Obama’s rapprochement with Iran and its Middle East allies has produced an incredibly sinister new twist in the Syrian war as it enters its fifth year. The atrocity-ridden conflict finds 16,000 Palestinians trapped in horrible conditions in the Yarmouk refugee camp of Damascus and beset by two enemies: the Islamic State and the President Bashar Assad’s army.
The world has been shown three players in the vicious Yarmouk contest: The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, whose jihadis are slashing through the refugee camp and massacring its Palestinian inmates, the second player, and the Syrian army, the third, which appears to be fighting to keep the Islamists from reaching central Damascus. The camp lies 8.5 km from Assad’s presidential palace.
The Islamists are usually presented as fighting to settle a score with the camp’s inmates, because the Hamas majority is aligned with Iran and Hizballah, ISIS’s deadliest foes.
But even this evil scenario is not crazy enough to cover the new patchwork of alliances revealed here by debkafile’s military and intelligence sources.
Syrian troops were actually directed by Assad to open the roads to Damascus and give the Islamists a free path to their Palestinian victims. This saved ISIS the need to detach substantial strength from other fronts for its Yarmouk operation.
ISIS is winning its cheapest victory yet as a result of a secret understanding reached by the Syrian president with the Islamists’ leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, which evolved from their covert partnership in the oil and gas fields of eastern Syria.
When Al Baghdadi captured 90 percent of those fields last year, Assad was short of military strength to dislodge the invaders without diluting the forces fighting on more important strategic fronts, such as Damascus, the capital, Deraa in the South and Aleppo in the north. So the Syrian ruler cold-bloodedly negotiated an understanding with the ISIS caliph on four points:
1. The Syrian army and air force would abstain from attacking ISIS positions and also refrain from any effort to recapture the fields.
2. ISIS would pump out the oil and gas and transfer these products to Damascus, which would then use its distribution facilities to sell the fuel on the black market after retaining a portion for domestic consumption.
3. Damascus and the Islamists would share out the revenue between them. Last year, ISIS was earning $2-4 million a day, an income which went far toward bankrolling the terrorist group’s war operations.
4. Syrian power stations would keep Islamist bases supplied with electricity.
The Syrian ruler then decided, our sources report, to build on this alliance as an opportunity for another move: The outsourcing of some of his war challenges. The plan was for Assad to control from afar the action conducted by the jihadis without having to put Syrian boots on the ground.
The Yarmouk operation was the first tryout of Assad’s battlefield ties with the Islamists.
The Syrian ruler had three goals in mind when he targeted the Palestinians:
(a) To show his closest allies Iran and Hizballah that he was not totally reliant on them for war support, but retained a free hand to fight on without them. (b) To punish the Palestinian Hamas, which rules the Yarmouk camp, for withholding its support from his regime during the entire civil war.
Hamas needed to understand that the group’s reconciliation with Tehran and Hizballah did not count as absolution in Damascus. Assad had a separate accounting of his own with the Palestinian extremists.
(c) Assad gained a new lease of life from Washington’s turnabout toward recognizing the legitimacy of his presidency (signaled by US Secretary of State John Kerry’s acceptance of Bashar Assad as part of any peace moves for Syria). He also exploited US acceptance of Iran’s expansionist designs in the region as a point in his favor.
The Syrian ruler decided he felt confident enough to make the Palestinians his high card in his games with Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. Assad wanted them all to understand that he was riding high enough to control the fate of the Palestinians: It was up to him to decide whether to save them or throw them to the wolves – which he did by letting ISIS loose against them.