However, the support for violence has failed to reach goals, rather, it paved the way for rise of takfiri groups like ISIS and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.
Taking an order from the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish army along with Syrian opposition forces launched Operation Euphrates Shield in Syria on August 24, 2016. The advances started from Jarabulus in northern Syria, aiming at fighting against terrorism, particularly ISIS terrorist group.
Some Ankara-backed armed groups have declared joining the fight against ISIS while others declined to take part. For example, the takfiri group of Ahrar ash-Sham said it will fight beside the Turkish forces, giving some religious reasons to justify its decision. However, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, also backed by Ankara, has declined to join the Turkey-led operation.
Fateh al-Sham's decline to accompany the Turkish armed forces against the Kurdish forces and ISIS in Syria’s north has given rise to an array of speculations and interpretations. Because once Jabhat Fateh al-Sham slips out of Ankara's sway and gets close to ISIS, the future developments of Syria will witness changes on the political stage and in the battlefield. Although the analysts rule out any strategic alliance between the two armed groups, they do not reject a possible temporary and tactical alliance between them.
Recently, Fateh al-Sham issued a statement, calling fight against ISIS as religiously banned. This stance stirred a series of interpretations and doubts because just a couple of months ago it entered in deadly clashes with ISIS, and the two sides several times executed each other’s fighters.
A couple of possibilities can be noted about Jabhat Fateh al-Sham shift in viewing ISIS terrorist group. First, the armed group seeks drawing more support from its regional and international allies by threatening that once they fail to offer further help, it will change its current strategy and get close to ISIS. Because the group has made many compromises in past few years, including making changes in its nature and structure and identity and changing name to look parted way from Al-Qaeda as its parent group in a bid to win backing from supporters. But it found their help as inadequate. Therefore, it threatens to ally with ISIS to get them make concessions.
The second possiblity is that Jabhat Fateh al-Sham seeks to convince its elements and fighters that it hasn’t changed identity. After all it was born carrying the defined values of Al-Qaeda terrorist group. Although so far it cooperated with Turkey and the Arab and Western countries, it tried to keep these links hidden. Its members based on their propaganda policy find themselves at war with the Syrian government as well as allies of the West like Turkey and Arab countries. If it joins Turkey in its anti-ISIS battle, it will witness drops in its forces, and possibly major splits.
The third and likely the strongest possibility is that Jabhat Fateh al-Sham is afraid of being made a scapegoat in the international negotiations and in the recent battlefield developments which include:
1. Decreased level of links to Turkey. Due to its influentiality the group called attention of Ankara and so received its supports. But recent Turkish shifts, including easing its anti-Syrian stances, have disappointed the takfiri group. Moreover, Turkey repaired chilled relations with Russia and Iran, two staunch opponents of Jabhar Fateh al-Sham. The relations with Ankara worsened to a point that Erdogan branded it a terrorist group.
2. US-Russia talks. It appears that Moscow and Washington agreed on which groups to be branded as terrorist. Very likely, US accepted that Jabjat Fateh al-Sham is a terrorist group. Once this is confirmed, the group could be target to US-led airstrikes, not to mention the data that could be provided to the Russians about positions of the armed group.
3. Aleppo battlefield developments. Jabhat Fateh al-Sham has recently been dealt working blows by the Syrian government’s forces and their allies. This development possibly will push the group to review strategy and rethink allies.