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Deir Ezzor … ISIS’ Alternative Capital | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Deir Ezzor airport, seen in 2013, has been a key location for battles throughout the Syrian civil war AFP/Getty Images

Beirut- After it began to crumble in Mosul as a result of the offensive against it, ISIS kicked off its decisive battle in Deir Ezzor, one of the biggest cities in eastern Syria. While the terrorist organization succeeded in chocking the regime’s strongholds in the city, especially around its military airport, there could be significant political repercussions prior to the Astana talks if the organization loses territory in the region after weeks of regime victories in Aleppo.

The Wall Street Journal saw that ISIS’ success in breaking the regime’s supply lines in the oil-rich eastern region of Syria and isolating the military airport from the other neighborhoods within days has put more pressure on the regime and revived the organization, which is struggling in other fronts. This battle has surprised the regime, putting it in a new crisis and forcing it to seek help from the region’s residents.

Intervention of Hezbollah

Over the past hours, allies of the regime have rushed to back it in Deir Ezzor; the so-called Hezbollah along with concentrated Russian strikes joined hands to confront ISIS that is nearing the military airport. According to Aki – Italian News Agency, Hezbollah moved military reinforcements from Aleppo to the outskirts of Deir Ezzor’s airport to secure it from falling.

Lebanese Brigadier-General Khalil al-Helou told Asharq Al-Awsat that this region is considered a strategic zone for the organization because the eastern Syrian desert is located between Mosul and Raqqa. Consequently, ISIS is seeking to turn Deir Ezzor into an alternative capital to Mosul following the losses it suffered in the Iraqi city. Given that the region has been vital for the regime for comprising bases for the republican guard, national defense forces, and other militias that back it, ISIS has sought to break all supply lines starting with the military airport.

Brutal Assault

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that after ISIS isolated the military airport in the region, the regime requested military enhancements and called on residents to participate in the fighting on the main fronts although they lacked military training.

The World Food Program said the clashes had forced it to suspend aid drops to Deir Ezzor.

The WFP has been dropping humanitarian aid into Deir Ezzor since April 2016, and the regime-held area is the only place in Syria where the agency has permission for the drops.

Repercussions of Mosul liberation

Despite the continuous battles in Mosul, Helou believes ISIS will be defeated in the Iraqi city but not any time soon because there is still considerable territory under its control. However, eventually the organization’s members will certainly escape to Deir Ezzor when they withdraw from Iraq.

The Lebanese military expert sees that the organization’s failure to control Deir Ezzor will accelerate its downfall; he added, however, that its success in controlling it will mean that ISIS secured its core for at least two years, which will be a kick in the guts of the regime that still brags about its victory in Aleppo.

Experts expected decisions to be taken by the new U.S. Administration to play a major role in the results of this battle.

Natural resources

According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), ISIS has controlled an important share of Syria’s reserve of oil and gas, especially in Deir Ezzor, which emphasizes the importance of this battle for both parties. A report issued by the network says that ISIS depends on oil trade to fund its military and civilian activities.

Fears of mass killings

As they wait for the battles’ developments, people in Deir Ezzor say they are terrified of falling victim to the mass killings for which the jihadists have become infamous.

ISIS is notorious for using particularly gruesome methods to kill military rivals and civilians alike, including beheading, lighting them on fire, or launching rockets at them from just meters away.

According to one activist group, ISIS has already begun executing Syrian regime forces it took captive during the clashes in Deir Ezzor.