So what choices are the anti-IS allies left with? Well, none it seems, especially now, as their last best hope, Jamal Maarouf of the Syrian Revolutionary Front, was reported to have struck a non-aggression pact with IS. If true, it would be a major embarrassment for the Barack Obama administration as it tries to convince the world that backing “moderate” Syrian rebels is the right approach. The alleged deal may also point to the fear among Syrian rebels of a brutal backlash, coming on the heels of the spectacular bombing on Sept. 9 that obliterated Ahrar al-Sham’s top leadership and effectively destroyed the powerful Salafist militant group. Many believe IS was behind the brazen and sophisticated attack, which sent shudders through the entire anti-regime camp and suggested that the Islamic State’s reach and dominance goes much further than any of them had thought.
If the allies’ last best hope on the ground is petrified of taking on IS, then their strategy seems most certainly doomed to failure. This is not surprising, considering that a powerful NATO member (Turkey) and other staunch regional allies (such as Jordan) are extremely reluctant to get involved in any military action against IS for fear of blowback.
The only alternative then appears to be an unpalatable and unholy alliance with the Syrian regime, the only force on the ground right now capable of taking on and defeating IS with any degree of success. To that effect, the regime’s army has been relentlessly pounding IS positions in the east of the country for more than a month with heavy airstrikes and barrel bombs, showcasing its terrorist-fighting credentials to its would-be suitors. The fact that the regime itself, among a few other regional players, was partially responsible for the rise and growth of the group appears to be a mere afterthought now, as a healthy dose of pragmatism and a shared sense of threat kicks in and forces bitter enemies together, or at least that is what Damascus is counting on.