Terry Jeffrey

President Barack Obama, Sen. John McCain and al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri now share a common goal: They support Syrian rebels seeking to overthrow Bashar Assad.

Zawahiri announced his support for the Syrian rebels last year in an online video.

"I appeal to every Muslim and every noble, free man in Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon to come to support his brothers in Syria with all that he possesses with himself, his wealth, his opinion and information," said the al-Qaida leader.

"With the increased criminality of the secular, sectarian, Ba'ath regime, our audacious, brave, Mujahid people are each day becoming steadier, more patient, more resistant and braver," Zawahiri said.

"Do not rely on the West and Turkey who have dealt, negotiated and associated with this system for decades," Zawahiri warned supporters of the rebellion. "All of these do not want a free, strong and independent Muslim Syria that is waging jihad against Israel. They want a Syria that is subordinate and vulnerable and separated from its religion, heritage, history and glory."

McCain also advocates supporting the Syrian rebels.

"We could use our stand-off weapons such as cruise missiles to target Assad's aircraft and ballistic missile launchers on the ground," McCain said in a recent speech at the Brookings Institution. "We could enable a provisional government to establish itself in a safe zone in Syria that we could help to protect with patriot missiles. And we could organize a full-scale operation to train and equip Syrian opposition forces."

President Obama, who has been calling for Assad's removal for two years, has now announced that the United States will provide the rebels with military aid.

"The president has made a decision about providing more support to the opposition that will involve providing direct support to the SMC [the rebels' Supreme Military Command Council]," Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters on June 13. "That includes military support."

Why did al-Qaida's Zawahiri insist on calling Assad's regime both "secular" and "sectarian"?

The minority Alawite (or Nusayri) sect, to which the Assad family belongs, dominates Syria's government and military. Alawites have an interest in maintaining a secular state because their own denomination, an offshoot of Twelver Shiite Islam, departs significantly from Islamic orthodoxy.

In his Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law -- originally published in 1910 and more recently published by the Princeton University Press -- scholar Ignaz Goldziher described the Nusayri sect. "In their Twelver cult unmistakably pagan conceptions predominate," he wrote.

Terry Jeffrey

Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor-in-chief of CNSNews

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