The features of ISIL Islamic State are rapidly being engraved on the rocks and sands of Iraq and Syria while the whole world is watching almost helplessly. After consolidating its recent territorial gains, ISIL’s menu consists now of the battle of Aleppo followed by the battle for Damascus. There is a high probability that ISIL is also eyeing Homs, even before these two big cities.
In a pattern that has now become familiar, signs of mobilization and infiltration around the two cities have shown a rapid increase recently. We will lay out here the expected dynamics of the battles for the two major Syrian cities and the available ways to avoid their falling under the control of ISIL.
But first, a couple of words about the general context of the confrontations on the ground in Syria.
Syrian army forces are preparing to pull out of Dair Al Zour in their implementation of the dictated Iranian Plan B. This plan, which we described in detail in “Middle East Briefing” of May 11th, is simple: Iran and Hezbollah will not continue footing the bills for Bashar Al Assad’s insistence that he is the President of all Syria. They will restrict their support to the Syrian forces defending defensible areas in the West that is strategically important to them, in order to avoid the current war of attrition.
However, Al Assad prefers to leave the regime’s areas that fall out of the new Iranian lines of demarcation to ISIL, not to the non-ISIL opposition forces. This is a continuation of Assad’s method of focusing on the elimination of the non-ISIL opposition in order to present himself as the only antidote to the terrorist group. Assad hopes that the world will ultimately knock on his doors to ally with him in fighting ISIL.
The retreat of the regime forces creates a new paradigm in the Syrian crisis. The central issue is the vacuum created by the withdrawal of these forces and the nature of the forces that will fill it. There are two contenders here: ISIL and the non-ISIL opposition. But a third force should be helped to play a role–the civil society in these areas.