The Islamic State terrorist entity made significant gains this week in its territorial control over an ever-growing swathe of the Middle East. Its barbarism continued apace as well. In addition to the capture of the Iraqi city of Ramadi just a few days ago, ISIS appears to have also succeeded in capturing the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, with its capture of the ancient oasis city of Palmyra, ISIS now controls nearly 50 percent of Syria. Palmyra is located between the Syrian capital of Damascus, in southwestern Syria, and the centrally located city of Deir al-Zour. It is in Syria’s Homs province.
The capture of Palmyra is hugely important not only because it is the first major Syrian city ISIS has captured unassisted by various other anti-Assad forces, but also because it is of enormous historical significance. The city dates back to the first century of the Common Era, and was a central crossroads for trade from the east to the Roman Empire. Palmyra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for its architectural, historical and art treasures.
The capture of Palmyra by ISIS was announced by the terrorist entity on Twitter, and most major media outlets are treating this account as factual.
The outcries against the capture of Palmyra by historians and art curators has angered many who see this as valuing art over human lives.
As part of its conquest of Palmyra and surrounding areas, ISIS now controls not only more land than the regime, but it also controls most of Syria’s oil and gas fields.
As noted on the news site Western Journalism, control over Palmyra also provides a strategic base from which ISIS can advance on other cities held by Assad, including Homs and Damascus.
At least one Israeli Middle East expert, Tzvi Yechezkieli of Channel 10, predicted that the fall of Palmyra may signal the end of Assad’s central government. He pointed to the fact that Assad is losing territory to Islamic State every day and is now in control of only a quarter of Syria’s territory.
The Israeli commentator also reported that Assad has prepared an escape plan should ISIS capture Damascus. Assad’s plan, according to Yechezkieli, is that the Syrian dictator will withdraw his forces to the Western part of Syria, the stronghold of Assad’s own Alawite minority. Alawites are a small sect within Shia Muslims, and comprise less than 15 percent of Syria’s population.
ISIS has achieved such dramatic victories for many reasons, not only because of the west’s initial refusal to take it seriously and its barbarism acting as a lure for disaffected global sadists. One successful method of recruitment, as Yechezkieli also pointed out, has been the massive jailbreak orchestrated by ISIS during its capture of Palmyra.
The thousands of released Syrians, many of whose crimes were that they were opponents of the regime, were welcomed into ISIS’s forces. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” is a slogan the newly-released Syrians may embrace, to Assad’s dismay.