In response to Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Mouallem’s statement calling on the US and UK to obtain permission from Bashar Al-Assad’s government to strike the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), British Prime Minister David Cameron said that Assad’s government lacks political legitimacy and so there is therefore no need to obtain any such permission.
Ultimately, Assad will not mind so long as the airstrikes do not target him later on—if, for example, the mission changes to bombing his forces and the militias fighting for him. These militias include Lebanon’s Hezbollah, the Iraqi Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
Mouallem’s call for foreign states to ask for Assad’s permission to target ISIS was an attempt to show that Assad’s government is heading a sovereign state, and it is this very notion that Cameron so explicitly rejected.
The most difficult aspect in all of this is acknowledging that eradicating ISIS cannot be accomplished by air strikes alone, especially since this terrorist group is hiding out in city centers, using civilians as human shields. This is precisely what Al-Qaeda did in Iraq in the past. So how will NATO forces and regional allied countries be able to eradicate ISIS with air strikes? The Americans fiercely fought Al-Qaeda in Iraq for many years with all kinds of weapons, but they were only able to succeed after securing the assistance of Iraq’s own tribes and citizens.
We therefore question the effectiveness of this “leading from behind” policy. We are also sure that the air strikes will fail. The solution lies, first and foremost, in “coordinating” with a Syrian ally on the ground. However, the only Syrian ally ready to fight ISIS, the Al-Nusra Front, Ahrar Al-Sham and the rest of these terrorist groups remains the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
The FSA is the only force that has legitimacy and civil values, gained from popular support on the ground. The war on these terrorist groups will take at least two years—this is a relatively long period of time that requires for arrangements to be made on the ground along the lines of what happened previously in Iraq.
Today, Syria has become a safe haven for global terrorism. ISIS’s senior leadership, as well as those of other terrorist groups, have found a home in Syria; air strikes alone will not be enough. While the limited support being given to the FSA is also not enough to allow them to confront and eradicate these terrorists. The FSA cannot turn its full attention to ISIS and its affiliates without abandoning its primary mission of overthrowing the Assad regime.
The FSA’s main mission is to gain control of the capital Damascus and establish a new government that represents all Syrians. This new government would then be responsible for the liberation of the rest of Syria’s territory from terrorist groups and mercenaries. Therefore, the new anti-ISIS alliance has to recognize and support the FSA to take the lead in pursuing and destroying ISIS. The FSA must do this not just for the sake of Syria and the Syrian people, but also for the Arab world and the West.