There’s an interesting subplot to yesterday’s prisoner exchange in Syria which has not received as much attention as it should. While government and rebel forces were busy swapping captives (more than 2,000 in total), little has been made of the role played by aid group IHH in brokering the deal.
The group came to prominence during the Gaza flotilla in 2010 when its members became involved in a deadly confrontation with the Israeli army after refusing to cooperate with the coastguard. The IHH has since dismissed accusations of being linked to jihadist groups and insists its aims are purely humanitarian.
Its role in the Syrian prisoner exchange belies these claims. The impetus behind yesterday’s deal was the ongoing detention of 48 Iranian citizens who rebels claim are members of the Revolutionary Guard assisting Assad with his crackdown.
Tehran wanted its men released and asked the IHH to facilitate the swap. The chaos of the Syrian revolution, with its constantly evolving rivalries and alliances, means there are few actors capable of brokering anything of substance between the two sides. That the IHH was able to succeed in securing the transfer speaks volumes of the considerable influence it exerts over Syrian jihadists.