On February 3rd, the International Crisis Group, a US and NATO-affiliated think tank suggested that the Biden Administration needed to find new allies in Syria.
It also shouldn’t look any further than Idlib, where Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) reign supreme (kind of).
Of course, a rebranding is needed since these “allies” are coming from a place “once described as the largest al-Qaeda safe haven since 9/11”.
In practice, however, HTS’s continued status as a “terrorist” organisation (as designated by the U.S., Russia, the UN Security Council and Turkey) presents a major obstacle.
“It has a chilling effect on Western support for essential service provision in Idlib, worsening the humanitarian crisis. It has also precluded discussions with HTS itself about its conduct and the future of the territory it controls, as Western states and the UN avoid contact completely while Turkey restricts itself to the bare minimum needed to facilitate its military presence in Idlib.”
True, being a terrorist organization really makes it hard to negotiate with, but the Crisis Group has a solution!
“If the Biden administration is willing to sharpen its diplomatic engagement on Idlib, its role could be essential to averting an unnecessary escalation of destabilising violence.”
If the Syrian Arab Army pushes into Idlib and makes territorial gains, it will push HTS to guerrilla tactics, which would also make the Al-Qaeda terrorists that were “upset” with them wanting to control territory rather than organize terrorist activity throughout be more willing to cooperate.
But even if that were to happen, HTS is not the extremist of the past, it is brand-new.
“Through a series of internal transformations and security crackdowns, HTS has distanced itself from the Salafi-jihadist movement while reducing space for transnational jihadists to operate in north-western Syria. Breaking from its jihadist roots, HTS leadership has steadily recast the group as a local Syrian actor capable of governing Idlib and willing to ensure that outside militants will not use the area as a launching pad for operations. This evolution does not erase the past. Nor does it address the concerns of many Syrians who continue to denounce the group’s autocratic rule and repressive conduct.”
In conclusion of the report, the Crisis Group proposes the following “tests of the evolution of HTS”.
“1. Define joint standards as to what HTS would need to do in order for NATO countries to eventually cease treating or labelling it as a terrorist organisation, to support a similar change at the UN and to engage in conversations with it on the area’s future. These standards should be sufficiently tangible to provide HTS clarity as to what precisely is expected, and sufficiently measurable to enable the U.S., Turkey and Europe to quickly respond if, when and so long as they are met.
- Introduce carrots and sticks aimed at encouraging HTS to not only meet those standards, but to do so on a continuous (medium- to long-term) basis while also taking further steps to address local and international concerns about its autocratic rule and repressive conduct. For example, Western countries could offer to conditionally increase stabilisation support for critical services in Idlib (much of which was cut following HTS’s takeover of the province in 2019), so long as HTS ceases crackdowns on its civilian critics, expands space for independent and Western-backed civil society organisations to operate, and demonstrates clear commitment to political and religious pluralism.
- Once the U.S., Turkey and European partners reach consensus on these steps, Washington should open dialogue with Moscow in an attempt to identify additional measures that could address distinct Russian concerns about attacks emanating from Idlib on its military base in western Syria or government-controlled areas, while avoiding military escalation.”
One would ask, why is this significant, it’s just think tank making a report?
Well, it’s former CEO and President is Robert Malley, a childhood friend of US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, and also the individual dubbed to be the new Iran Envoy for the US President Joe Biden administration.
An unnamed US official, cited by AP News, said Malley would head “a dedicated team” of “clear-eyed experts with a diversity of views.” The official added that Malley has “a track record of success negotiating constraints on Iran’s nuclear program” and that Blinken is confident he “will be able to do that once again.”
“Malley currently runs the International Crisis Group. Iran hawks are aghast, believing Malley to be a key architect of the 2015 nuclear deal that former President Donald Trump withdrew from. They fear President Joe Biden wants to rejoin the Iran deal at any cost and may be willing to sacrifice the security of Israel and the Gulf Arab states to do so. The hawks regard Malley as less than fully supportive of Israel.”
His think tank is also the architect of a suggestion on how to cooperate with terrorists in Idlib.
Another individual who is part of the International Crisis Group is “Trustee Jake Sullivan” he was named Joe Biden’s National Security Advisor.
Robert Malley, President & CEO of Crisis Group, said: “I have worked closely with Jake, first in the Obama administration and then at Crisis Group. In both instances, he has shown himself to be remarkably perceptive, open-minded, generous with his time and thoughts. Those are all qualities that will serve him exceptionally well in his new position. All of us at Crisis Group wish him the very best on this new journey”.
Both Malley and Sullivan are stepping down from their positions in the think tank, of course, but the Biden Administration’s indoctrination into the think tank’s ideology is easy to see.
Notably, just days earlier, on February 2, Martin Smith a reporter for the American Public Broadcasting Service’s Frontline investigative series, proudly announced that he had interviewed the terrorist group’s leader Abu Muhamad al-Juliani in the northwestern Syrian region of Greater Idlib.
So, the rebranding has already begun.
As a result, yes, everything is different from the Trump Administration. Even the fact that former US President Donald Trump immediately cut support and ties with al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists.
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