Hassan Hassan writes: Two recent developments in the region appear to have caused more damage to ISIL’s popularity and relevance than nine months of air strikes and battles in Iraq and Syria.
The first is the Syrian rebels’ recent victories against Al Assad regime in northern, central and southern Syria. In the past four months, the anti-government forces have assumed control of key military bases (Wadi Al Dhaif, Hamidiya, Brick Factory), a provincial capital (Idlib), a strategic town (Jisr Al Shughour) and several villages in Hama. In the perception of many, ISIL is a has-been. In other words, the rebels have stolen ISIL’s thunder.
But make no mistake, ISIL remains capable of holding on to its territory for years. Even so, it’s worth noting reports from the ground that the group is losing some of its appeal among new recruits. The appeal of ISIL is multifaceted and the fight against it should capitalise on any trend, no matter how insignificant, to undermine the group.
Several people inside Syria have told me that ISIL started to lose some of its sympathisers after the rebels swept through significant regime bases in recent months. Jamal Khashoggi, the prominent writer from Saudi Arabia, has spoken of the same trend on Twitter.
The second development that is damaging to ISIL is the campaign against the Houthi rebels in Yemen and the way that people across the region are reacting to it. There is a decided drop in positive mentions of the group. Those who once subtly cheered for ISIL have shifted to enthusiastic support for the campaign against what they perceive as Iranian proxies in Yemen. This attitude is discerned in that section of the region’s population that believes in ISIL’s political project. The energy that often favours ISIL has shifted towards something else, at a time when ISIL is losing ground to Iranian-backed Shia militias in Iraq. [Continue reading…]