Just last week Ayman Al Zawahiri addressed his followers on the anniversary of 9/11 calling them for more lone wolf attacks. “I call on all Muslims who can harm the countries of the crusader coalition not to hesitate. We must now focus on moving the war to the heart of the homes and cities of the crusader West and specifically America”. He might have had Russia in his mind. But even though, we have learned the hard way that fighting the Russians never stops there.
Furthermore, Zawahiri, in the same occasion, hinted at his readiness to reach a kind of reconciliation with ISIL. “I would like to put in the hands of my brothers in Iraq and Syria an invitation for cooperation. I wish however to make it clear upfront that our denial of Al Baghdadi claim to be the Caliph does not mean that we deny his and his brothers’ accomplishments”.
There are three bodies in ISIL which can decide to accept or decline Zawaheri’s, and which can find the proper theological justification of either decision. They are Majlis Al Shura (the leading consultative body), Ahlual Hal wal Aked (Notables in controlled communities and local Emirs and prominent military commanders) and Al Haya’a Al Shara’yah) or the committee that decides either a particular decision is in accordance with Islamic Sharia.
And there are two bodies that can decide to accept or decline a remerge between Al Qaeda and ISIL, Majlis Al Shura and the foreign backers and manipulators of the organization. The heat of the regional confrontation in the Middle East, if not released through diplomatic valves immediately, will melt a good part of the already blurred separation line between ISIL and Al Qaeda.
This will have the most profound impact imaginable on the war fronts in Syria. It equals coloring a huge area on the geographic maps of ISIL areas of control with the black color. It will be reflected momentarily on the positions of many other non-ISIL groups which are currently allied with Jabhat Al Nusra (JAN) on the fighting fields in Syria. And it will turn eastern Syria and western Iraq into a permanent hub of global terrorism.
There are currently some chatters in the Salafi-Jihadi circles that is full of nuanced references to the jurisprudence bases of unifying the ranks of true Muslims to fight the enemies of Islam. Russia’s recent moves into Syria are widely mentioned as an argument to call for the unification of Islamic forces to fight the axis of Putin, Khomeini, Assad and Hezbollah. Some regional hotheads may see an opportunity to traverse the negative impact of 9-11 and reposition Al Qaeda in a more acceptable light as it was during the Afghan war.
We followed what General David Petraeus said in terms of working with Al Qaeda, on tactical bases, to defeat ISIL. As much as we respect the views of the General, we differed with him on this notion, not out of the common and mistaken perception that ISIL is Al Qaeda under a different name, but due to an understanding of the essence of the dispute between the two groups. Furthermore, we saw that legitimizing a cooperation with Al Qaeda in Syria will move the emphasis away from a different valid objective-that is to work harder to optimize certain differences within Al Nusra in order to ease the exist of a considerable faction within its structure and their absorption within other groups which maybe even less fanatic.
We understand that in this particular moment Washington will receive an intensive flood of offers beautifying the offer to work with Nusra. Temptations will take many forms. A commitment from the group to abstain and even take condemn international terrorism, a vow to respect minorities, a declaration of total alliance and many other decorative modifications to the old picture some allies will take upon themselves to provide.
Yet, the problem should not be reduced to short term operational and practical considerations. Any political movement, religious or secular, should be evaluated according to its position on the nation-state question. The collapse of nation-states in this part of the world will lead to the emergence of an alternative ready in the concept of the Caliph. Gaining in the short term will prove historically to be a mistake which may put the two worlds in permanent war under the pretext of ending the Syrian war.