By Claude Salhani -Trend: The next logical move for the group calling itself the Islamic State is to make a break for a seaport from where they will be able to export their oil. The logical target could be the Syrian Mediterranean port of Latakia. Syrian government authorities seem concerned enough that the battle for control of Latakia may be brewing and have deployed special forces across a pinnacle of hills just northeast of Latakia, the country's principal port.
The front line near Latakia is already considered one of Syria's most dangerous. For now the main battle continues to rage around the border town of Kobani but as fresh troops from Iraqi Kurdistan known as Peshmergas, arrived via Turkey to assist their fellow Kurds, IS may want to shift the focus elsewhere. Meanwhile, the battle of Kobani, while still unresolved, may have nevertheless had a desired effect of sorts: to keep units of the IS, more used to quick attacks and rapid deployment, tied down in a battle of attrition. Access to the sea is a vital necessity for IS if it is to survive as an oil and gas producing state. The terrorist group would need to have control of a port from where they could deliver oil and natural gas to tankers and then on to international markets.
Thus the reason for the Syrian Special Forces deploying near Latakia, already considered one of Syria's most dangerous frontlines. In recent weeks there have been repeated missile attack from Islamist forces around Latakia. Access to, and control of the port is of primary importance for two reasons. First, it would grant the Islamic State it's greatest territorial victory to date. From a public relations perspective this would prove to potential recruits and financial supporters of the IS who remain hesitant to get off the fence.
Second, the loss of Latakia for the Assad regime could be a death blow to the president and forces loyal to him given that the Latakia region is the home of the president and that tens of thousands of Syrians from all over the country have flocked there when their homes turned into frontlines. Forcing Assad out of power in itself is not a negative outcome, however, having the IS win such a prize would be disastrous for the region and beyond. Additionally, an assault on the Latakia region would be catastrophic on the humanitarian level, as it would send tsunami wave of refugees scurrying for a new safe haven. With a secure access to the sea, the Islamic State would find itself in an even stronger financial position.
Meanwhile, It is worth noting that IS represents a real and present danger to the security of civilization: Eastern and Western civilization.
The cruelty and barbarous savagery that IS fighters have displayed towards their captives is indescribable and pornographic. They have enslaved women and girls taken from villages and towns they have conquered, selling them for $10 in the town marketplace. They have beheaded and crucified captives and executed hundreds of prisoners.
They pride themselves of the violence they carry out. A video making the rounds of the usual Internet sites shows a man, obviously an IS fighter, wearing camouflage and donning the trademark beard of the Islamists, teaching a toddler, no older that two years old, to kick a severed head. While every civilized society tries to protect and safeguard their children, the IS, in yet another video, shows young boys, very probable under the age of six, receiving military training on how to carry out urban warfare.
Several years ago while being interviewed on a Washington, DC news radio station I was asked by the news anchor if I thought there would one day be peace in the Middle East and what would it take to reach that point, and that I had 30 seconds for my answer before he had to take a commercial break. I replied that yes, I did think there would be peace in the Middle East but only when the antagonists develop greater love for their children that hate for their enemies.
With that in mind, it would appear that peace in the Middle East is still a long way off. As it currently stands there is far too much hatred among the current antagonists to contemplate any serious peace efforts. Indeed, it would seem that the region is heading head first into yet more violence.
- Claude Salhani is a senior editor with Trend Agency and a specialist on Middle East and terrorism affairs. You can follow Claude on twitter @claudesalhani.