Some researchers (such as Aron Lund, the author of Struggling to Adapt: The Muslim Brotherhood in a New Syria
and the editor of Syria in Crisis
that when it comes to financing and weapons supply, the group has tight ties to the Gulf monarchies and dominates the relations with some Saudi circles (it is worth noting that the father of the group's leader lives in Saudi Arabia). The establishment of Jaysh al-Islam can be considered against the background of the Saudi answer to the increasing radicalization of the Syrian society
and of preventing said society from becoming controlled by more radical jihadist groups like Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra.Relations with other political groups
Liwa al-Islam was initially part of the FSA and one of its most combat-effective units. Having split from the FSA and absorbed the groups in the Damascus region, Alloush's group began to operate more independently and played a significant role in the escalation of the Syrian crisis. In 2012, it was a part
of the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front (SILF) which also included the Farouq Brigades (Homs and the Turkish border), Liwa at-Tawhid
(Aleppo), Souqur al-Sham
(Idlib). Consolidation around Liwa al-Islam allowed
to found Jaysh al-Islam in late September 2013, thereby severing the ties with the SILF.
Similar processes transpired in the Syrian Islamic Front for which Ahrar al-Sham
became the driving force. Unlike the SILF which coordinated its actions with the Supreme Military Council of the FSA, the SIF was not restricted by any such obligations. They were an ideological mismatch, and the SIF had its own financing channels – money was coming
from certain circles in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Kuwait, and also from the Muslim Brotherhood.
Creating Jaysh al-Islam with the Saudi support was a testimony to the FSA's structural problems and it dealt a serious blow to its further existence. Nonetheless, that event did not signify the victory of the government's forces in Syria, since a broader coalition, the Islamic Front, was emerging. Jabhat al-Nusra
is another major political ally of Jaysh al-Islam. Its leader al-Golani stressed several times that when it came to their presence in Syria, he would steer the course of al-Qaeda Central led by al-Zawahiri. The group's strategy
involves cooperating with those local Islamist organizations which pose as their principal goal the establishment of an Islamic state and the Sharia law in Sham. Such an approach prevents the Syrian Islamist groups, including Jaysh al-Islam, from opposing the extremists from al-Qaeda's Syrian "branch," since overthrowing Bashar al-Assad is still their priority, and in order to achieve that goal, they might need to mobilize all those parties to the Syrian conflict which are not hostile to them, especially given Jabhat al-Nusra's effectiveness
and joint military victories over the government's forces.
One could also note that the two groups are ideologically close. As the former Jaysh al-Islam's leader said, his group and Jabhat al-Nusra have brotherly ties, and whatever small ideological differences there are, they can be settled through discussions and applications of the Sharia norms. In his interview, Zahran Alloush said that he had met with Abu Maria al-Qahtani, one of Jabhat al-Nusra's leaders, and found no differences between Jabhat al-Nusra's Sharia (here Sharia means lawmaking) and Jaysh al-Islam's Sharia. Nonetheless, in the summer of 2015, the media reported that Eastern Ghouta's residents, supposedly whipped up by Jabhat al-Nusra, were holding rallies. They were protesting against Jaysh al-Islam and the United Military Command which governed the territory and were demanding that their quality of life be improved
Jaysh al-Islam assumed an implacable stance toward Islamic State
. IS became active on the territories held by Jaysh al-Islam since early 2015. However, they clashed in the Qalamoun Mountains, where Jaysh al-Islam unexpectedly intervened in the military action
and attacked IS which was fighting Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian government's army, the Lebanese Army, and Hezbollah. Alloush claimed that such actions intended to prevent the expansion of IS toward Ghouta. Moreover, he credited
Jaysh al-Islam with being the reason for Islamic State not being present on the territories Jaysh al-Islam controls. Zahran Alloush said IS fighters were takfiri
who spread discord among Muslims, and Khawarij (those who had split off). In June 2015, Jaysh al-Sham uploaded a professionally edited video to the Web; it showed captured IS fighters being executed by firing shotgun shots to the head. The video used IS technique, but the executioners wore orange prison robes, and the victims, the IS fighters, wore black
(IS videos usually have it the other way round).
Nonetheless, the government's forces are Jaysh al-Islam's main enemy in Syria; the government army blockaded Eastern Ghouta and Douma and has fought against the group during the entire Syrian crisis. When the government air force bombed its deployment sites, Jaysh al-Islam launched missile and shells against Damascus
. In 2013, together with Jabhat al-Nusra, the group perpetrated a bloody slaughter in Adra, massacring mostly the Alawite minority. To defend themselves against air force bombings in Douma, the group put cages with people
, supposedly captive Alawites from Adra, on rooftops, using them as human shields
. Jobar, a suburb of Damascus, also saw some heavy fighting. Besides, the group was accused
of being behind the disappearance of several activists and human rights activists, the most famous of them being Razan Zaitouneh.
By April 2016, information had started to come in that for the first time since the beginning of the conflict, Syria's air force supported some of Jaysh al-Islam's units against the IS fighters advancing in the vicinity of Eastern Ghouta. As some warlords have since claimed
that it would be possible to cooperate with the government's army to defeat IS, it gives hope for a cessation of the fierce confrontation between Jaysh al-Islam and Bashar al-Assad's government.