate Syria’s sovereignty from the ones of neighboring countries except by the amount needed to protect the Syrian regime.
Porous borders by choice
Through these borders, boogie-trapped cars were sent to Amman in the mid-1970s and 1980s, and through these borders Ocalan infiltrated to Turkey and from it; it was the gate for all “Arab jihadists” to Iraq. Borders with Lebanon, there aren’t enough space now to talk about its functions.
Syria, the tough police state, made a conscious decision to have loose borders.
Around Syria there were civil and cold wars which the regime used to create some kind of safety belt to protect the inside of the country ruled by its iron fist.
In that part of the world, any country that falls or weakens turns its borders into a violence transit station.
This was the case of Iraq a few years ago. Thousands of jihadists were brought by the Syrian regime through Damascus airport, and transited them to Iraq.
Jordan, which was part of the international coalition against terror, didn’t hesitate in facilitating “the migration” of the Jordanian jihadists to Iraq, as it was cheaper to let them do their fights there, even Abou Mossab Al-Zarkawi left Jordan through Amman airport to Pakistan, then Afghanistan, then Iran to Iraq.
From Sanaa airport to Damascus, and from there to the “Iraqi Islamic state” in Al-Anbar, the ease of reaching Iraq reveals that there was a complete system put in place to keep the jihadists busy with the Iraqi violence.
It was a very profitable business to everyone, many benefited from it while Iraq lost, and it might be fair to say that the Americans have lost as well, although they paid a hefty price by toppling Saddam Hussein. The U.S. offered Iraq to their first and foremost enemy in the world, Iran.
Return of jihadists
The jihadists today are returning now, not to their home country, but to the country that facilitated their trips to Iraq: Syria.
The jihadists, who are not loyal to the regime, are now in Syria’s suburbs and cities, where some people know some of them, and others have relatives among them. The Iraqi jihadists reached Syria in scores after their leaders abandoned them after leaving to Egypt and Yemen, while news from the latter confirm that a direct line is operating from Sanaa to the heaven of jihadists, not through Damascus airport but through Ankara airport, and from there to northern Syria.
The regimes benefit from each other’s experience.
The Lebanese government for example is a satellite entity created by the Syrian regime. “The Lebanese brother” is a good choice to facilitate the jihadists’ exit from Tripoli to Syria. This reflects positively to the security of Lebanon, and maybe Lebanon can convince Syria that this is in its favor, by showing the rebels in Syria as a group of terrorist gangs.
Jihadists not a threat to Syrian regime
Of course, the Syrian regime didn’t reach to the point to consider the jihadists as a threat to its existence, that’s why it doesn’t mind having them around, and haphazardly labels rebels as terrorists. The regime’s opponents and allies - alike – deem the Syrian regime as loosening the burden of keeping the jihadists within their borders. The Syrian society too is producing more jihadists as more violence takes its toll on the country.
In the Lebanese city of Tripoli, there is a new generation of hardliner jihadists, aged between 16 and 25, and there is also similar generation at the Libyan Tripoli.
These jihadists went to Syria and joined Al-Nusra Front hardliners and Free Damascus Brigades. While their predecessors were imported by the “non-Allawite regime” to fight the Shiite regime in Iraq, here they are today coming to Syria to fight the “Allawite regime.”
Only the Syrians and their revolution are the ones, who are paying the price of the misery of regimes that are sending their jihadists to Syria, exactly as they are paying today the price of the misery of their own regime.
If societies that live in misery throughout different phases of history are the source of jihadists, then these regimes are the employer and the user within a complete integrated system, that choose the weakest as its next victim. They chose the Iraqis as their victim, and not the occupying U.S. force, and here they are designating their new victim.
Syrians must learn lesson from Iraq
Iraqis were dragged into a trap when they compared between Saddam Hussein’s terror and that of Al-Qaeda, measuring which one was tougher and harder on them. This is exactly what the Syrians need to know as they go on with their revolution. Iraqis didn’t start themselves the revolution to topple Saddam Hussein; the Americans were the ones who executed the revolution, which created the ambiguity between occupation and resistance. This ambiguity in Syria will put the revolution at the edge of comparison, and not the occupation. The regime works hard to label the rebels as terrorists, and there is enough evidence to justify this statement, especially the scores of non-Syrian jihadists who are flooding coupled with some acts perpetrated in areas controlled by the Free Syrian Army.
The Iraqi lesson was tough and painful to the West as the war against Saddam and later against terror. This has resulted in offering Iraq to Iran. And in Syria, the West looks reserved, and it seems that it will distance itself further more as Al-Nasra Front hardliners expand in conflict-ravaged country.
One should be less defensive against the “Arab jihadists,” and there should be a condemnation when female journalists were fired from Sarakeb. Also, there should be a serious investigation about the explosion that targeted Al-Salmiya city, and if the probe shows that the Syrian regime is behind it, then this should be another reason to be cautious from jihadists.
This article first appeared in al-Hayat on Jan. 27, 2013.
(Hazem al-Amin is a Lebanese writer and journalist at al-Hayat. He was a field reporter for the newspaper, and covered wars in Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq and Gaza. He specialized in reporting on Islamists in Yemen, Jordan, Iraq, Kurdistan and Pakistan, and on Muslim affairs in Europe. He has been described by regional media outlets as one of Lebanon's most intelligent observers of Arab and Lebanese politics.)