Russia Losing Its Battle Against Jihadists in Syria

Eric Zuesse

According to Russia’s Defense Minister on Friday December 11th, Russia had underestimated the jihadist forces in Syria when it entered the war against them on September 30th. Whereas at that time the estimated number of jihadists fighting there was 30,000, the current estimate is 60,000. Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu says, “The Islamic State area of influence is expanding. Militants have seized about 70% of the Syrian territory. The number of terrorists amounts to about 60,000 people.” 

The report from Tass says that, “Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov earlier said that from 25,000 to 30,000 foreigners, including from Russia, were fighting in the ranks of Islamic State. The CIA estimated the number of militants at about 30,000 people.”

The jihadist problem is thus now twice what it was estimated to have been on September 30th. On 2 October 2015, Reuters bannered “Russian air strikes in Syria to last three-four months: Putin ally,” but now this timetable seems almost certain to be pushed way back.

On December 10th, Paul Antonopoulos of Al Masdar News headlined “Israeli Commandos Rescue Al-Nusra Terrorists,” and reported that, “The Al-Nusra Front, Syria’s Al-Qaeda branch, who are the dominant opposition force along the Syria-Israel border have confirmed its collaboration with Israel. … Non-mainstream [media] have been reporting on this collaboration for at least three years.”

Britain’s Daly Mail pondered, on December 8th, the question about Israel’s military, “WHY are they risking their lives for Islamic militants?” and reported that, “Israeli commandos save Islamic militants. … Almost every night, Israeli troops run secret missions to save the lives of … fighters [against Assad in Syria], all of whom are sworn enemies of the Jewish state. … Many of the casualties rescued by Israel belong to Salafist groups who harbour a deep-seated hatred of the Jewish State. It has also been reported that some may be members of Jabhat al-Nusra, a Syrian group affiliated to Al Qaeda that has kidnapped scores of UN peacekeeping troops in this area, and has massacred Christians deeper in Syria. … In the three years that Israel has been running these operations, it has saved the lives of more than 2,000 [of these fighters] … — at a cost of 50 million shekels (£8.7 million).” 

The Daily Mail article went on to describe an incident where Israeli troops salvaged two jihadists in Syria, whom a Druze Christian mob wanted to lynch because “It emerged that the militants were suspected members of Jabhat al-Nusra, an Al Qaeda affiliate who had attacked Druze villages in Syria.” One of the jihadists “is due to be returned back to war in an operation that is risky for the Israeli troops who will take him to the border.” Israel calls these cases “humanitarian,” but the real objective (though the Daily Mail’s report avoided even mentioning this) is to remove from power Syria’s non-sectarian President, Bashar al-Assad, whom Israel hates. For example, Al Nusra is one of the leading forces in Syria to defeat Assad’s army, and have been supplied by the U.S. and its allies, Turkey, Syria and Qatar.

Those jihadists that Israel is saving are fundamentalist Sunnis, called “Salafists,” or inside Saudi Arabia, “Wahhabists.” They’re committed first to exterminate or else convert all Shiites (which are the other main branch of the Islamic faith); but, then, to exterminate or else convert to Islam, all non-Muslims. However, since Israel is allied to the United States, which is trying (with its NATO alliance) to conquer Syria’s ally Russia, Israeli troops are risking their lives to bring these wounded jihadists – none of whom are Assad’s wounded soldiers – to Israeli surgical facilites, to get them back onto the battlefield in Syria, so as to continue their war to bring down the non-sectarian government of Syria. Because that government is allied to Russia, Washington wants it eliminated – by Al Qaeda, if necessary. (In Syria, Al Qaeda is called Al Nusra. That name makes it more acceptable to Americans after 9/11.)

Other allies of the United States in Syria are Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait – all of which are Arabic nations controlled by royal families that also are Wahhabist-Salafist, or fundamentalist-Sunni-Islamic, and so they support jihad to establish a “Caliphate” or Muslim Empire, to take over the world. (The Caliphate is essentially a Sunni concept – it means a ruler appointed by God from some sort of hereditary succession, not by any democratic means whatsoever, since democracy comes from the people who are ruled, not  from God. The Arabic original term is khalafa, meaning biological descendant. It’s found, for example, in Quran 2:30. And, in 7:69 it says that “God rules over you because you descended from Noah.” Sunnis take this in the most literal sense, as indicating that God rules; the ruled do not – they obey, which is what “islam” means. Whom your parents are determines whom you are, in tribal thinking, and the Quran reflects a traditional tribal culture, in this and all other ways. Aristocracy is thus basic to Sunni thinking. Shiism attempts to soften that Arabic tribalism.) 

