Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan write: For more than two years, one region in Syria—the south—has managed to push back the so-called Islamic State’s incessant attacks and meticulous planning. But that situation might be quietly changing with the recent capture al-Qaryatain. It’s a town in Homs province that is roughly equidistant from the ancient city of Palmyra, which the terror army took in late May, and Damascus. Most of the estimated 40,000 inhabitants, many of them internally displaced persons from other areas of Syria, fled. Another 230 — including 30 Assyrian Christians — have been reportedly captured. Hundreds of Assyrian families have also fled the neighboring town of Sadad in fear.
The failure of ISIS to establish a presence in southern Syria has been largely thanks to the preemptive action taken by groups operating in that region. Elsewhere in the war-ravaged country, rival rebels have succumbed to ISIS by ignoring the group’s characteristic method of divide and conquer: by deploying sleeper cells which infiltrate opposition-held areas and cultivate locals such that towns and villages go over to ISIS well in advance of any military blitzkrieg. The “civil war within a civil war” that has categorized the latter-half of the Syrian conflict has been won and lost on the basis of counterintelligence. ISIS has proved more adept when it comes to both dispatching spies and informants and weeding them out. Many rebels have proved disastrously ill-equipped — or simply too corrupt — to forestall ISIS’s creeping takeovers of their territory. At least this has been the case in northern Syria.
In the south, anti-ISIS forces have proved more vigilant. [Continue reading…]