Regional developments triggered by the expansion of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria are expected to influence Western policy toward Syria, but not necessarily in favor of President Bashar al-Assad, analysts say.
The Syrian conflict, which has topped the world’s political agenda for the past three years, remains at the heart of a wider regional struggle after the expansion of ISIS in Iraq prompted the United States to launch airstrikes against its militants earlier this month.
Questions over a possible Western shift toward the Syrian government have since emerged, especially after the apparent authority ISIS has showcased in northern Syria, and the beheading of American journalist James Foley last week.
There is no doubt that the West is worried about the further expansion of ISIS, and the threat it could pose to the whole world.
This fear has led the United States to launch airstrikes against it in Iraq.
The possibility of expanding military action against ISIS into Syria has been widely discussed by American and European leaders lately.
Washington and Europe seem to agree that there is no way to defeat ISIS without fighting it in Syria as well.
Last week, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff, said: “Can [ISIS] be defeated without addressing that part of the organization that resides in Syria? The answer is no.”
However, not only is the West reluctant to get involved in a new conflict in the Middle East, but it fears portraying any engagement in Syria as a way to accept or ease ties with Assad.
Last week, American and European officials, including Britain’s deputy foreign minister, said collaborating with him was not an option.
Experts say such comments indicate that it is unlikely that Western countries will collaborate with Assad to combat ISIS.
“Assad is the main part of the crisis, and he can’t be part of the solution” Samir al-Taqi, director of the Orient Research Centre in Dubai, told Al Arabiya News.
“There will be a change in the position of the United States and European countries regarding the Syrian crisis, but not necessarily in favor of Assad,” Taqi said.
“It’s becoming more obvious that the United States and European countries consider Assad the stem of the whole situation in the Middle East… which has allowed ISIS to flourish,” he added.
Assad’s policy in tackling the Syrian crisis from the beginning has led to the emergence of ISIS, Paul Sullivan, professor of economics at the National Defense University, told Al Arabiya News.
“The horrific situation in Syria partly explains the birth and growth of ISIS,” said Sullivan, who is also adjunct professor of security studies and science, technology and international affairs at Georgetown University.
“This un-Islamic ‘Islamic State’ sprung out of the violence of the charnel house of Syria. I can’t see many working with Assad, given that his behavior is little different from that of ISIS,” he added.
Intervention against ISIS in Syria
Although Washington has suggested expanding its air war against ISIS into Syria if Americans are threatened, experts say this would not be enough to defeat ISIS.
“The response to ISIS will need to be global, not just from the West,” said Sullivan.
“It may be that intervention in Syria will be required, given that Syria is part of the basis of the barbarism and power of ISIS,” he added.
Similar to Iraq, Taqi said: “There will be measures to try to contain ISIS in Syria,” perhaps beyond the use of drones.
“It’s very difficult to imagine that simple airstrikes will help get rid of ISIS,” Taqi added.
“After the containment of ISIS, the United States can try to form a regional alliance that will be the backbone of a main ground operation. Without a ground operation, it’ll be difficult to get rid of ISIS.”
Taqi ruled out the West cooperating militarily with Assad.
“There could be contact on an intelligence level” with the Syrian government, said Taqi, but “the West knows Assad wasn’t serious throughout the past three years in fighting ISIS.”