Al-Nusra Front leader Abu Mohammad al-Julani announcing the establishment of the Fateh al-Sham Front (the Front for the Conquest of the Levant) on Al-Jazeera TV. He is flanked by two senior Fateh al-Sham Front operatives who have Sharia authority. The insignia of the new organization, featuring its name in Arabic, appears above them (Al-Jazeera TV, July 28, 2016).
1. On July 28, 2016, Abu Mohammad al-Julani, leader of the Al-Nusra Front(Al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria), appeared on Al-Jazeera TV and announced the establishment of a new framework called the Fateh al-Sham Front (the Victory in Al-Sham Front). The newly established framework will replace the Al-Nusra Front. Al-Julani’s announcement was preceded by an announcement of support from the leaders of Al-Qaeda (Ayman al-Zawahiri and his deputy Ahmed Hassan Abu al-Khayr).
2. An analysis of the announcements by Al-Julani and Al-Qaeda’s leaders indicates that the Fateh al-Sham Front was established with their prior consent and after they had coordinated their positions. This is reflected in Al-Julani’s praise of Al-Qaeda’s leaders; the clear support of Al-Qaeda’s leaders for the anticipated move; and their similar reasons for justifying the establishment of the new framework (the impression created is that the content of the messages was coordinated by them in advance).
3. In the ITIC’s assessment, the establishment of the new framework was designed to blur and downplay the ties with Al-Qaeda and to disconnect from its terrorist image. Disconnecting from the terrorist image is designed to help promote two fundamental goals, in the international arena and in the domestic Syrian arena:
A. In the international arena, the move is designed to make it difficult for the US and Western coalition countries to join in the airstrikes carried out by Russia against the Al-Nusra Front.From the outset, the campaign by the US and its allies focused on ISIS, whereas Russian attacks also included the Al-Nusra Front, perceiving it as one of the main enemies of the Syrian regime.
In the ITIC’s assessment, the timing of the announcement is related to the reports about the discussed agreement between Russia and the United States, under which the two countries will cooperate in fighting against ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front. From Al-Julani’s perspective, the new move may create an image of detachment from Al-Qaeda, thus making it harder for the United States and the West to treat the new framework as a terrorist organization (even though the Al-Nusra Front actually refrains from carrying out terrorist attacks against the United States and the West, or against Russia, in contrast to the terrorist attacks carried out by ISIS and its supporters).
B. In the domestic Syrian arena, Al-Julani seeks to find the widest possible common ground with Islamic rebel organizations, including those whose ideology is not necessarily Salafist-jihadi, and to fight together with them against the Syrian regime. The current move may also be a response to the demands made by the other rebel organizations, which are worried of becoming a target for airstrikes because of the Al-Nusra Front’s identification with Al-Qaeda.
The Al-Nusra Front has tended to collaborate with other rebel organizations since its inception, making it easier for it to create coalitions and umbrella frameworks with other rebel organizations (under the name Jaysh al-Fateh), and clearly distinguishing it from ISIS (which prefers to conduct its wars on its own, without coalitions and allies, and is in constant friction with other rebel organizations). Cooperation with other rebel organizations might, from Al-Julani’s perspective, improve the new framework’s ability to resist the Syrian Army’s initiatives with the support of Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and the Shiite militias supported by Iran. Such an initiative currently focuses on the Aleppo campaign, but in the future, the Syrian regime and its allies may target the Idlib area, the main stronghold of the Fateh al-Sham Front (formerly the Al-Nusra Front).
4. Does the establishment of the new framework really and truly mean that the Fateh al-Sham Front is severing its ties with Al-Qaeda? The ITIC is not of this opinion. The new move is basically a direct consequence of the pressure exerted on the Al-Nusra Front and the fundamental ambition of Al-Julani (supported by the leadership of Al-Qaeda) to improve his organization’s survivability in the long campaign that awaits it. On the ideological level, the Fateh al-Sham Front continues to adhere to Al-Qaeda’s Salafist-jihadi ideology (as reflected in the charter published by the Fateh al-Sham front). Moreover, in the ITIC’s assessment, the new framework will continue to maintain its ties with Al-Qaeda’s leadership, although the nature of these ties is still unclear. The initial responses of the US and Russia clearly indicate that they are not buying the new image that Al-Julani seeks to give the new framework and that they continue to perceive the new framework as a terrorist organization (see Appendix D).
5. Following are the following appendices:
A. Appendix A:Summary of Abu Mohammad al-Julani’s announcement on Al-Jazeera TV (July 28, 2016)
B. Appendix B:Summary of the Al-Qaeda leadership’s announcement of support for Al-Julani’s move (July 28, 2016)
C. Appendix C: The Fateh al-Sham Front’s charter (July 31, 2016)
D. Appendix D:Initial reactions to Al-Julani’s announcement
E. Appendix E:Milestones in Al-Julani’s and the Al-Nusra Front’s relationship with Al-Qaeda and ISIS
 The term Fateh indicates victory or conquest, and is used, inter alia, to describe the conquests of early Islam in the days of the Prophet Muhammad and in the period after his death. The term Al-Sham refers to both Syria and Greater Syria. Though in practice the Al-Nusra Front operates in Syria in the narrow sense of the word, the ITIC prefers to use the term Al-Sham, which reflects the vision and aspirations of the organization, which seeks to establish an Islamic caliphate in Greater Syria.