Syria Deeply: How is the army faring and what are they facing, now that they've taken so many losses in the fight with ISIS?
Aram Nerguizian: People seem to be forgetting what we've learned over the last couple of years, which is that there's no done deal. Everyone [on the ground] is adapting to changing circumstances.
Hezbollah is caught on two fronts, working with the Syrian [regime] but also really accelerating their clear-hold operations in Qalamoun. And we're getting confirmation that Hezbollah is much more active in Iraq, in a training role [to help troops combat ISIS].
The fundamental reality between the Assad regime and ISIS does not seem to have shifted. One hand [of ISIS] still fights the regime on the battlefield, and the other is still involved in a transactional dynamic in regards to the regime's need for energy and oil. It needs to expand its oil [business] for currency reserves to pay off the young fighters it's recruiting.
Some things have shifted, but so far you've seen a fair amount of strategic caution [against the regime] on ISIS's part. I don't see them making a dramatic advance westward anytime soon. It's not surprising that there's been a rise in attrition rates against Assad's forces. It's the non-ISIS, non-regime factions that have the most to be concerned about in all this. They're being sandwiched between the two, and eventually they'll have to choose [a side].
ISIS never really saw the regime as its main threat. It's always what's over the horizon, namely what Iran and their allies in Iraq could come up with in terms of weakening and dislodging ISIS in Iraq – and the effect that could have in Syria.
For the Assad regime, the calculus remains the same. They've been doing a balancing act since the late 1970s, where the idea is to always show Syrian relevance in international affairs as the alternative to whatever else is out there.
They're still playing by those rules. Even with attrition rates against ISIS [rising], the regime is still saying, "we're the alternative, we're the guys you ned to work with." If I were within the ISIS brain trust, I'd be concerned with Assad up to a point – the regime can bring pressure from the western front – but I'd always have to be mindful of what the dynamics are with Iraq. Namely, would there ever be a scenario where the U.S. gets involved in Iraq, and what would happen to ISIS if its opponents get it together in terms of how they engage the local tribes, and so forth.
This article originally appeared on Syria Deeply.