Yep. He loves them. It’s like a romantic comedy. Think of Assad as an awkward widower played by Hugh Grant or Tom Hanks and ISIS as a hot quirky girl played by Jennifer Anniston. At first the couple hate each other and seem to have nothing in common. Snarky comments are made and arguments had in elevators. Then they gradually start to see each other’s good qualities. Then they realize they can’t live without each other and say thing like “You complete me” while eating ice-cream on a pier.
Assad’s relationship with Islamic fundamentalist groups has long been a complex one. More complex than that between Michael Jackson’s surviving relatives or the relationship between those Kardashian people.
As we know his regime openly supported Islamists in decades gone by in an attempt to channel opposition energy into religious rather than political direction.
Then in a post 9/11 world he cooperated with the west in “renditions” etc against terrorist groups. Which is code for imprisoning teenagers in metal boxes just because they once sent an e-mail to Allah. Pretty soon after that Herr Assad sorta kinda changed tack by supporting the insurgency against the US.
The latest expression of this deeply conflicted relationship is the undeniable fact that ISIS is now the best thing to happen to the Assad regime since they discovered that they could water-board and electrocute people at the same time or found out that once chemical weapons have passed their expiry date they are much much cheaper.
Less than a year ago Assad was on the ropes. The international community was solidly arrayed against him. He was a pariah facing an air war at the hands of the West.
Those same airforces are now about to start attacking ISIS to effectively function as his ally.
Somehow he has been saved by the rise of a force even worse than a creepily-moustached, genocidal, criminally-insane, Hitler-ish nutcase.
Had the Syrian opposition been more moderate, pretty much everyone apart from Iran and Russia would have been pouring resources into them like a drunk Saudi in a French casino, and the West would have been bombing the holy shit out of them. Mr and Mrs Assad were in real danger of ending their days hiding in a hole in the ground in a manner popularized by a well-known Libyan gentleman.
Which may be by why absolutely the LAST thing Assad wants is to defeat ISIS. Indisputably the best thing for the weird Mr Assad is for ISIS to NOT be defeated but at the same time NOT to be victorious. He needs ISIS to kinda stay exactly as successful as they are now. No more and no less.
Ways it seems Assad is aiding ISIS:
1) Buying oil from ISIS. The above may explain why the Syrian regime is happy to buy oil from ISIS even though this money is used to buy all sorts of fancy-pants weaponry used to fight Assad’s troops and probably loads of very expensive sandals too.
2) Releasing ISIS fighters. The regime has inexplicably released large amounts of trained fighters under various schemes described as amnesty etc. This is odd behaviour for a genocidal police state.
3) Not bombing ISIS very much. As quoted in the Telegraph:
“Rebels both inside and outside ISIS also say they believe the regime targeted its attacks on non-militant groups, leaving ISIS alone. “We were confident that the regime would not bomb us,” an ISIS defector, who called himself Murad, said. “We always slept soundly in our bases.”
The Free Syrian forces have constantly suggested that large conspicuous ISIS bases have been left blatantly un-bombed while small moderate camps were blasted into tiny fragments of person, charred goat and blackened sand.
4) Military cooperation. The Syrian National Coalition has repeatedly claimed that “several field commanders of the al-Qaeda affiliate were former military or intelligence officers of the Syrian army” and that these “commanders are coordinating military operations with the Assad’s forces, providing them with information about rebel fighters and facilitating the recapture of areas previously controlled by the rebel Free Syrian Army”
So in a deeply strange turn of events, Assad and ISIS are locked in a deeply strange and profoundly symbiotic relationship.
Proving that sometimes my enemy’s enemy is my fucking enemy.
Love is a funny business.