Assad tries to force the West to choose between regime and ISIS

The Wall Street Journal reports: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his inner circle are engaged in a high-stakes gamble for the future of their fractured nation, betting Russian attacks on rebel positions will shift momentum in the conflict and shore up support from their core constituency.

Russia’s intervention is lending credence to what is widely believed to be Mr. Assad’s ultimate aim: Leave only one opponent in the multisided war—Islamic State—and force the West to choose between the extremist group and his regime.

Jubilant Assad loyalists have boasted that Moscow’s expanded involvement has foiled more than four years of efforts by the West and its allies to dislodge the strongman by backing Syria’s more-moderate armed opposition. The U.S. and its Western allies have said Russian airstrikes are primarily targeting these rebels, and not Islamic State.

“The heroic and extraordinary move by our friends in the Russian Federation will create a new history and geography for the region,” Faisal al-Mekdad, Syria’s deputy foreign minister, said on state television late Wednesday. “This is a transitional period, not for us, but for those in the enemy camp. It is they who will make the shift,” he added, referring to the U.S. and its Arab allies. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: Islamic State militants advanced against rival insurgents in wide swaths of Aleppo province Friday, activists and local media said, as Russia ramped up its campaign to recapture rebel-held territory for the Syrian government.

In a surprise advance — marking some of the Islamic State’s biggest gains in recent months — jihadists routed Syrian rebels from at least five villages and threatened the outskirts of Aleppo city, Syria’s second-largest city, activists said. [Continue reading…]

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