The capture of the Bab al Hawa crossing point may indicate how types of support less reliant upon material and more upon skills and systems may be 1) more flexible approaches when main supply routes and border crossings are threatened and 2) less of a conflict driver within and between the opposition. Although we assessed last month that an incident would occur within the Bab al Hawa area (we thought the crossing looked vulnerable to SAA), it does raise significant issues around the nature of non-lethal support to the Syrian opposition - it must make them better fighters, it must not be a conflict driver between opposition groups and it must be flexible to changes in the conflict landscape.

The fact remains that both internal division within the opposition (especially he creation of the Islamic Front) and strategic issues (access to main supply routes - MSR) has driven the rush to take control of border crossings before winter sets in and has been a conflict driver in recent weeks, especially after the loss and compromise of the Syrian oppositions group's main supply routes from Lebanon.

We would assess that Bab al-Hawa still remains a viable option for the opposition's MSA in the longer term, however due to the number of incidents over the past 12 months at the Bab al Hawa crossing, the most viable for the north-western areas of Syria could be the Bab al Salama crossing: although this still requires ground assessment. Other potential areas identified (which also still require ground assessments) include Lebanon (northeast-Bekaa Valley) and Jordan (Nasib Area). Kurdistan (Dohuk) is a further option however this would limit the reach and effect required especially due to the ongoing issues between the Syrian opposition groups and Kurdish elements.

Incident Summary

The Bab al Hawa incident and the closure of the border by Turkey's Ministry of Customs and Trade on  10/12/13 has been caused by an increase in clashes between Syrian opposition groups, namely the Islamic Front who seized control over the Headquarters for the Battalions and Brigades of the so-called Martyrs of Syria, led by the Jamal Maarouf. The IF also seized control of the Headquarters of Al-Farouq brigade at the Bab al Hawa" border crossing. Events escalated after clashes took place between the Martyrs of Syria and the Islamic Front, when it was reported that an agreement had reached between the Islamic Front and Al-Farouq allowing Al Farouq to withdraw from the area. Consequently the SMC warehouse was also taken over by the Islamic Front.
While the Islamic Front does not include either of Syria's two al-Qaeda affiliated groups of JAN and ISIS it does include radical Islamists who have coordinated with them. On Tuesday, the Islamic Front said it had withdrawn from the military command of the FSA, notionally charged with coordinating the war, and criticized its leadership. On Friday, the opposition Syrian National Coalition published statements by an FSA official playing down the Islamic Front's withdrawal and denying that the groups were in disagreement. But the events at Bab al Hawa underscored the size of the task to unite the various opposition groups under FSA command and sideline more hard-line groups.

The Islamic Front was formed, last month by seven large Islamist rebel factions, forming the largest alliance of opposition fighters yet in the Syrian conflict. Rebel commanders (in a video aired on Al Jazeera) said their new union would not only seek to oust Assad but establish an Islamic state. "This independent political, military and social formation aims to topple the Assad regime completely and build an Islamic state where the sovereignty of God almighty alone will be our reference and ruler," said Ahmed Eissa, who heads the Suqour al-Sham brigades, one of the groups forming the Islamic Front.