How the Syrian Government Helped Create Islamic State

July 23 2021

According to apologists of Bashar al-Assad, and those they have managed to dupe, he has been making war for the past ten years against terrorists, and any Western attempt to engineer his ouster would be to let the terrorists win. But in fact Assad did much to help Islamic State (IS) come into being, and to keep it alive. Matthew Levitt writes:

One key tactic the Assad regime employed was to focus its military efforts against the moderate Syrian rebel groups opposing the Assad dictatorship, in particular the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and not Islamic State. . . . [Moreover], Syrian intelligence agencies were deeply involved in the Assad regime’s efforts facilitating and providing cover for the terrorist pipeline that ran through Syria into Iraq and helped build up al-Qaeda in Iraq, which later became IS. . . . In fact, this relationships [went] back to 2001-2002.

In May 2011, in the wake of some of the early Arab Spring protests in Syria, the Syrian government began to release hardline Islamist terrorists [from its prisons] in the first of a series of official government amnesties. . . . At the same time, the regime was arresting large numbers of peaceful protestors, students, and human-rights activists. Several of the terrorists released in these first amnesties went on to head Islamist extremist groups in Syria, including Islamic State.

One reason the Assad regime may have elected not to target Islamic State positions in eastern Syria was the regime’s business dealings with the group. The regime purchased oil from Islamic State, and bought wheat from areas under the group’s control, which IS was able to tax, thereby profiting from the transactions with the Assad regime.

While Islamic State remains an insurgent threat in Iraq and Syria, and a global threat as a terrorist network, it no longer controls significant territory and represents a fraction of the threat it once did. But there is no clear global coalitionneither political nor militaryto address the threat posed by the Assad regime, which has killed exponentially more people than Islamic State, facilitated that group’s terrorist activities, and caused population displacement, migration flows, and tremendous regional instability.

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Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Al Qaeda, Bashar al-Assad, ISIS, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy

 

Why the Recent Uptick of Israeli Activity in Syria?

Sept. 23 2022

On September 16 and 17, the IDF carried out airstrikes in the vicinity of Damascus, reportedly aimed at Iranian logistical centers there. These follow on an increase in the frequency of such attacks in recent weeks, which have included strikes on the Aleppo airport on August 31 and September 6. Jonathan Spyer comments:

The specific targeting of the Aleppo airport is almost certainly related to recent indications that Iran is relying increasingly on its “air bridge” to Syria and Lebanon, because of Israel’s successful and systematic targeting of efforts to move weaponry and equipment by land [via Iraq]. But the increased tempo of activity is not solely related to the specific issue of greater use of air transport by Teheran. Rather, it is part of a broader picture of increasing regional tension. There are a number of factors that contribute to this emergent picture.

Firstly, Russia appears to be pulling back in Syria. . . . There are no prospects for a complete Russian withdrawal. The air base at Khmeimim and the naval facilities at Tartus and Latakia are hard strategic assets which will be maintained. The maintenance of Assad’s rule is also a clear objective for Moscow. But beyond this, the Russians are busy now with a flailing, faltering military campaign in Ukraine. Moscow lacks the capacity for two close strategic engagements at once.

Secondly, assuming that some last-minute twist does not occur, it now looks like a return to the [2015 nuclear deal] is not imminent. In the absence of any diplomatic process related to the Iranian nuclear program, and given Israeli determination to roll back Iran’s regional ambitions, confrontation becomes more likely.

Lastly, it is important to note that the uptick in Israeli activity is clearly not related to Syria alone. Rather, it is part of a more general broadening and deepening by Israel in recent months of its assertive posture toward the full gamut of Iranian activity in the region. . . . The increasing scope and boldness of Israeli air activity in Syria reflects this changing of the season.

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Read more at Jonathan Spyer

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syria, War in Ukraine