With support from Iran and Syria, the Islamic State might be here to stay

Arabic commentators say Tehran and Damascus have done little to stem Islamic State's successes.

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Doing the rounds of tele­vision news channels reveals that about one-third of all reports revolve around the Islamic State organisation, noted the columnist Turki Al Dakheel in the Abu Dhabi-based daily Al Ittihad.

The Islamic State, formerly known as ISIL, has taken terrorism to a new extreme compared to which Al Qaeda seems “moderate”.

The organisation has quickly gained in power and momentum to become the most prominent threat to the Middle East. By no means will the story of the Islamic State be a short one. Everything seems to indicate that it is here to stay, he said.

In trying to decipher the mysterious organisation’s mission and objectives, several issues come to light that require clarification – not least of which is the varying impact it has had on the different parties to wide-ranging conflicts in the region.

A recent statement on the issue by the Iranian defence minister, Hossein Dehghan, was especially intriguing, Al Dakheel noted.

While European countries, Jordan, the Gulf States, Iraq and almost every other country in the world perceives the terrorist organisation as the real threat to reckon with, the Iranian official stated that the Islamic State doesn’t pose a threat to the Islamic Republic.

“Such an assurance by Iran gives weight to conjectures about a possible association between Iran and ISIL,” the writer said. “Iran doesn’t only support Shiite movements, as many believe. It has supported the Zaidi Houthis in Yemen, it supported Sunni Hamas ... It continues to support Shiite Hizbollah while it opposes other Shiite parties that oppose its politics, such as the Azerbaijan Shiites,” he wrote.

The Islamic State was born out of pandemonium that followed the so-called Arab Spring. “It grew under the auspices of the Assad regime in Syria, which set its leaders free from prison and hasn’t moved to confront them until now, and after the US decision to strike them in Iraq,” noted the columnist Tareq Al Homayed in the London-based daily Asharq Al Awsat.

It is clear that Bashar Al Assad is trying to reap the benefits of his investment in the Islamc State to support his claim of fighting against extremism and terrorism. This has been his play since the beginning of the uprising against his regime.

“In fact, Mr Al Assad never confronted ISIL in the past. He remained neutral towards them, waiting, allowing them to grow and weaken all other opposition groups. And here he is today attempting to exploit the international fear of ISIL for his own interests,” the writer suggested.

The Syrian president’s modus operandi is no longer a secret. He has used it in the past in Lebanon and Iraq and with various extremist groups.

He had facilitated the infiltration of Al Qaeda’s militants into Iraq via Syrian territories and perpetrated the assassination of the Lebanese former prime minister Rafik Hariri, and much more, said Al Homayed.

“Most probably this time the Syrian president Al Assad wanted to turn the table on the Americans, especially that the US attitude vis-à-vis the crisis in Syria is that the latter has become a focal point for extremism and it would be easier to let extremists wear themselves out, along with Iran, in battles,” the writer explained.

Mr Al Assad has long been manoeuvring to turn this idea to his own benefit.

He is allowing the Islamic State to fight Al Nusra, giving him more leeway to hit the Free Syrian Army and finish off his opposers, all the while presenting himself to the world as a victim.

Either his opponents destroy each other or he succeeds in exploiting a moment of major political transformation in the region to pounce on his enemies with support from the international community, Al Homayed argued in conclusion.

Translated by Racha Makarem