Bashar al-Assad Likely Helped Islamic State Massacre Druze

Aug. 17 2018

On July 25, Islamic State (IS) attacked the Druze-majority Syrian province of Sweida, with four suicide bombers blowing themselves up in the main town, while hundreds of fighters swept into nearby villages. (Six additional suicide bombers were stopped before they could detonate their payloads.) The attacks left 273 dead and almost an equal number wounded—including women and children. While IS acted out of a clear-cut religious motivation, since it considers the Druze infidels who ought to be put to death, there is ample evidence that they received assistance from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. This would not be the first time that Assad gave the lie to the claim, frequently heard from his sympathizers, that he is a potential ally in the fight against IS. Anne Speckhard and Ardian Shajkovci write:

[W]hen the Syrian uprising of 2011 turned violent, Druze leaders decided to stay neutral in the conflict. They called those [Druze] serving in the Syrian army to desert and return home. . . . [T]he Assad regime and IS at this moment have a coincidence of interests that is hard to mistake. Assad currently is readying his troops and Russian- and Iranian-backed allies to attack the jihadist militants in Idlib, [far to the north of Sweida], and the Druze leaders we talked to feel that their people were directly punished for not agreeing to join the Syrians in that operation. . . .

Assad’s alleged complicity with IS is long, gruesome, and well documented. Recently he has had a policy of allowing armed militants to escape from cities in buses, ostensibly to reduce the risk of civilian casualties. . . . We have interviewed, now, 91 men and women who defected from IS or were taken prisoner by the forces fighting it. They have told us that IS sold grain and oil to the Syrian government while in return they were supplied with electricity, and that the Syrians even sent in experts to help repair the oil facility in Deir ez-Zour, a major city in southeast Syria, [then] under IS protection.

Early in the rebellion, Bashar al-Assad released al-Qaeda operatives and other jihadists from his prisons to make the case that he was fighting terrorists, not rebellious people hoping for democracy. One of those jihadists he released, known as Alabssi, was one of the IS leaders in the battle in Sweida.

Where did the fighters come from who carried out the massacre in Sweida? Ten IS fighters were captured and hundreds killed. According to our sources 83 ID cards were recovered. Most were Chechens, Palestinians from the Syrian [refugee] camps, and some Saudis. There was a Moroccan and a Turkman among them, a Russian, and a Libyan, as well as some Iraqis.

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More about: Bashar al-Assad, Druze, ISIS, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war

Syria’s Downing of a Russian Plane Put Israel in the Crosshairs

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, Israeli jets fired missiles at an Iranian munitions storehouse in the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia. Shortly thereafter, Syrian personnel shot down a Russian surveillance plane with surface-to-air missiles, in what seems to be a botched and highly incompetent response to the Israeli attack. Moscow first responded by blaming Jerusalem for the incident, but President Putin then offered more conciliatory statements. Yesterday, Russian diplomats again stated that Israel was at fault. Yoav Limor comments:

What was unusual [about the Israeli] strike was the location: Latakia [is] close to Russian forces, in an area where the IDF hasn’t been active for some time. The strike itself was routine; the IDF notified the Russian military about it in advance, the missiles were fired remotely, the Israeli F-16s returned to base unharmed, and as usual, Syrian antiaircraft missiles were fired indiscriminately in every direction, long after the strike itself was over. . . .

Theoretically, this is a matter between Russia and Syria. Russia supplied Syria with the SA-5 [missile] batteries that wound up shooting down its plane, and now it must demand explanations from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That won’t happen; Russia was quick to blame Israel for knocking over the first domino, and as usual, sent conflicting messages that make it hard to parse its future strategy. . . .

From now on, Russia will [almost certainly] demand a higher level of coordination with Israel and limits on the areas in which Israel can attack, and possibly a commitment to refrain from certain actions. Syria, Iran, and Hizballah will try to drag Russia into “handling” Israel and keeping it from continuing to carry out strikes in the region. Israel . . . will blame Iran, Hizballah, and Syria for the incident, and say they are responsible for the mess.

But Israel needs to take rapid action to minimize damage. It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep up its offensive actions to the north, mainly in Syria. If that action is curtailed, Israel’s national security will be compromised. . . . No one in Israel, and certainly not in the IDF or the Israel Air Force, wants Russia—which until now hasn’t cared much about Israel’s actions—to turn hostile, and Israel needs to do everything to prevent that from happening. Even if that means limiting its actions for the time being. . . . Still, make no mistake: Russia is angry and has to explain its actions to its people. Israel will need to walk a thin line between protecting its own security interests and avoiding a very unwanted clash with Russia.

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More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war