Assad and ISIS need each other to survive

Manuel Almeida writes: The notion that ISIS should be number one priority while the genocidal President of Syria is a matter to be dealt with when and if ISIS is defeated, is deeply flawed for a number of reasons beyond the obvious moral one.

The key to defeat the radical group is a government willing and able to do so and with the capacity to bring on board much of the opposition; all the Assad regime is not. Any Syria expert will tell you Assad has avoided as much as possible to confront ISIS, focusing instead the regime’s military effort on the myriad of opposition groups that are not bent on exporting jihad.

Not only that, Assad has struck deals with ISIS to buy oil and gas on the cheap from the radical group, as highlighted in a recent report by the Financial Times based on interviews with various Syrians employed in the energy sector. Thus, the regime gets the supply of energy to meet its electricity needs while providing a key source of income for the group’s terrorist activities. ISIS controls eight power plants in Syria, including three hydroelectric facilities and Syria’s largest gas plant.

In the early stages of the uprisings against his rule, Assad released hundreds of jihadists from Syria’s jails, contributing to his strategy of portraying the war as an existential battle between secular forces of moderation and fanatic religious militants. Yet for that desperate narrative to have any grounding, it would be necessary to ignore the thousands of groups and sub-groups that form the Sunni opposition. Plus, with Iranian forces and all the Shiite militias from Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan fighting for the regime, Assad can hardly claim to be non-sectarian.

The Assad regime is also responsible for the great majority of civilian casualties, a great portion of which via its incessant campaign of airstrikes on urban areas. This has been part of the strategy to radicalize the opposition and make the urban areas not controlled by the regime are almost unlivable.

Ironically, Assad and ISIS need each other to survive. As Hussein Ibish, a scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington D.C., recently put it: “The key factor in the rise of ISIS in Syria has clearly been its politically symbiotic relationship with the Assad dictatorship in Damascus. On paper, these two entities despise each other and could hardly be more ideologically and politically hostile. Yet in practice, they share an overwhelming interest in ensuring that the conflict in Syria is as brutal and sectarian as possible.” [Continue reading…]

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2 thoughts on “Assad and ISIS need each other to survive

  1. Óscar Palacios

    I wonder why the US hasn’t bombed –destroyed– ISIS’ oil infrastructure. It’s not like they don’t know where it is. They don’t even have to send any aircraft –I’m thinking Ploesti in WWII– missiles would do the trick. Maybe they don’t want to severely compromise Syria’s future by making reconstruction even more expensive and difficult, but considering the extent of the destruction already visited upon that unlucky country, I don’t think that is the case. So the question lingers. I’m still waiting to read a reasonable explanation for this. It seems obvious that if ISIS had no oil revenue (I’ve read that the trade amounts to several million dollars per day), things would be considerably more difficult for them.

  2. Paul Woodward

    This is a reasonable question and I don’t know what the thinking is inside the U.S. administration. It is, however, a complicated issue. Destroying the oil infrastructure wouldn’t just hurt ISIS. It would also hurt ordinary Syrians as the price of fuel increases and availability falls just as winter approaches. This is an example of the many ways in which it has become increasingly hard to hit ISIS without harming the victims of ISIS’s rule.

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