It should have been known that when the Arab uprisings spilled over into Syria, dealing with such an oppressive regime and cunning structure would require a common understanding and an intelligence comparable to the mindset Damascus is known for.
The result of the miscalculations is the harbinger of how this century may turn out. According to UN figures, nearly 200,000 people have been killed, 2.6 million have fled the country and more than 6.5 million people are internally displaced.
The regime in Damascus certainly has played its cards well. It has successfully diverted attention away from itself, as the world’s priority is now the battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), which a senior Western diplomat described to the Guardian as “the most capable military power now in the Middle East outside Israel.”
ISIL extremists have now been moving to secure a channel between Iraq and Lebanon, by trying to conquer Marea, between Aleppo and the Turkish border, as reported by the Observer yesterday, in “a campaign that will have huge ramifications for Turkey.”
History should have taught us that underestimating Damascus would be very costly.
“ISIS’s role in Syria fits into a plan that has worked for Assad on several occasions,” wrote Bassam Barabandi, a former senior Syrian diplomat, who recently shared his “deep insider” knowledge in the Atlantic.
He continued, “When a crisis emerges, Assad pushes his opponents to spend as much time as possible on developing a response. While implementing such diplomatic stalls, he floods the crisis with distractions designed to divert attention away from Syrian government’s misdeeds. His favorite diversion is terrorism, because it establishes him as a necessary force to contain it. In the meantime, world events wash away international focus on the initial crisis.
“The Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) emerged as one of those facts created to ensure Assad’s survival as he and his Iranian backers seek to frame this conflict as a regional sectarian issue, with a classic choice between military powers and Sunni extremists… The Assad plan also included allowing extremist Sunni groups to grow and travel freely in order to complicate any Western support for his opponents.
“The Assad regime and Iran have meticulously nurtured the rise of al-Qaeda, and then ISIS, in Syria. In his March 2011 speech addressing the protests, Assad claimed that an international terrorist conspiracy sought to topple his government. During this time, Assad released battle-hardened extremists from the infamous Sednaya prison, extremists who had no association with the uprisings. These fighters would go on to lead militant groups such as ISIS and the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra.
“Now that ISIS has fully matured, the Assad regime and Iran offer themselves as partners to the United States… US coordination with Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, or the Assad government in the fight against ISIS will play directly into the Assad plan. It will prove to Assad that his manipulation of time and terror has once again worked.”
Others argue now that the world should have paid more attention to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who in an Op-Ed piece in New York Times last September wrote that “mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria?”
Given the situation in Ukraine, his sincerity is doubtful. But, one has to give it to Moscow, which over decades developed a keen understanding of implementing mutual utilization to achieve its goals.
Regardless of how and why, Turkey now stands out as the next area for the “ISIL-contagion” of violence and I agree with Patrick Cockburn, of the Independent, who suggests an immediate closure of what we call the “jihadist highways” from Turkey into Syria. But how can Ankara, which is also being held captive politically by ISIL as it holds 49 Turkish people hostage, make a U-turn from its “regime changer” stance and control a very long border?
This is the primary question that will be a huge test of credibility for the team of President-elect Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the presumptive next prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, when they take up their new posts.