In Syria, terrorism as an answer and a question
Fighting terrorism and protecting minorities have been the two winning cards the regime have used so skillfully since the beginning of the crisis in Syria
Why isn’t the regime bombing the positions of al-Qaeda-linked insurgent group ISIS? This was the question that a journalist asked to Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi at least 14 times in a video that went viral on social media. Zero is the number of answers he received.
It is the silence of the minister, rather than the insistence of the journalist that is rather surprising.
It is no secret that the regime’s heavy bombing often aiming at civilian neighborhoods in Aleppo, Raqqa and Edleb had not once targeted any of the hundreds of well-known positions of ISIS.
Information about direct military support by bombing sites of other FSA factions allowing ISIS to gain or re-gain control is coming from a growing list of locations. Reports about ISIS detaining thousands of people - including hundreds of journalists and activists hated by the regime - are getting longer every day.
Fighting terrorism and protecting minorities have been the two winning cards the regime have used so skillfully since the beginning of the crisis in SyriaAlia Ibrahim
Long heard rumors about oil deals between the two sides have just been confirmed according to a report published by The Telegraph this week. ISIS is returning the favors. Also this week, activists published a map showing 33 positions that witnessed 51 car bombings by the group.
None of the bombings that killed 400 people including 20 children targeted regime locations. In his press conference on Friday, Lakhdar Ibrahimi considered a question about the relationship between ISIS and the regime inappropriate and declined to answer it. In light of diplomatic sensitivities and his role as a mediator his rejection to delve into the matter is rather understandable. Not that of Zoubi.
This in fact should be one of the main questions that the minister has come most prepared to answer. He should have grabbed the opportunity. After all, fighting terrorism, in addition to protecting minorities are the major points on the agenda of the regime’s negotiating team. “Fighting terrorism is a priority,” this is what the team leader and Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem has been repeating since before the beginning of the talks in Montreux, threatening to leave if “serious talks” don’t start by Saturday.
This is also what his colleague Bouthaya Shaaban said in an interview with Sky News answering a question about how the regime starved, tortured and killed 11,000 of its detainees.
“We have 86 nationalities fighting in Syria,” said an amazed Shaaban who complained about “neocolonialism newly revisiting us” and later in the same interview about how the western Christian world didn’t care about the fate of Christians in Syria.
Shaaban’s performance is in no way new.
Fighting terrorism and protecting minorities have been the two winning cards the regime have used so skillfully since the beginning of the crisis in Syria, when the civil war was still a revolution and terrorism was still a myth. Over time, the regime played a big role turning this lie into reality.
Difficult to prove
Why the regime isn’t bombing the locations of ISIS is not the only question Mouallem and his team should have come prepared to answer. Another imperative subject regards the release of hundreds of fundamentalist detainees, including international “terrorists” from Sidnaya prison, just weeks after the beginning of the revolution.
Even if it remains at this point difficult to prove actual coordination between the regime and at least some of the heads of those factions, it is going to be equally difficult for the regime to claim it is surprised that skilled fundamentalist fighters with experience from Afghanistan and Iraq it has released from its prisons have turned into exactly what it has been promoting from the first day of demonstrations.
From what we have seen and heard so far, terrorism is the answer the regime wants to give to every question. It is also the question it is not prepared to answer.
Alia Ibrahim is a Senior Correspondent with Al Arabiya News Channel. Since 2008, she has covered news from across the Middle East. Ibrahim has produced a number of documentaries and is currently writing a book about her impressions on the revolutions that have swept the Arab world. Ibrahim began her career in 1996 as a general news reporter at The Daily Star in Beirut and became its managing editor in 2004. Later, she moved to Dubai TV as their Beirut correspondent. She was also the Beirut-based correspondent for the New York-based Womensenews. She was a Special Correspondent for The Washington Post from 2005 till 2011.