Washington D.C.- Lately, the front between the Syrian regime forces and the Islamic Army has been constantly escalating in the hot spot in the southern suburbs of Damascus.
There are strong indications that Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar are using the Islamic Army and its leader, Zahran Alloush, to put pressure on the regime in hopes of future negotiations.
Although the southern ring around the capital has shifted many times between the rebels and the regime, in the latest battles it has fallen into the hands of the Islamic Army. As the largest opposition front to the Syrian regime, Alloush’s Islamic Army has been the most fierce in its attacks around the capital.
Recently, Alloush made a sudden appearance in Turkey for a meeting with a Turkish official, a source in Ankara confirms. His visit has raised many eyebrows, especially for being on the most wanted list for the regime, and for the ease with which he has been able to cross Syria from south to north without getting caught. Islamic Army officials have refused to comment on how their army leader has managed to leave the besieged region.
After Ankara, Alloush made a visit to Istanbul where he met Syrian clerics and scholars, Karim Rajah and Usamah Al Refaie, who were both exiled by Bashar al-Assad’s regime, a source said from inside the meeting who requested his anonymity.
The Islamic Army is publicly claiming that this visit was to discuss lifting the siege on Ghouta, the suburb of Damascus, and to unite all the rebels in Syria under one army. Mohammed Alloush, the head of the political office in the Islamic Army, announced that this visit has the purpose of carrying large-scale efforts to reunite all the rebel armies, not just in Damascus, but all over Syria.
Though this is what has been publically announced, there have been several reports out that indicate this trip has more significance to it and that these top regional powers are at work to unify their efforts against Assad.
Although the Syrian Coalition Ambassador in Qatar, Nizar Hiraki, considered Zahran’s recent visit to Turkey within the framework of routine visits that have been made lately to countries such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia, he believes there are signs of a coalition among the three countries.
“It is also appearing to be in sync with Saudi Arabia and its allies’ latest offensive military campaign against Houthis in Yemen,” he said. “It became even more noticeable with the recent escalations and the successful combat operations in both the North and South of Syria.”
He added, “As a major sign, we have witnessed the liberation of areas and cities of great strategic value, such as the city of Idleb and Shghoor in the north and Dara’a and Bosra in the south,” Hiraki concluded.
Najib Ghadban, the Syrian Coalition Ambassador in the United States, was unaware of any direct pressure from these three countries on the Southern front in Syria. He thinks that the improvement of relations between the three countries is likely to affect developments in Syria in many ways.
“First, It would improve the coordination between the Northern and Southern fronts.” he says. “Second, it would streamline the support for the political opposition, and when more direct military increases, it usually reflects on military advance as we’ve seen in the north and south.” Ghadban finally concluded that the Gulf intervention in Yemen has raised the morale of the Syrian revolutionaries, “because it targeted the pro-Iranian Houthis and the Iranian expansionist role in the region.”
With the knowledge that Syrian President al-Assad has made retaking the outskirts of Damascus his main priority, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar are now all in agreement to use this to their own advantage against the Syrian regime. Zahran Alloush’s visit works toward serving this purpose, where all three governments are trying to use the Islamic Army as a tool to exert pressure on al-Assad and force him to make concessions in future negotiations.
Saudi journalist and political insider Jamal Khashoggi recently said that the visit of Zahran Alloush to Turkey has finally opened the doors for a major corporation between Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Many reports indicate that Saudi Arabia has been in “high-level talks” with Turkey and brokered by Qatar to help unify all the non-jihadist opposition in Syria under Alloush’s army. Also, there is the possibility of the deployment of Saudi airstrikes together with Turkish ground troops on northern Syrian soil.
The Islamic Army was formed on the September 29, 2013 by former prisoner Zahran Alloush. Alloush was detained by the Syrian regime for promoting Salafism and was released in a general amnesty by Assad in 2011. Upon his release, he gathered many rebel groups involved in the fight against the Syrian regime and who primarily operated in Damascus neighborhoods.