The Nusra Front, Al Qaeda's official branch in Syria, has released a new propaganda video documenting its steady gains in southern Syria, along the border with Israel.
The 48-minute video is a clear attempt to reassert the Al Qaeda franchise in the jihadi propaganda sphere, where it has been eclipsed by the slick productions of rival jihadi outfit ISIS.
It comes as Al Nusra is experiencing a resurgence on the ground in Syria as well, where until a few months ago it appeared to be losing its momentum, in stark contrast to ISIS's lightening offensives in Iraq and Syria. Recently, Al Nusra has made significant gains against both regime and rival rebel forces, including the capture of large swathes of territory in the Syrian Golan Heights, which borders Israel.
Unlike many previous Nusra Front productions, production-wise this one is on-par with those made by Islamic State/ISIS.
There are, however, several key distinctions. Most notably, while it does showcase sometimes graphic raw footage from battle scenes, the video contains none of the kind of ultra-violent and gory sequences usually included in ISIS's videos, such as beheadings and other executions. This is in-line with statements made by Al Qaeda leaders in opposition to the gratuitous nature of ISIS's violent actions, which it sees as counterproductive in the arena of public support.
It also lacks some of the more melodramatic flourishes and special effects often used by ISIS.
Additionally, the video is entirely in Arabic without any subtitles – unlike ISIS productions, which usually include subtitles in one or several foreign languages. That difference is an indication of how Nusra's support base and pool of potential recruits differs to those of ISIS.
While the Al Qaeda rebel faction does also include many foreign fighters among its ranks, the proportion of foreign fighters to native Syrians are lower than in ISIS. Those foreign recruits it has received come primarily from the Arab world, where major jihadi Muslim scholars have by and large supported Al Qaeda over ISIS. In contrast, ISIS's effective use of social media has given it a clear edge in western countries and other regions outside the Arabic-speaking world less influenced by or exposed to such Arab scholars.
And while the video does contain a clear message to western leaders, the group is clearly attempting to brand itself within the context of the Syrian rebellion against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, as opposed to ISIS's open, ostentatious declarations of its intent to achieve world domination.
Interspersed among the various scenes are graphic illustrations of the Nusra Front's steady gains along the border with Israel, as it cooperates with other rebel groups to steady oust forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad. It charts how Nusra has been pushing northwards and capturing key strategic positions – a development Israeli intelligence services will be keeping a close eye on.
But the battle along Israel's border – which has on occasion spilled over into Israeli territory – is far from over.
Having being ejected from the majority of their positions by the border, regime forces have reportedly turned to Hezbollah for help – with some reports claiming the Iranian proxy group is even leading regime operations against the rebels there.