Syria: the shifting sands

[ by Charles Cameron — two headlines, and one question where the answer may be an unpleasant surprise for AQ ]
.

SPEC Assad x2

I’m certainly not the right person to verify what’s claimed by either of these articles, but for what they’re worth they do indicate two ways in which Assad might be gaining some advantage, one of them fairly overt and the other more covert.

The London Times piece tells us:

Four top rebel commanders in Syria have switched sides to join President Assad’s forces in a further sign of disarray in fragmenting opposition ranks.

The men, from the Free Syrian Army (FSA), are thought to have become disillusioned with an opposition that is becoming increasingly dominated by Islamist factions and alliances. Islamists have been doing much of the recent fighting. There is also a strong sense that the recent gains made by Assad’s forces make it pragmatic for FSA officers to go back to the regime.

That’s what I think of as the overt shift. It’s the covert shift, however, that I find more interesting. The piece in the Australian suggests:

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has infiltrated al-Qa’ida’s fighting force in Syria in a “Machiavellian” plot to divide the opposition and bolster his position, terrorism experts and rebel forces claimed yesterday.

Regime officials are alleged to have penetrated the ranks of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), and helped hundreds of Iraqi Shia fighters to obtain false identity papers so they could enter Syria and fight for the Sunni terror group, according to leaked documents. [ … ]

By secretly enabling ISIS to carry out brutal terrorist attacks, Mr Assad is able to portray the three-year uprising against his rule as a plot by extremists rather than moderate freedom fighters. This puts Western allies in a difficult position, as fears grow that any military assistance to the rebels could end up in the hands of Islamist extremists.

If this report is true, it raises a further question which the article itself doesn’t mention: Once these [pseudo-Sunni] Shia fighters have sufficiently damaged the rep of ISIS, and Assad’s first purpose in sending them has been accomplished, won’t they be both ideally positioned and seriously inclined to turn on their Sunni colleagues in ISIS?

Hundreds of them? Is that phase two of this particular story?

  • Sun Tzu, 1.4: Warfare is one thing. It is a philosophy of deception.
  • Bukhari, 52.269: The Prophet said, “War is deceit.”
  • **

    Sources:

  • Islamist takeover fear drives rebel chiefs back to Assad
  • Assad teams up with al-Qa’ida
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