Portraits of Putin, Assad, Khamenei and Nasrallah in Aleppo -via Twitter
In a TV interview on a Syrian state TV channel, Secretary of the Syrian Parliament Khaled Abboud alluded that the government has been redirecting the Islamic State (Isis)’s attacks, “The Syrian security establishment and the Syrian intelligence services have infiltrated these networks [Islamic State and other militant groups in Syria].” He added, “Why have there been no bombings in Damascus? But there have been attacks on Turkish cities [instead],” he said, hinting at the link between the infiltration of Isis and the absence of attacks on the capital, which is the government’s stronghold.
Abboud’s statement has understandably supported the argument among many Syria observers that the Assad regime may have helped create ISIS and kept it in power. Abboud’s claim, however, is not entirely accurate. In January 2016, Isis killed at least 60 people in a triple suicide bomb attack near the holiest Shia shrine in the Syrian capital of Damascus. In other words, Abboud’s claim is factually incorrect.
Nonetheless, regardless of the myth or truth behind Abboud’s assertion, his words should be taken with caution. The focus should be on its aim; not its factuality.
The reason for this is that after neutralizing all Arab patrons, Assad and his allies are now focusing on Turkey, the remaining backer of the Syrian opposition. Abboud’s words are not being said in isolation, but are part of a collective charm offensive by Assad and his allies that is aimed at Turkey. This follows the ceasefire plan for all of Syria mediated by Turkey and Russia.
Prior to Abboud’s remarks, as I wrote in my latest piece, and a day after Assad’s Syrian government declared it had regained full control of the Syrian city of Aleppo, Hezbollah leader and Assad’s partner in the Syrian civil war, Hassan Nasrallah, delivered a speech that reflected a conciliatory stance towards Turkey, and roundly condemned ISIS’s brutal murder of Turkish soldiers.
Assad and Co. are watching Turkey carefully and sensing its emerging vulnerability and confusion. With 2017 just 75 minutes old, a gunman opened fire on New Year revelers at Istanbul’s iconic Reina club, killing at least 39 people. Isis claimed responsibility for the mass shooting. That was not the first time the terror group attacked Turkey. Last June, gunmen armed with Kalashnikovs and suicide vests, stormed the entrance to Istanbul’s Atatürk airport, killing 36 people and injuring 147. Turkey blamed ISIS for that attack. Last December, Isis militants released a video purporting to show two captured Turkish soldiers being burned alive. Moreover, Isis in its latest magazine directly targets Turkish President Erdogan, and encourages assassination in Turkey.
The Turkish response to the Isis offensive was puzzling and alarming. Turkish President Erdogan accused the U.S.-led coalition fighting in in Iraq and Syria of supporting the Islamic State Isis, an accusation that was vehemently denied by the American administration. This accusation, however, has been received warmly in Damascus and encouraged the current charm offensive towards Turkey by Assad and his allies.
Currently, Turkey is the most effective patron of the opposition groups. Therefore, for the pro-Assad quartet (Assad, Hezbollah, Iran, and Russia), neutralizing Turkey even partially is a must step that can enhance the regime’s survival. They are pursuing that goal by hyping their intelligence ability, and feeding inaccurate information to their Turkish counterparts. This is aimed at compounding Turkish paranoia and encouraging Turkey to drift away, even from the United States.
It is rather ironic that the same Assad officials who lied repeatedly about the Syrian revolution are now taking Isis seriously. The Assad regime’s access to Isis is not exclusive. While it is probably safe to assume that Syrian intelligence has at least attempted to infiltrate Isis, it is doubtful that this infiltration is effective or reliable. Turkey and other western intelligence agencies have also probably infiltrated the group.
Within the Syrian dirty war, there is possibly a dirtier intelligence war going on that we may not know about until decades in the future. With all left said and done, Abboud’s words should be taken with a huge pinch of salt. Behind the gloating hype is a propaganda war___ a tool that has been used effectively for years by Assad and his allies.