A street market in the rebel-held city of Idlib, June 2017.
Ammar Abdullah / Reuters

On September 13, Syria’s most powerful jihadist group split. Not the badly degraded Islamic State (ISIS)—which the U.S. military believes is down to around 10,000 fighters in its crumbling eastern Syrian strongholds—but Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which dominates northwestern Syria’s Idlib region.

Tahrir al-Sham has recently lost some of its most important leaders, leaving the group’s hold on power weaker than before. Meanwhile Ankara-backed Syrian rebels are lining up behind a plan to sideline the group, just as Turkish officials sit down with Iran and Russia in Astana to talk about solving Idlib’s jihadist problem. 

A defeat for Tahrir al-Sham would undoubtedly have far-ranging consequences both for Syria and for international counterterrorism planning. But the group’s enemies shouldn’t get their hopes up yet—on closer inspection, Syria’s jihadists may well weather the current storm.

COMING APART

When Islamist hardliners came together in January to create a new Syrian super-group under the name Tahrir al-Sham, that seemed like a final nail in the coffin of the uprising against the country’s authoritarian leader, Bashar al-Assad. Syria’s Sunni insurgents were already on the ropes, and if they were now to be fronted by a jihadist group,

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  •  ARON LUND is a writer on Middle Eastern affairs and a Fellow with The Century Foundation.
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