The choices in Syria are narrowed

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

Categories: Asia, Foreign affairs, History, Iraq, Middle East, Military history, Syria, World news

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7 replies

  1. Great post, lakeviewpilgrim. Events have moved so rapidly in Syria over the last year that I lost a feel for the situation. These two Syria experts bring us up to date with these sober perspectives.

    The obvious losers here are the Syrian people. I don’t believe that the cavalry will show up any time soon to save the day. No major player in their right mind wants to become involved in this mess. Americans certainly don’t–with the exception of the neocons and a minority of liberal interventionists. In the beginning I would have supported Western invention; now it would clearly be suicidal.

    From a strategic viewpoint, the best policy for the Western nations would be to keep the playing field level between ISIS and Assad: let the monsters slowly grind each other into the dust.


    • It is the Sryian people and those in Iraq that have seen the death, destruction caused by war, struggle for power, land by the sectarian groups such as ISIS.

      I too think the average person in the US, though horrified by the death of Mr. Foley, have no taste for a US miitary response in Syria.
      Obama is threading a needle with our respone in Northern Iraq.
      I hope he does the same thing with dealing with ISIS and Assad in Syria.

      The article does purpose that things are much simpler today than a year ago. It is a showdown between Assad and ISIS.
      Both Europe and the ME talk about needing to to defeat ISIS.
      I figure in a month or more the strategic interest of these countries will lead them to respone in some fashion.

      i do not think they can now just let the two grind each other to dust.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t know how ISIS can be defeated militarily. These are the same Sunni militia that attacked American troops in Iraq for ten years. We put them on our payroll and declared a de facto truce with them just like Assad. The famous, much lauded “surge” of American forces late in our occupation of Iraq accomplished nothing–the Sunni insurgents took our payoffs and went into hiding. When U.S. forces left Iraq they immediately reorganized.

    ISIS is more of an ideology than it is a coherent fighting force. They don’t wear uniforms as such; when challenged militarily they simply blend into the civilian population. Iraq was in fact just another Vietnam: How do you fight an enemy that you can’t identify?

    When French forces invaded Mali last year, the fighters of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb either blended into local populations, or fled into hiding in neighboring countries. The French are now bogged down in North Africa, just as we were in Iraq, frantically searching for terrorists.

    Also, Europe is heavily dependent upon Russian natural gas supplies and Assad is an important Russian ally. European countries are also much more vulnerable as targets of Islamic terrorist groups than the United States. To say that the situation in Syria is “simpler” today than it was a year ago is not to say that the international relations involved are simple. It’s a relative term. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good evening,
      Outside of the article from ABC news, I think the MSM has focused on the Syria /Iraq in the context of what the US did wrong under Bush, what Obama is not doing depending upon one’s political ideology.
      I find your great link to the SyriaComments blog site so helpful to me to try to wrap my mind around the root causes of the rise of ISIL and the destruction of nation states of Iraq and Syria for the foreseeable future.
      I also find the irony on the 100 year annivesary of WWI when these nations states were craved into the landscape by the victors are irrelevant in this current crises for all pratical purposes.

      Your point about the Sunni insurgents in the recent history in Iraq is spot on.
      Here is a article linked in a comment on the SC today. The writer is a Syrian
      scholar living in the diaspora .

      You are correct that my use of simple was only to the actions of the two major players within Syria : Assad forces and ISIS.

      International relations or alliances among other nations is indeed complex and will be part of any coordinated action going forward. I am also a pragmatist, and the currents of self interests will flow to reach a new status quo.

      I am at heart more interested in history than the complexity of foreign policy .
      So my curiosity takes me to trying to understand the presuppostions of the players at hand.

      There was one posted comment that struck me in the responses to the linked article of Hassan Hassan.
      The comment was a quote from someone who replied to the question,”Did the French Revolution succeed?. The answer was, It is too early to tell.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • This is fascinating stuff, isn’t it?

        I think the reason that President Obama hasn’t had an effective policy toward Syria is because there isn’t one. I’ve been reading headlines about how we might decide that supporting Assad is our best option. Seriously? And he’s better than ISIS because why? We’re better off with Stalin than Hitler? Well, I suppose that might be kind of true on some level. Lol.

        The world would do better to concentrate on finding viable solutions for the Syrian refugee crisis. Consider the historical consequences of the world’s failure to the address the plight of Palestinian refugees.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I think the world is getting to the critical mass stage where it can no longer ignore the Syria civil war that is showcasing IS and its barbarism, the growing refugee crises, and its strategic importance to the whole region.
          I do think in weeks, or a few months, the regional leaders along with European leaders and the US will move forward, but beyond military respone, how does support look like in a rebuilding of a failed nation state when the main actor, Assad ,is still on the stage?

          Liked by 1 person

          • I’d like to believe that you are right, and that the world will finally act to resolve the Syrian crisis. But neither Assad nor ISIS have any intention of relinquishing their claim to what’s left of Syria. That’s a bit of a problem.

            If we’ve learned anything from our misadventure in Iraq it should be the danger of creating a power vacuum. The Bush administration is directly responsible for having unleashed ISIS on the world when it toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein with no thought given at all as to what would replace it.

            I would agree that the Obama administration missed a vital opportunity early on when it failed to adequately organize and empower the great mass of defectors from the regime to form a more coherent opposition.


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