It shouldn’t be any surprise that Western states are just beginning to recognize the rebels. After a historic win inside Libya, these NATO members hope to again be on the right side of making history in the Arab world, something they have too often been on the wrong side of. With large exposure to the conflict because of social media, these states also have no choice but to act because of the moral imperative on stopping the atrocity killings. These reasons are important for the Western states. However, what is more important, and explains the sudden latch onto the Syrian National Council, is the rise in Islamist factions and influence in the conflict. Western countries recognize that they need to officially recognize the Syrian opposition and strengthen them before extremist factions takeover. By recognizing them, assisting them to their win, they can help shape the future of Syria.
Branches of Al Qaeda is deepening its presence in Syria. In February, Al Qaeda strategist Abu Musab Al Suri was released from an Aleppo prison, and directly following his release was two of the first bomb attacks launched against Assad forces since the start of the conflict. Al Suri is believed to have had a more influential role in Al Qaeda than Osama bin Laden himself, and definitely capable of organizing a large-scale operation in Syria to overthrow the Assad government and fill the vacuum. British Prime Minister David Cameron has claimed that Syria is “empowering a new Al Qaeda generation”, and unless the West steps in, will grow large enough to takeover the country. Syria’s “New Jihadist Group“, the Victory Front, the Jabhat al-Nusrah, comprised of Jihadist terrorist leaders from Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon and supported by Al Qaeda are gaining momentum in Syria. This has nothing to do with arms from the Free Syria Army reaching these extremists, but rather, the more instability and chaos in the state, the easier it is for outside extreme forces to come in and take advantage of the situation. The JN, and Al Qaeda branches in Syria have been a nuisance for the Free Syria Army who is trying to maintain legitimacy among the international community in order to get assistance to win the war.
Fear that there are radical elements within the Syrian National Council are overstated. The extreme factions have, on multiple accounts, rejected cooperation with the Syrian rebels and have refused to recognize them as the representative of the Syrian people. They are merely fighting a parallel battle with the rebels against the Assad regime, who they see as infidels because they are Shi’ite. The rise in Islamists in Syria is exactly why Western states should assist the internationally-recognized Syrian opposition coalition. The extreme factions are divided, and the more effort the West can put into uniting the Coalition and stronger they can make them become, the weaker influence Islamists groups will have. Nonetheless, the weaker the Islamist groups become, the less and less this becomes a sectarian civil war, and instead a war between the people of Syria, Shi’ites and Sunnis alike, against an oppressive regime. As long as the West can assure that the Free Syria Army are the victors of this conflict, the Islamists will have little influence in the make-up of a post-Assad Syria.
If the West wants to avoid another Egyptian scenario where the Muslim Brotherhood now virtually control the Government, and recreate what happened in Libya, where secularist won a majority of parliamentary seats, then Western involvement will be key. The difference between Egypt and Syria is the role the West played in resolving the conflicts. In Egypt, the West had little to no role. However in Libya, where NATO conducted an operation to prevent Qaddafi from massacring his people and training, and arming the Libyan rebels, the West was able to ensure that the vacuum that was created after Qaddafi’s death was not filled by Muslim extremists, and instead the leaders of the revolution. France, the US and the UK again have that opportunity in Syria.