WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — The government of Qatar has portrayed the al-Nusra Front as a moderate fighting force to gain support from Sunni allies in an effort to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad, experts told Sputnik.
“The Qataris have convinced the new Saudi king that to topple Assad and punch a hole right in the middle of the Iranian sphere of influence in the region, they have to play with Jabhat al-Nusra [al-Nusra Front] and nudge them away from al-Qaeda,” Middle East geopolitics expert Kamran Bokhari told Sputnik.
During an exclusive interview with the Qatar-based Al Jazeera media outlet on Wednesday, al-Nusra Front leader Abu Mohammed al-Golani claimed his group had no intention of targeting the West, and only had designs on toppling the Shia Alawite Assad regime.
University of Oklahoma Professor Joshua Landis told Sputnik that Qatar and Al Jazeera’s attempts to spin the al-Nusra Front as moderate is certainly a risky approach. However, for Qatar and its allies it is a necessary evil for winning the Sunni-Shia struggle.
“Yes, it is dangerous, but the alternative, according to the Sunni leaders, is to leave Assad in power,” Landis said.
US President Barack Obama, Landis added, has not publicly criticized Turkey's, Qatar's and Saudi Arabia's push to mainstream the al-Nusra Front.
Heritage Foundation Director of Foreign Policy Studies Steven Bucci told Sputnik that the Al Jazeera interview depicting the al-Nusra Front as not being anti-Western was hard to believe, especially considering the group was a spin-off from the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI).
The al-Nusra Front was a subsidiary of ISI, itself an Al Qaeda branch in Iraq, Bucci explained, but it spun-off from ISI to become Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.
“So al-Nusra is still an al-Qaeda affiliate. The Al Jazeera article is nonsense,” Bucci concluded.
Syria has been in a state of civil war since 2011 with many insurgent groups, such ISIL and the al-Nusra Front, active in the country and aiming to overthrow the Assad regime.
Russia has repeatedly stated that Bashar Assad is a legitimate president of Syria, and that only the people of Syria should choose their government and leaders.
In January and April 2015, Moscow hosted two rounds of talks between Syrian government and opposition groups. During the second round of talks, the conflicting sides defined a framework for future negotiations on the settlement of the Syrian crisis.