Monday, May 23, 2016

Suicide bombings in Syria kill 148 people, ISIS claims responsibility.

A man inspects the damage in Jableh, Syria. Reuters. 

Five suicide bombings in Syria killed 148 people in Syria and wounded scores more. Reuters. The attacks occurred in Jableh and Tartous, which have until now escaped the war. Both cities are home to Russian military bases. Tartous is the home of their naval base and Jableh hosts their airbase. ISIS has taken responsibility for all of the attacks, which involved five suicide bombings and two car bombs. At least 10 ISIS fighters died in the attack. The targets were members of Bashar al-Assad's Alawite minority. 

My Comment:
This was a major attack in Syria. And the fact that it happened on the formally secure coastal area of Syria is a major escalation in the war. ISIS has so far been unable to strike at the home of the Alawites. 

So why target the Alawites? Well the obvious reason is because it hurts President Bashar al-Assad. He is an Alawite himself, and is largely seen as their champion. Targeting them hurts him and also loosens his grip to power. After all, what good is a champion if he can't protect his people? He has been fairly good at protecting the coastal Alawite enclave. That seems to have changed now.

ISIS has religious reasons to target the Alawites as well. ISIS considers Alawites to be heretics. Alawites are Muslims, but they are more closely related to Shia Islam as opposed to the Sunni branch that ISIS is part of. Alawites also keep many of their beliefs secret, which leads to speculation and rumors. ISIS considers groups like the Alawites to be at the bottom rung of acceptability. ISIS believes that they deserve death.

Of course killing Alawites isn't the only reason ISIS staged this attack. They are also sending a clear mission to Russia. It isn't a coincidence that ISIS hit cities where Russia has bases. Jableh has their airbase, which has been used to conduct airstrikes against ISIS, and Tartous is the main logistical hub for Russian operations in Syria. Though no Russians died in these attacks, it still shows that these places are not safe from ISIS and if the group gets lucky they could hit Russian military targets. 

The attack also weakens Bashar al-Assad. These cities were relatively insulated from the war. There had been no major attacks there and the area has been peaceful. All that has changed now. The people in these cities now have to wonder if they are going to be attacked as well. Though I don't think one attack will make those people reconsider their support for Assad, if multiple follow up attacks happen, it could change things. 

It seems like ISIS is switching tactics recently. As they have been pushed back in both Syria and Iraq, and have failed to take much new ground, they seem to be switching to terrorism. In the past ISIS often used car bombs and suicide attacks to support their offensive operations. They would use these bombs to blow holes into defensive positions and devastate the morale of the enemy. Though ISIS hasn't abandoned these tactics, it seems as though a new style of attack is gaining prominence. 

This recent attack, along with the streak of bombings in Baghdad, Iraq, happened far away from the front lines. They also targeted areas that should, by all rights, be safe from attacks. The general point seems to be sowing terror and distrust instead of any short term tactical gains on the battlefield. 

I think this tactic makes sense for ISIS. Since they seem unable to take any more territory they need to do something to keep momentum up. These attacks will cause panic and force the government's of Iraq and Syria. They may even have to pull troops back from the front line to better protect their rear areas. This may even open up new opportunities for ISIS to attack...  

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