“Allah Akbar, Allah Akbar, Allah Akbar.” This chant, meaning “God is great” in Arabic, is repeatedly heard in this barbaric and savage video clip (below). Amidst a crowd of men standing on a small hill, while women and children watch behind, are three kneeling men – supposedly supporters of Assad’s regime – who are beheaded by a large knife. In the background, someone exclaims, “This is the punishment of the Shabiha.” Sabiha, a militia group, has been unleashed by Assad’s regime as a tool for cracking down and suppressing his opposition. After the gruesome beheading, in which one of the detached heads falls to the side, another rebel yells, “Place the head of that dog straight.” In Middle Eastern Muslim culture, calling someone a dog is considered a grave insult. The beheading by the Islamists, who appear to be imported from another country and are supposedly connected to the Jabhat Al-Nusra front, is a reference to Islamic Sharia law.
Warning: Graphic Content
This recently released video is just one among a plentitude of other videos that draws attention to two significant phenomena. First, the jihadist, Islamist, and Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups have gained substantial control and dominance in various cities in Syria, including Idlib, Aleppo, Homs, and suburbs within Damascus. Secondly, through the operations conducted by the jihadists, Islamists as well as Assad’s regime, the conflict in Syria has increasingly taken sectarian elements; people – particularly minorities – are being slaughtered based solely on their religion. In one video released earlier, a rebel fighter is shown cutting out and biting into the heart of a dead soldier. The leader of these rebels is Khaled Al Hamad, who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Sakkar. Sakar, who is from the Baba Amro district in Homs, is a former senior figure in the Al Farouq Brigade. In this graphic video, Sakar exclaims, with bloody organ in hand, “I swear to God, soldiers of Bashar [referring to the Alawite minority], you dogs – we will eat your heart and livers! God is great! Oh my heroes of Baba Amr, you slaughter the Alawites and take their hearts out to eat them.”
Recently, the Obama administration – after the Syrian conflict entered its third year and long after critical world powers have taken decisive action – has decided to make a policy decision to arm the Syrian rebels. For the last three years, the Obama administration has preferred to use the “wait and see” policy in Syria: avoiding taking robust geopolitical and strategic action against Assad’s regime, avoiding taking a leadership role, and leaving the destiny of Syria to be determined by Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah leaders. Currently, the liberals have been projecting the Obama administration’s current strategy to arm the rebels as a tactically successful policy achievement.
First of all, it is crucial to point out that although the Obama administration has made one of the most significant strategic, geopolitical, and security policy gaffes in the last decade by not taking leadership when the popular uprisings first erupted in Syria, the current and delayed policy decision to arm the rebels will in fact fuel more severe repercussions to U.S. national interest in the Middle East and beyond. Undoubtedly, Syria is the closest military and strategic ally of the Islamic Republic of Iran, as well as a sworn enemy of Israel. If the Obama administration had taken a more robust course of action earlier, when the peaceful uprisings first started, the United States would have been capable of achieving a vital strategic and geopolitical breakthrough by revising Assad’s brutal regime and completely isolating Iran in the region. This would have accumulated further pressure on Iran by shifting the balance of power in the region, eventually leading to the regime’s collapse.
The delayed decision to arm the rebels will result in a more severe backlash against U.S. national and security interests. The reason is that currently the jihadists, Islamists and Al-Qaeda-linked groups are the most dominant, aggressive, and successful forces among the rebel forces throughout Syria. These groups are sworn to turn Syria, Lebanon and Iraq into an uncompromisingly Islamic state, ruled by Islamic and Sharia law. In addition, there is no command-and-control system between other rebel groups. As a result, arming the rebels equates to directly or indirectly financing and arming these terrorist groups who are implementing atrocious practices like beheading and mass execution and other inhumane behaviors.
Although liberals argue that the U.S. will send arms to the “good” rebels, it is nearly impossible to distinguish the “good” rebels from the barbaric ones anymore. It is unrealistic to insure that arms and weapons will fall into the hand of the peaceful revolutionaries; in fact, they are more likely to fall into the hands of the same Islamist and Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups who are slaughtering, beheading, and mass-executing people and pushing for a Sharia-law based Islamist state. These are the severe repercussions of not taking leadership in Syria, adopting a “wait and see” policy, and being among one of the last countries to make a decision on such a strategically and geopolitically critical issue.
About Majid Rafizadeh
Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-Syrian scholar, is the president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He serves on the advisory board of the Harvard International Review, an official publication of Harvard University. Rafizadeh has previously taught at several universities including the University of Damascus, Islamic Azad University, and the University of California Santa Barbara through a Fulbright Teaching scholarship. Previously, he conducted research at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He regularly commentates on national and international outlets including CNN, BBC, Aljazeera, Fox News and France 24 International. His works have appeared on The New York Times International, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, CNN, Fareed Zakaria GPS, The Nation, Yale Journal of International Affairs, The Jerusalem Post and The Huffington Post. He can be reached atRafizadeh@fas.harvard.edu.