In the Syrian Civil War, ISIS claims legitimacy as the leader of the Sunni resistance against Bashar Assad’s murderous regime. For his part, Assad strives to convince the world that only he can stand against ISIS, and so should be forgiven his butchery and re-legitimized in the name of realpolitik. But new figures, reported by NBC, suggest that neither is spending the majority of their time fighting the other:
Around 64 percent of verifiable ISIS attacks in Syria this year targeted other non-state groups, an analysis of the IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center’s (JTIC) database showed. Just 13 percent of the militants’ attacks during the same period — the year through Nov. 21 — targeted Syrian security forces. That’s a stark contrast to the Sunni extremist group’s operations in Iraq, where more than half of ISIS attacks (54 percent) were aimed at security forces.
Meanwhile, the Assad regime’s decisions provide a mirror image of this:
JTIC’s data shows that [the regime’s] counterterrorism operations — more than two-thirds of which were airstrikes — skew heavily towards groups whose names aren’t ISIS. Of 982 counterterrorism operations for the year up through Nov. 21, just 6 percent directly targeted ISIS.
Both Assad and ISIS stand to benefit from what Lenin used to call “heightening the contradictions”—removing all available moderates to force those left to choose between two determined, extremist forces. This is not unlike the choice the Egyptian military government is keen on (and has historically been successful in) fostering, where, by suppressing liberal moderates, it leaves itself as the only alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood.The Assad-ISIS assault may well succeed, since the U.S. has left it to the eleventh hour to even begin arming other Syrian forces in a serious way. As a result, as Yeats wrote, “the centre cannot hold… The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.”