How the Syrian Government Kept Islamic State in Business

When the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad launched his bloody war against his own people in 2011, there were those who contended that, unpleasant as the Assad regime was, it was the only viable alternative to letting the country be taken over by terrorists. (This argument ignored Damascus’s support for Hizballah, or the fact that, at the time, it provided Hamas with its home base.) Vladimir Putin later seized upon this reasoning to justify Russia’s intervention in the war. With the rise of Islamic State (IS), this logic was taken one step further: the U.S. should make common cause with Assad’s patron, the Islamic Republic of Iran, to defeat the new terrorist threat. Matthew Levitt tells a very different story:

The regime of Bashar al-Assad consistently supported Islamic State when the group controlled significant amounts of territory, even as the regime struggled to retake control of Syrian territory from various rebel groups engaged in the Syrian civil war, including IS. One key tactic of the regime’s strategy was to focus its military efforts against the moderate Syrian rebel groups opposing the Assad dictatorship, in particular the Free Syrian Army, and not the Islamic State group.

It is, [moreover], inconceivable that Syrian intelligence could have assisted, facilitated, or tolerated IS operatives, [as it indeed did], without prior decision-making at the highest levels of the Syrian government. The Syrian regime made this strategic decision to enable and facilitate the continued survival of Islamic State in Syria in an effort to paint all of the Syrian opposition as “terrorists.”

One reason the Assad regime may have elected not to target IS positions in eastern Syria was the regime’s business dealings with the organization. The U.S. State Department has stated unequivocally that “the Syrian regime has purchased oil from IS through various intermediaries, adding to the terrorist group’s revenue.” . . . The Syrian regime also supported the financing of IS by allowing Syrian banks to continue to function and to provide financial services within IS-held territory. . . . [It] also looked the other way and allowed IS to conduct financial transactions through informal financial networks. [The] financial networks in question were not insignificant, making the Syrian government’s decision not to act against them, even once their activities became public, all the more galling.

Read more at Lawfare

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


While Israel Is Distracted on Two Fronts, Iran Is on the Verge of Building Nuclear Weapons

Iran recently announced its plans to install over 1,000 new advanced centrifuges at its Fordow nuclear facility. Once they are up and running, the Institute for Science and International Security assesses, Fordow will be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for three nuclear bombs in a mere ten days. The U.S. has remained indifferent. Jacob Nagel writes:

For more than two decades, Iran has continued its efforts to enhance its nuclear-weapons capability—mainly by enriching uranium—causing Israel and the world to concentrate on the fissile material. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently confirmed that Iran has a huge stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent, as well as more enriched to 20 percent, and the IAEA board of governors adopted the E3 (France, Germany, UK) proposed resolution to censure Iran for the violations and lack of cooperation with the agency. The Biden administration tried to block it, but joined the resolution when it understood its efforts to block it had failed.

To clarify, enrichment of uranium above 20 percent is unnecessary for most civilian purposes, and transforming 20-percent-enriched uranium to the 90-percent-enriched product necessary for producing weapons is a relatively small step. Washington’s reluctance even to express concern about this development appears to stem from an unwillingness to acknowledge the failures of President Obama’s nuclear policy. Worse, writes Nagel, it is turning a blind eye to efforts at weaponization. But Israel has no such luxury:

Israel must adopt a totally new approach, concentrating mainly on two main efforts: [halting] Iran’s weaponization actions and weakening the regime hoping it will lead to its replacement. Israel should continue the fight against Iran’s enrichment facilities (especially against the new deep underground facility being built near Natanz) and uranium stockpiles, but it should not be the only goal, and for sure not the priority.

The biggest danger threatening Israel’s existence remains the nuclear program. It would be better to confront this threat with Washington, but Israel also must be fully prepared to do it alone.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy