TM

Jabhat al-Nusra has changed its name. Why? The answer is another question; Will that name appear on a joint Russian/USA military targeting list? And the answer to that is – it’s complicated.

Jabhat al-Nusra was always a smarter outfit than ISIS. Whereas ISIS broke with Al Qaeda and then opposed it, al-Nusra maintained ties. While ISIS demanded subservience from all other groups, Al-Nusra was prepared to work with a variety of Syrian rebels. The relentless brutality of ISIS has turned many Syrians against it, the limited brutality of al-Nusra has allowed it to maintain a degree of co-operation with civilians.

Jabhat al-Nusra has now changed its name to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. The root of the word al-Sham comes from the ancient description of Syria as being the ‘land of the left hand’ – meaning that if you were facing the sun from the holy sites in what is now Saudi Arabia then Syria would be to your left.

Simultaneous with the name change came the announcement that the rebranded group was splitting from Al Qaeda (AQ). However, this is not a decision made in anger and the two groups will maintain cordial relations, indeed while announcing the move the Nusra/Fatah al-Sham Jabhat Fatah al-Shamscommander Al-Golani was flanked by two men associated with AQ.

The decision has been forced by the increasing nervousness of the group about the talks between the Russians and Americans about coordinating air strikes in Syria against certain targets.  If that had come to fruition, then al-Nusra would already have been on any joint targeting list. However, if, as expected, the rebranded group embeds itself deeper inside, and/or alongside, more of the other Syrian rebel groups, then disentangling it during air strikes could prove impossible.

To ensure this Jabhat Fatah al-Sham is playing a significant role in the major rebel offensive designed to break the Syrian Army’s siege of Aleppo. The more integrated Fatah al-Sham is with the ‘mainstream’ rebels, the harder it will be to hit them from the air. The Russians and Americans have not yet agreed on a joint strategy, but in anticipation of one Fatah al-Sham are a move ahead. The groups core Islamist ideology has not changed, and future co-operation with AQ is expected. The ISIS ‘caliphate’ is shrinking, AQ and Fatah al-Sham would be happy to create a de-facto one in the extremely unlikely event of a collapse by the Assad regime.

The move is also designed to engender more support from Turkey and Qatar who are currently under American pressure to drop any backing for the group due it its links with AQ.

Jabhat Fatah al-Sham has just made the multi sided Syrian war even more complicated. From its perspective – that’s a smart move.

 

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10 Comments on "Jabhat al-Nusra: What’s In A Name?"

  1. I agree Tim but would add the following observations: Jabhat al-Nusra left it too late. It should have severed the link with Al-Qaeda 2 years ago. The name change will not save it from being a target. It has not renounced its program of establishing an Islamic State in Syria after the fall of the Assad regime. This has lost Nusra many supporters. Most Syrian don’t want an Iranian or Saudi style state. They want a secular democracy. As far as Assad and Putin are concerned targeting Nusra is the perfect excuse for launching air attacks on all anti-Assad rebel forces including the FSA.

  2. Peter Kennedy | 3rd August 2016 at 4:43 pm | Reply

    Now I am confused, and my tiny knowledge of Arabic does not help. I always understood that the full name of Jabhat al-Nusra was Jabhat al-Nusra li-Ahl al-Sham (The Support Front for the People of al-Sham). So does Jabhat Fatah al-Sham translate to Terrorists Supporting the People of al-Sham or something else?

    I’m having problems here with the word ‘Fatah’ as every translation I can find insists on modifying it to ‘al Fatah’ which is something entirely different. All of this reminds me of a certain scene in ‘The Life of Brian’ and if it wasn’t for the lives being lost it would be an amusing case of life imitating art.

  3. Peter Kennedy | 3rd August 2016 at 9:36 pm | Reply

    As I said, whenever I tried looking for a translation of ‘Fatah’ the translation pages modified it to ‘al fatah’, the group that used to be lead by Yasser Arafat. So Tim, as your skills in Arabic are far better than mine what does the full name of ‘ Jabhat Fatah al-Sham’ translate to in English?

    Just to add to the confusion there is also a political party called Fatah https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fatah

    • I agree with Nehad. There are various ways of saying the same thing – ‘Conquerer of Shams Front’ ‘Front for Victory in Syria’ and as noted fatah root is ‘victory’. The word terrorist isn’t in there at all a far as I can tell.

  4. In ancient Arabic texts Fatah is the singular of the word Futouhat/Fotohat (i.e conquests) like Futouhat Spania in the middle ages (The conquest of Spain 711-756 AD) by the Arabs.
    so Jabhat Fatah al-Sham could loosely but literally mean: The Front for the conquest of Greater Syria (Sham). Jabhat is Front or a military organization or brigade. Unfortunately Arabic is not precise and most words have several meanings depending on context.The other literal meaning of Fatah is opening/conquering.

    • mahatmacoatmabag | 4th August 2016 at 10:45 am | Reply

      Good morning Nehad , if I may make a Pun regarding the several meanings in English of Fatah. ” One size Fatah’s all “

  5. Good morning mahatmacoatmabag, Ha ha ha ha. I needed a dose of laughter as I am suffering from a bout of severe cold. Thanks

  6. Peter Kennedy | 4th August 2016 at 8:34 pm | Reply

    OK, thank you Nehad for the eventual translation and please get well soon.

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