On March 27, 2016, the city of Palmyra, located in the heart of the Syrian desert, was taken over by the Syrian Army and the forces supporting it. The takeover of Palmyra is a military, political and image-related achievement of the Syrian Army and Russia, which provides it with ongoing air support. The takeover of Palmyra gives the Syrian Army a good starting point for further attacking ISIS’s core areas in Deir al-Zor and Al-Raqqah, while reducing the area under ISIS’s control and impeding its communication with its operatives in Damascus, Homs and southern Syria.
The Belgian government has carried out this week a series of arrests of ISIS operatives, some of whom were involved in the terror attack in Brussels. ISIS, however, embarked on a propaganda campaign with the participation of Belgian operatives, intended, among other things, to frighten and terrify the Belgians and Europeans in general (“We will invade London, Paris and Berlin, like we did in Paris before. The supporters of the Caliphate are determined this will happen soon”).In the ITIC’s assessment, ISIS will respond to the increasing pressure on it by continuing to increase terrorism in the West and in Arab and Muslim countries (Turkey is in its sights), along with continuing its attempts to establish itself in countries outside Syria and Iraq (Libya is a key destination).
The Takeover of Palmyra – Implications
On March 27, 2016, the takeover of the city of Palmyra was completed at the end of an operation lasting around three weeks (for details, see below). The takeover of the city is a military and political achievement for the Syrian regime and for Russia, who were quick to embark on a propaganda campaign in order to reap image-related profits. Following the takeover of Palmyra and its vicinity, the Syrian Army expanded its grip in eastern Syria and took over an important crossroads between Deir al-Zor and Al-Raqqah, on the one hand, and Homs and Damascus on the other. The area of Palmyra provides the Syrian Army with a good starting point for continued military pressure on ISIS’s core areas in Deir al-Zor and Al-Raqqah (as Syrian spokesmen announced). In the future, Palmyra’s proximity to oil and gas fields will enable the Syrian regime to regain control over them. Furthermore, the takeover of the Palmyra area disrupts ISIS’s logistical and operational communication with its forces in Damascus, Homs and southern Syria.
From the perspective of the overall campaign against ISIS, the takeover of Palmyra is the latest in a series of defeats suffered by ISIS since early 2015: in Syria, the Syrian Army managed to establish its control in the area of Aleppo while the Kurdish forces captured key cities from ISIS and established their presence along the Turkish border and in northeastern Syria. In Iraq, the Iraqi Army took over Ramadi. Now it is striving to expand its control in the Al-Anbar Province and is preparing for the subsequent takeover of the city of Mosul. In addition, the Iraqi Army took over the oil city of Baiji, while the Kurdish forces took over the city of Sinjar and its environs.ISIS, on its part, in view of the pressure on it, continues to maintain a defensive strategy with regard to the core areas of its regime in Mosul and Al-Raqqah, but the territory under its control is gradually shrinking.
ISIS’s response to this series of defeats is to increase its terrorist activities in Arab and Western countries. Prominent examples are the terror attacks carried out in recent months in Paris, Istanbul, Brussels and Baghdad, and the interception of the Russian plane in the Sinai Peninsula. These attacks are accompanied by a media campaign, whose goal is to arouse terror and fear, mainly among the residents of Western Europe, and to strengthen the attractiveness of the Islamic State among Muslim communities. In the ITIC’s assessment, as ISIS suffers more and more severe blows in Iraq and Syria, this is liable to increase its motivation to carry out terrorist attacks overseas in order to deter its enemies and try to preserve its image as a victorious organization and as the leading jihadi organization.
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