In the shifting alliances of the Syrian war, nothing is out of bounds. Still, two incidents this week are worth recording, because they showed, first, that the Islamic State, though defeated and humiliated in Syria, has not lost its teeth, appetite for atrocity or adaptability and, second, that Bashar Assad has no qualms about sleeping with the devil when it suits his schemes.
It so happened that Syrian forces in southeast Syria withdrew from Diyatha from which they had monitored ISIS movements in the vicinity, and moved further west. (See map). The 200,000 Syrian Druze living there had turned down a Syrian government offer to enter Sweida and protect them against the Islamists. No, thanks, said the Druze chiefs. We can defend ourselves. For this show of pride and independence, Assad and the Russians decided to teach the Druze minority a lesson they would not forget. The residents of Diyatha and its environs were deliberately pushed out, allowing ISIS fighters and snipers armed with light weapons to take over Sweida’s outlying towns of Tarba, Rami, Al-Kassib, Al-Ghaza, Shikbi, Shrihi, Mutoni, Swimra, Duma, Tema and Al-Ajailat. When Druze fighters stepped in to save their communities, they found they were too late to prevent a bloodbath. ISIS suicide killers massacred altogether 256 victims, injuring 389 in Sweida city.
DEBKA Weekly rounds off this tale of horror by revealing that the Islamist killers were reported to have been transported by Syrian government forces to the Sweida area from their Yarmouk valley stronghold, which later came under attack. The dead Islamists were identified by papers found on their person.
Then on Wednesday, July 25, the wily ISIS tried another stratagem to relieve its Yarmuk stronghold from a heavy Syrian-Hizballah hammering. The Islamists fired two ground-to-ground Grad rockets south into Israel. They landed in the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret Lake), Israel’s main source of fresh water. The midsummer holidaymakers and swimmers crowding the lake were shocked by wailing sirens and a spume of water gushing over the lake from an exploding rocket. No one was hurt. The ISIS plan was to provoke the IDF into holding Syrian forces responsible for the rocket attack and launching a major operation against them.
But Israel military chiefs were not deceived. Israel guns were accordingly turned on the ISIS-held Yarmouk enclave, for the first time in years, and the rocket launcher destroyed. For this operation Israel received unwanted gratitude from an unexpected source. The Russian armed forces’ command in Syria used communications channels between the two armies to “thank the IDF leadership for killing terrorists and stopping a massive provocation.”