Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (Pflp-Gc) and the Syrian Civil War

Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (Pflp-Gc) and the Syrian Civil War

Article excerpt

Maghrabi fell to soothing, and said, "Obey me, therefore, in all I bid thee, and shortly thou shalt forget all this travail and toil whenas thou shalt look upon the marvel-matters I am about to show thee" ... Aladdin...was dumbed and dazed at the Maghrabi's words and rejoiced... " O my uncle, bid me do all thou pleasest, for I will be obedient unto thy bidding." - Sir Richard Burton, The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, 1885.1


From the use of barometrically detonated bombs to destroy airliners in the 1970s, to a bloody hang glider attack on an Israeli barracks in 1987, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) has historically demonstrated a preference for innovative and brutally violent tactics.2 However, the once leading state-backed international terrorist organization is now little more than a local proxy militia used to serve the interests of Syrian leader Bashar al-Asad. As Syria fractures due to the ongoing civil war, the Asad regime's utilization of their PFLP-GC's proxy has increased. Unfortunately for the PFLP-GC, the increased utilization of its forces has also irreparably damaged the organization.

Founded in 1968 by Ahmad Jibril, the PFLP-GC was ostensibly created out of a desire by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) to devote more attention to militancy than to Marxian ideology. Due to the highly fractious nature of Palestinian leftist groups, the PFLP-GC was just one of many "Popular Front" style organizations espousing a mixture of militancy and Marxism.3 However, the PFLP-GC did not fade into the history books with the collapse of the Soviet Union or by being folded into larger groups. Instead, the PFLP-GC made a name for itself and quickly became a small but leading Syrian-backed Palestinian entity.

Without the Asad regime, it is likely the PFLP-GC could not have continued to exist. Gary Gambill writes, "Of all the major Palestinian and Lebanese paramilitary groups sponsored by Damascus, the PFLP-GC exercises the least strategic and operational autonomy."4 In addition, Adam Dolnik has noted the PFLP-GC has a "virtually unconditional allegiance to Syria." Dolnik adds, "The group's relationship with Syria was a key factor why Jibril never achieved the level of prominence that one might expect based on his military excellence and a touch for spectacular attacks."5

Since the 1980s, Jibril has also joined with Asad's primary Middle Eastern ally, the Islamic Republic of Iran. The PFLP-GC has fully adopted Iran's rhetoric regarding "armed resistance" against Israel and may have cooperated with Tehran to assist Iran in pursuing regional and international goals.6 This has even led the group to adopt certain Islamist flourishes in its propaganda and to praise Iran.7

Over the decades, the PFLP-GC's leader, Ahmad Jibril has exhibited no qualms with such arrangements or the adoption of new rhetorical narratives. Described by Palestinian foes as being emblematic of "Revolutionary nihilism," Jibril's lack of ideological attachments and willingness to please his sponsors have been the most important features within the PFLP-GC.8 For Jibril, popular acceptance by fellow Palestinians is of little concern. If anything, Jibril and his cohorts have understood that their route to power among Palestinians would only arise through accepting Asad's suzerainty.

Jibril's nearly umbilical link to first, the regime of Hafiz al-Asad and then to Bashar al-Asad is important when understanding his organization's motives. His service in the Syrian army offers a partial explanation for his original closeness with Damascus. In 1961, prior to the formation of the PFLP-GC, Jibril had created the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF). The group's ranks were filled by Palestinians, who like Jibril, had served in the Syrian army.9 Hafiz al-Asad himself rose to power via the Syrian air force, and this historical military link has allowed the PFLP-GC to act as a supportive body for the Syrian military. …

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