Back in 1744, Muhammad Ibn Wahhab and Muhammad Ibn Saud swore an oath together to exterminate Shiites and establish a Wahhabist Caliph, which would emerge some day among Saud’s descendants, who could then go out and conquer the entire world. The other royal families of the Arabic oil nations are and long have been friends and allies of the Saud family. The U.S. and its NATO alliance are allied with them in a complex arrangement that some refer to as the “petrodollar,” which has replaced the gold-based dollar.

Israel is itself controlled by fundamentalist-Jewish Likud and other even more-fundamentalist-Judaic, political parties, and it has no written constitution because the fundamentalists there support the Torah, the Jewish holy Scripture, with its 613 laws, as being the Jewish nation’s constitution. These Jewish fundamentalists, known as Orthodox Jews, are like America’s Dominionist Christians who demand that all laws be based upon holy Scripture, the laws of God. However, whereas Dominionists don’t rule in America, Orthodox Jews do have a veto-power over the legal system in Israel, because Israel is a religious state, like many Muslim nations are – the ones ruled by Sharia law, which derives from the Quran instead of from the Bible.

One of the wealthiest members of the Saud family, Waleed bin Talal al-Saud, donated over a million dollars to Al Qaeda before 9/11 (as did several other Saudi royals), and is one of the top stockholders in Citibank, and in Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, as well as in several other leading U.S. companies. Prince Talal has said, “My sovereign, King Salman has instructed me to open a direct dialogue with Israel’s intellectuals building amicable ties with our Israeli neighbors.” On a separate occasion, he provided more details about this:

I will side with the Jewish nation and its democratic aspirations in case of outbreak of a Palestinian Intifada (uprising) and I shall exert all my influence to break any ominous Arab initiatives set to condemn Tel Aviv, because I deem the Arab-Israeli entente and future friendship necessary to impede the Iranian dangerous encroachment. … Saudi Arabia and Israel must bolster their relations and form a united front to stymie Tehran’s ambitious agenda.

Iran is the chief Shiite nation, and therefore the Saud family have been for centuries sworn to destroy it. The only non-sectarian, basically secular, nation in the entire region, is Syria, whose written Constitution is the only one in the Middle East that places sovereignty into the domain of no god at all, but instead (and only) in the domain of “the people.” (It states explicitly, “Sovereignty is an attribute of the people,” which is itself heretical in Islam. However, in order to be acceptable to Muslims, this Assadian constitution makes a concession to the Quran, by saying also, “Islamic jurisprudence shall be a major source of legislation; The State shall respect all religions, and ensure the freedom to perform all the rituals that do not prejudice public order; The personal status of religious communities shall be protected and respected.” In other words: only in personal, and not in governmental, matters can “Islamic jurisprudence” – which doesn’t even necessarily mean the Quran itself – be referred to in the drafting of Syrian laws. Many Sunnis who live outside Syria hate Assad as much for this as for his being a Shiite.)

Assad’s being both a Shiite and non-sectarian makes him seem much like the devil in a Wahhabist’s view. He refuses to allow Syria to be ruled by the laws of any religion at all; and this fact damns him in the eyes of Wahhabiusts (called “Salafists” outside Saudi Arabia itself).

Whereas the United States is allied with the Sauds and their allies on account of their oil and their hostility to Russia and their consequent hostility to Russia’s Shiite allies, the Wahhabist-Salafist Sunni nations are allied with the U.S. because of its oil market, and because of its hatred of Russia and of Russia’s Shiite allies.

Israel is allied with both the U.S. and the Sauds against Assad because Israel too is a religious state, as well as being yet another major market for U.S. weapons-producers. Israel receives $3 billion dollars a year from U.S. taxpayers to purchase U.S. weapons. This is very profitable for America’s weapons-makers.

And, so, the Wahhabist-Salafist cause is turning out to be considerably stronger than either Russia or America had expected it to be. As regards Israel, the public there too fear it, but, just as in the United States, the government is nonetheless allied with it. Russia, by contrast, has been consistently at war against it, not merely in Chechnia, but in Afghanistan before that.


Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.