As some at the White House have reportedly been mulling a marriage of convenience to Bashar al-Assad, chilling news out of Syria adds even more weight to deep suspicions that one relationship has already been going strong — between Assad and ISIS.
International attention has been focused on Iraq since the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) claimed a large swath of territory stretching from the Turkish border almost to Baghdad as their caliphate, the Islamic State.
Next door in Syria, where the successor to al-Qaeda in Iraq found safe haven and a chance to grow and lure foreign fighters, opposition officials and observers have pointed out that Assad and ISIS are quietly working together, with the Islamic militants functioning as “Assad’s proxy,” in the words of the Syrian Coalition.
Louay Safi, spokesman for the Syrian Coalition, said the connection between ISIS and Assad “has never been so intimately interwound as it is today” as regime forces close in on Aleppo and ISIS targets rebel forces trying to hold out in Deir Ezzor.
“These advancements have not been interrupted by a single clash between regime forces and ISIS, which proves the existence of full coordination between them,” Safi said, noting that opposition forces are struggling without the aid they need while Assad continues to be buoyed by his Russian and Iranian benefactors.
Jalaluddin Khandji, representative of the local councils in the Syrian Coalition, called on the “democratic countries and international organizations to stand with the Syrians who have been left alone in their battle against the terrorism of Assad and ISIS, who threaten not only Syria and the region but the whole world.”
In fact, in the regime’s drive to retake Aleppo, Assad’s air forces are raining brutal barrel bombs on the populace while ISIS forces have been pushing toward the beleaguered Free Syrian Army on the ground.
PJ Media reported in September on the signs of the alliance between Assad and al-Qaeda forces, including convenient assassinations of key Assad opponents, coordinating attacks, not targeting each other’s positions and helping push a War on Terror narrative to keep Assad in power.
ISIS forces are also selling oil to the regime from fields under its control, proving to be business partners as well as fighters against a common enemy.
And now, ISIS enjoys a safe haven while Assad has been pulled back from the precipice and his reign looks fairly secure again. Assad is in an even better position now that officials in the West feel they must choose between Assad and ISIS, rather than considering the two joined at the hip.
“The irony is ISIS is on the side of Assad. It is serving Assad’s +Iran’s agendas,” tweeted London-based Middle Eastern affairs expert Nehad Ismail. “ISIS is Assad’s best ally and best friend.”
The Daily Beast reported last week that administration officials have been debating whether to keep calling for the ouster of Assad or accept that the dictator should stay.
“Anyone calling for regime change in Syria is frankly blind to the past decade; and the collapse of eastern Syria, and growth of Jihadistan, leading to 30 to 50 suicide attacks a month in Iraq,” one senior Obama administration official who works on Iraq policy told The Daily Beast.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, though, told The Daily Beast that “the people who think Bashar al Assad’s regime is the answer to containing and eventually eliminating the Islamic-based threat do not understand the historic relationship between the regime and ISIS.”
“[They] don’t understand the current relationship between Assad and ISIS and how they are working on the ground together directly and indirectly inside Syria,” Ford said. “The people who think Assad’s regime survival is essential have not explained how his survival would solve the problem of extremism in Syria.”
“Sickening. Some in Obama Admn want to work w/#Assad, against ISIS #Iraq, forgetting Assad helped #ISIS become monstrous,” Al-Arabiya Washington bureau chief Hisham Melhem tweeted this week.
Emile Hokayem, senior fellow for Middle East security at the International Institute for International Studies, noted that “the pressure on Damascus is at its lowest in two years.”
“And the debate in the west over what to do about ISIS is a source of delight for a number of Assad associates,” Hokayem added.
Frederic C. Hof at the Atlantic Council argued in a Thursday piece that if the Obama administration had a sense of urgency about confronting the problem, resupplying nationalist opposition forces could be too little, too late.
“As the administration struggles in Iraq with the chicken-and-egg dilemma of hitting ISIS first or waiting for an inclusive Government of Iraq to emerge, it might consider hammering ISIS unmercifully in Syria,” Hof wrote. “Yes, the Assad regime, Iran, and Russia all need ISIS alive and well in Syria to help crush Assad’s opposition. Yes, they would all be quietly appalled by such a step. Yet how could they possibly object publicly or even privately to the United States obliterating key pieces of the terrorist entity they all publicly decry?”