Spokesperson for “The Army of Islam” offers his resignation after causing a firestorm in the Arabic press for giving an interview to an Israeli journalist.
According to a Ynet article, Elizabeth Tsurkov, a researcher at the Forum for Regional Thinking, was granted an exclusive interview with Islamic Army spokesman, Islam Alloush. Among the many rebel factions warring against the Assad regime in Syria, The Army of Islam is one of the most prominent rebel groups, operating primarily in the suburbs of Damascus. It is an extremist Islamist Sunni group and, in addition to fighting the Assad regime, it has also fought against ISIS and armed Kurdish groups in Syria.
In recent days, Israeli researcher Elizabeth Tsurkov published her interview with Islam Aloush, spokesman for the Army of Islam since 2012 when the group was still in its infancy. “I have been studying Syria for years now and I am in touch with hundreds of Syrians all across the country and Syrian refugees. I have never hid my Israeli identity,” said Tsurkov in a conversation with Ynet. She added:
“Over the years I’ve interviewed activists, fighters, civic leaders, and politicians – almost always on condition of anonymity. This is out of their fear that they would be viewed as ‘collaborators’ with Israel. The few who let me use their names were Syrian refugees living in Turkey or Europe. There’s a really big taboo against talking to Israeli media or even with Israelis. It’s seen as normalization with Israel and a lack of solidarity with the Palestinians.”
When Alloush agreed to be interviewed, Tsurkov said she was surprised when he also agreed to let her to use him name. “I thought he demonstrated bravery and hoped that it wouldn’t hurt him,” she said.
In an interview with Nana10, Tsurkov explained that a mutual friend connected her to Aloush and that she conducted her interview with him via email. According to Tsurkov, after reading some of her articles about Syria in Arabic, “[Alloush] basically said that he was willing to be interviewed, but then he disappeared for months—I thought he changed his mind or that he was having doubts—and then just recently he got back in touch with me and answered all my questions, including the explosive question regarding Israel which ultimately got him into all that trouble.”
In her interview with Alloush, Tsurkov asked him what The Army of Islam’s position was regarding a potential peace agreement between Israel and Syria, to which Alloush replied:
This issue and other issues of Syrian foreign policy will be determined by government institutions which will be founded once the Syrian revolution succeeds and the Syrian people are able to vote freely. We will not deny any decision made by the Syrian people, as the Assad regime has done for the past 40 years.
In response to the interview, the Arabic press erupted in a firestorm of criticism against Alloush—particularly the pro-Assad news outlets, including Hezbollah and Iran, who jumped at the opportunity to sully The Army of Islam through Alloush and give credence to the conspiracy theory promulgated by the Assad regime that the peaceful 2012 Syrian uprising and subsequent insurgency is an American-Zionist and Sunni Islamist plot. After a day of media outrage in the Arabic and Iranian press, Tsurkov explained in an interview to Nana10 that Islam Alloush announced his resignation as Islamic Army spokesman on his Twitter account, saying that he is moving to a position in which he will not be in touch with the media.
In light of the waves her interview caused, Tsukov said:
“There are many Syrians who are prepared to speak with me, and I have a lot of close Syrian friends. However, only a small portion of them are prepared to be open out of fear that they will be suspected of being spies, especially in light of the prevalent conspiracies circulating around Syria suggesting that Israel supports Assad and is preventing his ouster.”
When asked in an interview with Nana10 whether she feels personally responsible for his resignation, Tsurkov said, “I don’t like that group [The Army of Islam] that I wrote the article about, but it is very unpleasant that someone who basically did something very brave, in my opinion, is punished like that for it.”