‘Palmyra recapture – message to ISIS that Syrian army can liberate Raqqa’

The recapture of Palmyra from Islamic State is a “hugely significant” victory which will boost Syrian army morale and demonstrate to jihadists it’s capable of regaining other territory. The ISIS de-facto capital Raqqa could become next analysts told RT.

The Syrian army, backed by the Russian air force, has recaptured the ancient city of Palmyra from Islamic State. The major offensive was planned and coordinated by Russian military advisers, Russia’s General Staff said.

Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was first liberated from the terrorists in March last year, but in December in a surprise offensive, the rebels recaptured the city while the Syrian forces focused on defeating the jihadists in Aleppo.

RT heard reaction on the significance of ISIS' defeat in Palmyra from some analysts.

'Victory for Syrian govt, setback for Western-backed rebels'

While the situation is reminiscent of what happened in March 2016, when Palmyra had been retaken from Islamic State, in a broader context this week’s recapture of the city is “hugely significant,” says Neil Clark, UK-based journalist and broadcaster.

“Western-backed rebels had a huge setback with the liberation of Aleppo. And this is an another setback for them,” he told RT.

The journalist added that it’s interesting to look at the American and British reaction to the news.

“This is same as 12 months ago. There’s nobody saying ‘Well done, Russia! Well done, Syrian army!” he said.

Before the Russian intervention in Syria in 2015, Clark said, “ISIS was gaining territory all the time, it looked as if it was an unstoppable force.” At the same time, he went on to say, “we had a charade of the US pretending to be tackling ISIS when in fact it wasn’t doing anything at all” and the emphasis was still on removing from power the government that was fighting against the terrorists.

Before the Russian intervention in Syria in 2015, Clark said, “ISIS was gaining territory all the time, it looked as if it was an unstoppable force.” At the same time, he went on to say, “we had a charade of the US pretending to be tackling ISIS when in fact it wasn’t doing anything at all” and the emphasis was still on removing from power the government that was fighting against the terrorists.

“If the Russians hadn’t intervened in 2015, I’m pretty sure ISIS and groups linked to ISIS would now be probably in control of vast areas of Syria. The Russian intervention has been absolutely critical in pushing Syria back from the abyss,” Clark said.

'ISIS losing out of grounds'

“It is extremely important. It is a strategic victory for the Syrian army to recapture Palmyra again,” said author and writer Abdel Bari Atwan. “It comes after the victory in Aleppo,” he said, adding that the timing is “extremely important” as it means the Syrian army is capable of regaining more land from the terrorists on both sides.

In Atwan’s opinion, the recapture of Palmyra sends a “very clear message” to the terrorists.

“Yes, the Syrian army can actually take or liberate Raqqa from ISIS – the capital of ISIS. There is no need for Turkish forces, American forces, or Kurdish forces. If they managed to recapture Palmyra again and after huge battles, it means they are capable of regaining other territories, which are not under the control of the Syrian government,” he told RT.

“They are facing problems in Mosul. They are losing out of grounds. Now they lost Palmyra. I believe next could be Raqqa,” Atwan added.

'The Syrian military coupled with Russian air power is capable of reclaiming Syrian territory'

Max Abrahms, Professor at North Eastern University, said he was not at all surprised by the victory as it was “totally predictable.”

“The tide has changed in this so-called civil war. So increasingly the Syrian army is winning, and ISIS is imploding. We’re seeing more of this,” he told RT.

He went on to say, this is a “very significant” development, “because Palmyra was a symbol in the West of the way it likes to portray the war, which was in terms of Assad’s weakness, and regarding the inability of Russian air power to remove ISIS.”

He said that when ISIS retook Palmyra from the Syrian army, “the Western media was abuzz about how the Syrian government was completely feckless; that ISIS was on a march; and how we needed to remove Assad in order to defeat ISIS.”

Abrahms continued: “And now you have the exact opposite. The government supplemented with Russian airpower have taken back Palmyra. Although this city has changed hands a number of times – three different times over the past year and a half, or so, I don’t believe it is going to change hands again.”

The analyst is confident that ISIS will now continue “to get weaker and weaker, not just in Syria, but also in Iraq” and “we’re going to continue to see the Syrian military coupled with Russian air power reclaim Syrian territory.”

'Govts serious about defeating ISIS have to dovetail efforts with Syrian army'

This recovery of Palmyra is important for three reasons, says Peter Ford, Former British Ambassador to Syria.

“First of all, Palmyra is an iconic location. It was a great loss of prestige when it fell back in December, but now it’s being recovered,” he said. “Secondly, it is a tremendous boost for the morale of the Syrian army and its allies, and the Syrian government.”

Thirdly, Ford said, it is the political importance of the present international context. He explained that the this latest development in Palmyra “demonstrates that anybody who is serious about wanting to defeat ISIS, and apparently that includes President Trump, who’s made it his top priority, then they have to work with the Syrian government forces, they have to dovetail their efforts.”

The former ambassador says it’s a reminder to the Pentagon, which President Trump has charged with producing a plan within a month to defeat ISIS – “to factor in the efforts of the Syrian army, which have tended to be belittled, I am sorry to say, by the British government, and others, who have claimed that the government of Syria is not really interested in fighting ISIS”.

“Well, tell that to the people of Palmyra tonight,” he added.

As to whether we can expect the rise of new and broader coalition against ISIS in Syria shortly, Ford is not very optimistic: “I don’t see many signs frankly from the side of the opposition that they are serious about working with the government to defeat ISIS.” 

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.