The expression of regret and revulsion at what some hardline groups are doing in Syria is not enough. Also, continually quoting Western news agencies on the activities of these groups is not enough. This serves Assad’s media machine, especially since it has been pushing the line that it is fighting “extremists” from the first day of the revolution. Therefore, the question that must be raised is: Who is funding these groups?
Someone may argue that asking this is to be sucked into the realm of conspiracy theories, which is untrue. It would be naïve to content ourselves only with what the Western media is publishing about those hardliners, particularly given that the majority of these stories reach the Western media through either Assad’s media machine or that of his allies. Let us act in good faith and suppose that the Western media is provoked by the horrible and repulsive videos being leaked, some of which were proven to be inaccurate, such as the one posted by the New York Times recently. Thus, we must inquire about who is funding these groups: we must, as they say, ‘follow the money.’
What is suspicious about the story of the rise of hardline extremist groups is that they do not target the Assad regime. Rather, they target the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which is already preoccupied with fighting Assad and with resisting the advance of Iran’s Hezbollah fighters into Syria. How, then, can we understand the Islamist hardliners being involved in fighting the FSA, which is simultaneously preoccupied with fighting Assad and the Iranians?
Here, we must remember the story of Iraq under the American occupation. While militant groups were targeting the Americans and whomever sought political participation to ensure stability for Iraq, the groups that acted as Iranian proxies and Iranian troops in Iraq, which have been at large since the ouster of Saddam Hussein, were not seriously or clearly targeted. The claims that hard-line groups in Syria are benefiting from individual funding from the Gulf, whether from Kuwait or Saudi Arabia—according to Western press—is illogical. No matter how much the individual support of some Kuwaitis may be, it remains ineffective because there are Kuwaiti people who champion Assad for sectarian reasons.
As for Saudi Arabia, the dullest observer must know that government control and supervision over money transfer is strict—not only today, but for years now, thanks to the war on terrorism. Furthermore, the view that Qatari ambitions are a factor in funding hardliner groups is also inaccurate, as the recent changes in Qatar are noticeable and will decide numerous issues in the region, most prominently Syria.
Therefore, there must be a serious inquiry into who is funding these groups, given that they are doing a great favor to Assad. We must not content ourselves with mere condemnation or resentment, for the issue must go far beyond this. Anyone who studies Iraq’s history following Saddam’s ouster and sees the attempts to promote “jihad” there must come to the same conclusion: There must be someone who benefits. In the Syrian case, we can guess the reasons behind the attacks on the FSA and the distortions of the image of the revolution and the Sunni population. This is exactly what Assad wants, and this is what always serves Iran’s interests.