The military and political significance of Aleppo

Faysal Itani and Hossam Abouzahr write: Retaking Aleppo city would be a substantial win for the regime. Militarily, it would cut off opposition forces south of the city. It would also allow the regime to further isolate opposition forces in nearby Idlib and Hama. Rebel forces in northwestern Syria receive supplies from Turkey through two border crossings: Bab al-Salama in Aleppo province and Bab al-Hawa in Idlib province. If the regime takes Aleppo city, it could then target supply lines between Idlib- and Hama-based insurgents and Turkey. The regime may opt not to take Aleppo now, however, preferring to bomb and besiege it instead. That would simply freeze the Aleppo city frontlines and allow Assad and his allies to deploy fighters and resources elsewhere, including in Idlib and Hama. Regardless, the regime’s strategy will be isolating the opposition into manageable pockets and dealing with each individually.

Crucially, progress in Aleppo will free up resources against the Islamic State (ISIS). It is true that Assad and his allies have always prioritized fighting the insurgency over ISIS. The changing international environment, however, allows for a more sophisticated regime strategy. Despite frequent accusations, the regime and ISIS are not really allies. The regime simply sees the entire conflict through the prism of ensuring its own survival by any means necessary. Throughout the war, this has meant ignoring ISIS or facilitating its war against the rebels. Now, however, the regime would benefit enormously at the international level by clearing the Aleppo area of insurgents and ISIS alike (or following the Aleppo victory with some anti-ISIS wins elsewhere, such as Palmyra). That would demonstrate to the world that it must choose between Assad and ISIS, and that ISIS and the various insurgent groups are one and the same enemy. Considering the West’s singular focus on ISIS and tolerance of the regime, this would actually be a sound strategy. [Continue reading…]

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