News media coverage of the Camp David summit between President Barack Obama and Gulf Cooperation Council members has focused largely on Obama’s success in getting the GCC States to go along with the negotiation of a nuclear agreement with Iran. But the much more consequential story of the summit is Obama’s decision not to confront Saudi Arabia and Qatar about their financing of an al-Qaeda offshoot in Syria that has made the most dramatic gains in the jihadist war against Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
For months the conflict between the policies of the Obama administration and those of Saudi Arabia and Qatar toward the war in Syria has been sharpening. The U..S policy has been to arm and train several thousand rebels to fight only against Islamic State forces, whereas the Saudis and Qataris have embarked on a new initiative with Turkey to beef up the capability of Jabhat al Nusra (the Nusra Front), the official al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, and its jihadist allies by creating a new military coalition in Idlib province to capture territory from the Assad regime.
A source in the Saudi royal family involved in defense and security matters confirmed for this article the existence of the new military coalition and the Saudi and Qatari assistance to it. The source said that the Army of Conquest is a temporary coalition in the Idlib region in which Jabhat al Nusra and Ahrar al Sham, which is believed to be heavily influenced if not controlled by al-Qaeda, represent 90 percent of the troops.
The Saudis and Qataris provide funding for 40 percent of the coalition’s requirements, according to the source, whereas the coalition itself provides 60 percent of its own needs – mainly from capture. A founding member and senior official of Ahrar al Sham, Mohamed Bahaiah, has revealed in social media posts associated with the organization that he is a senior al-Qaeda operative. Both Jabhat al Nusra and Ahrar al Sham have cut their ties with the Islamic State group, although Ahrar al Sham has fought alongside the Islamic State in the past.