By Karen Leigh
This weekend the Syrian government reportedly bombed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) targets in Raqqa, the group’s eastern stronghold and the base of operations for its summer offensives on Mosul and Iraqi Kurdistan.
But ISIS has proven to be a powerful and capable opponent. The group has cut through Deir Ezzor province and began to make headway on the outskirts of Aleppo, just as Assad forces have neared the apex of their own siege of the city. As transit hub and center for supply lines from Turkey, Aleppo would be a resource boon for either side that wins it, while providing a springboard from which to launch a military campaign for control of the Syria’s north.
We asked Hassan Hassan, an analyst at the Abu Dhabi research center the Delma Institute and a columnist at the National, and Joshua Landis, editor of Syria Comment and director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, to explain which side has an advantage, and where the first major battle could take place.
Syria Deeply: Who would have the advantage in a battle between the two: ISIS or the regime?
Hassan Hassan: ISIS is a formidable force now, after their Mosul offensive. The regime is capable of taking them on in some areas, but it will be extremely difficult in others. ISIS fighters are preparing for the scenario of a regime attack in areas under their control. The problem with the Syrian regime, as was the case with the Iraqi army, is that they don’t have the military capacity to conduct surgical attacks against ISIS bases.
Syria Deeply: Where might the first battle between ISIS and the regime likely to take place?
Hassan: It would probably be in Aleppo. That’s because with the way ISIS is advancing in rural eastern Aleppo province, it and the regime will very soon be neighbors in some areas. ISIS is advancing on Azaz and other strategic towns near the Turkish border. The regime currently controls the industrial areas of Aleppo, towards the northeast. ISIS will soon be in its backyard.
Syria Deeply: What happens to non-ISIS rebel groups as focus shifts to the ISIS-regime fight?
Joshua Landis: What we’re moving towards, ultimately, is going to be a contest between the Assad regime and ISIS. The rebel militias that have been extraordinarily fragmented and incapable of uniting are going to get squeezed out by these two very brutal but quite capable forces of ISIS and the regime.
By all accounts the Obama administration is pulling its hair out over the question of who to back in Syria, and whether the present policy of backing the moderate rebels is a staying policy. There’s a lot to suggest that it’s not. Because for the last three years the stalemate has zapped the power of both the rebels and the regime, creating a power vacuum in the east. And it’s there that ISIS has been able to incubate without facing any determined opponent.
Read more at ABC News