IS scores ‘op­por­tunis­tic’ wins

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

The Syr­ian regime’s all-out of­fen­sive to re­cap­ture Aleppo en­abled the Is­lamic State group to re­gain ter­ri­tory else­where, in­clud­ing the his­toric city of Palmyra, and has dimmed prospects of de­feat­ing the ji­hadists, ex­perts say. “The re­sources de­ployed (by Da­m­as­cus and its al­lies) to re­take Aleppo have al­lowed IS to claim a se­ries of op­por­tunis­tic vic­to­ries” in Syria, said Charles Lister of the US think-tank Middle East In­sti­tute.

Dur­ing the as­sault by Syr­ian, Rus­sian and Ira­nian forces on rebels in eastern Aleppo, IS ji­hadists re­cap­tured the his­toric city of Palmyra on Dec 11 af­ter los­ing it in March. “Rus­sia and Syria pri­or­i­tized the de­feat of the op­po­si­tion in Aleppo city over the de­fense of Palmyra from IS, ul­ti­mately en­hanc­ing the threat posed by Salafi­ji­hadist groups in both north­ern and eastern Syria,” Jonathan Maut­ner of the In­sti­tute for the Study of War (ISW) wrote on the Wash­ing­ton-based think-tank’s blog.

He said the re­cap­ture of Palmyra high­lighted “the in­abil­ity of pro-regime forces to es­tab­lish se­cu­rity across the en­tire coun­try with­out sus­tained sup­port from Rus­sia and Iran, notwith­stand­ing their re­cent suc­cess in Aleppo city”.

IS ‘the Big Win­ner’

IS “ap­pears the big win­ner from the fall of Aleppo,” said Jean-Pierre Filiu, a pro­fes­sor at the Paris School of In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs. Not only did the group re­cap­ture Palmyra, its pro­pa­ganda ben­e­fit­ted from “in­ter­na­tional pas­siv­ity in the face of Aleppo’s suf­fer­ing”, which en­cour­aged the group’s fol­low­ers to launch at­tacks one af­ter the other in Jordan and Ger­many, he said. A shoot­ing ram­page in the Jor­da­nian city of Karak left 10 dead on Sun­day, the day be­fore 12 peo­ple were killed in the truck at­tack on a Christ­mas mar­ket in Ber­lin. The main sus­pect, Anis Amri, was shot dead in Italy on Fri­day.

Still, IS con­trols only half the ter­ri­tory it seized in 2014 in Iraq and Syria, with its heav­i­est de­feats com­ing this year at the hands of coali­tion forces. In north­ern Syria, IS lost Kobane and Min­bej, as well as Dabiq, a town of ma­jor sym­bolic im­por­tance to the ji­hadists be­cause ac­cord­ing to a Sunni prophecy, it will be the site of an apoc­a­lyp­tic bat­tle be­tween Mus­lim and Chris­tian armies.

Al-Bab, its strong­hold north of Aleppo, is un­der at­tack by Tur­key, which launched an of­fen­sive four months ago to chase IS from its south­ern bor­der. But the ji­hadists still con­trol Raqa, the Syr­ian cap­i­tal of their self-pro­claimed “caliphate”. They also con­trol the banks of the Euphrates river all the way to the bor­der with Iraq. Af­ter the bat­tle of Aleppo, “there is a de-facto divi­sion of Syria in two, with the Rus­sians in the west and the Amer­i­cans in the east,” a Euro­pean diplo­mat said. Mos­cow is ex­pected to con­tinue sup­port­ing the regime of Pres­i­dent Bashar AlAs­sad to re­cap­ture ter­ri­tory from the Syr­ian rebels, while Wash­ing­ton con­tin­ues its fight against IS. “The Rus­sians want to re­cap­ture ‘use­ful’ Syria and leave the ‘IS-land’ quag­mire to the West,” the diplo­mat said. On Dec 14, US Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Stephen Townsend, who com­mands the air cam­paign of the anti-IS coali­tion, said that if the Rus­sians do not try to re­take Palmyra, the US-led coali­tion would “do what we need to do”. — AFP

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