Faced with a common threat, former opponents become unlikely allies.
Speaking at the United Nations on Monday, Syria’s foreign minister said ‘better late than never’; he was referring to Western-led coalition forces acting against ISIL militants in Iraq and Syria.
Yet, going further still, some military and intelligence experts insist that sooner or later the anti-ISIL coalition will be obliged to join up with Bashar al Assad’s men on the ground.
Syria expert Fabrice Balanche, based in Lyon, France, supports this argument.
Balanche, Director of the Mediterranean and Mid-East Research and Study Group at Lyon University II, said: “We have to face up to it today; Assad is well entrenched, has a solid army and his allies Iran and Russia aren’t going to withdraw their backing, as we suggested they should at the beginning [of the war in Syria]. Therefore, this is the only pillar we can lean on to eradicate Daesh [the Arabic acronym for the unrecognised radical entity Islamic State]. We must resolve to maintain the Assad regime, not necessarily renew diplomatic ties, but at least stop trying to get him out.”
The air offensive is very costly.
Balanche talks about million-dollar missiles and 60,000 dollars per hour to keep a plane in the air as inefficient.
Convinced that a complement on the ground is inevitable, some experts say this means dealing with proscribed entities.
According to Balanche: “The only reliable allies we might have in the field are the Syrian Kurds, who also have their hands full fighting Daesh; [but] the Kurds are in the PKK, which is on the US [and EU and NATO] list of terrorist organisations. Then there is Assad’s army, [but] he’s not considered legitimate. Well, there’ll come a time when we’re going to have to talk to these two enemies, if we really want to eradicate Daesh in Syria, because the so-called moderate rebels can’t do it.”
US secretary of State John Kerry has warned that rooting out ISIL could take several years, the enemy not only being the militant group itself but poverty and endemic ignorance.
Balanche said: “There’s a protective framework around civilian populations. If they don’t touch alcohol or smoke, if they abide by Sharia law, they live safely with Islamic State. When the US says, ‘it’s going to take time to eradicate Islamic State’, well absolutely, because first there has to be a swift military response, but after that there has to be a deprogramming of the Salafist mindset, and delivery of justice and security, and a development of these regions’ economies, because they are chronically underdeveloped.”