A Secret Love Affair The relationship between MENATI Regimes and Terrorist Organisations Elie Obeid Ever since the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War, rumours on the links between the Assad regime, its allies and Islamic fundamentalist terrorist organisations have been bandied about. What at first sight appears counter-intuitive is in fact a careful geopolitical calculation by the belligerent parties.
Terrorism – a word we have grown accustomed to hearing in the past few years, to the extent that it almost became part of our daily lives. Terrorism is not something new. It has existed for hundreds of years, and though almost every attempt to define it has failed, its main goal remains the same: to frighten. Terrorism, its tools, techniques and types of attacks have evolved and changed over the course of history and so has the use of terrorism for political purposes – that is political terrorism. Though it may have incurred some changes in approaches and applications which can be related to long term strategy objectives.
For a bystander or average follower of news media, an article, or a piece of news about a terrorist organisation collaborating with a certain regime that it is supposedly fighting against would be perceived as a lie, a stroke of imagination by the writer, or maybe wishful thinking. But for researchers, investigative journalists, politicians, diplomats and everyone who is interested in world affairs that’s a story worth digging into, after all, as the saying goes; there is no smoke without fire.
From very early on, there have been reports about partnerships between Assad’s Baath regime and terrorist organisations. The political calculation behind these machinations are manifold: for one, the Baath regime wished to secure a strong political leverage by presenting itself as a fighter against terrorism and the defender of minorities. Secondly, Assad sought to mislead the international powers into believing that if he were to fall, clashes would break out in the occupied territory of Golan. Last but not least, the intention was to secure aid and assistance from Turkey and Iran by giving them a room to promote their geopolitical interests.
Ever since ISIS came into the spotlight in June 2014 therefore, there have been ongoing rumours about a relationship between the grouping and the Assad Baath Regime. These tales went as far as the suggestion of a cooperation between the two groups. Moreover, several reports have confirmed the existence of strong ties between the Assad regime on one hand, and Islamic jihadists groups such as ISIS, Al Qaeda, Nusra Front and others, describing the economic relationship existing between them based on oil and electricity needs. 
Other reports have used the phrase “Assad picked his opponents”to explain the role Assad regime played in the creation of these terrorist groups. This includes the training ofkey terrorist leaders who were held captive in several Syrian prisons and then set free at different periods at the early stages of the revolution.
Such colportage has not been isolated: other reports and more expansive publications have successively described and analysed the relationship between Assad’s Baath regime in Syria and several terrorist organisations. In his book “The Syrian Jihad”, Charles Lister thus unfolded the relationship between the Assad regime and various terrorist organisations since the family rose to power in 1971.
Iranians, similarly to their ally in Syria, have had their fair share of propping up terrorist factions to further a political agenda. Ever since the Islamic Revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini established itself in Iran, exporting the revolution was one of its main concern. To that end, it has created, nurtured and supported several terrorist organisations –including Al Qaeda. There have been numerous pieces of news about Iran assisting the Sunni terrorist grouping which included granting them free passage to Iraq and the permission to open offices in Iran.
On the other side of the regional power spectrum comes Turkey. The latter, with regional aspirations of its own and a dream of regaining a long forgotten glory, decided to play a game of its own and let others know that it means business. As of day one, Turkey supported the Syrian revolution to overthrow Assad, and took the position of the defender of Sunnis against the spread of the Iran. But the Turks decided to change the rules of the game and for that purpose sought a new partner, one that is not afraid of crossing the lines, one that it claims to fight, ISIS.
Not only that, but Turkey, hiding behind its interests, launched a fight against the Kurds who were fighting ISIS in order to prevent the local Kurdish groupings from erecting an independent state near the Turkish borders.
The game of thrones being always in play, it does not matter what cards you are dealt but rather how you play them. With Turkey and Iran playing the grounds and Assad trying to leverage his situation, sleeping with the enemy does not sound quite as odd as it may at first. In the end, in the world of political terrorism, where the line between theories and facts is at its thinnest, where ideologies disappear in favour of interests and long-term goals, the relationship between MENATI regimes and terrorist organisations remains a secret love affair.
 MENATI stands for Middle East and North Africa, Turkey and Iran
 Charles Lister, The Syrian Jihad: Al-Qaeda, The Islamic State And The Evolution of An Insurgency (Hurst Publishers, 2015)