The al-Qaeda affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has control of Syria's oil and gas resources, and is selling that fuel to the Assad government that it's supposedly there to fight, according to a New York Times report. Other Syrian opposition leaders have long suspected that the extremist group has some sort of secret agreement with the Assad regime. This report will do little to disprove that theory. According to the report, the extremist groups are getting electricity and "relief from airstrikes" in exchange for the fuel deal.
People are increasingly referring to "good" rebels and "bad" rebels in Syria, and by "bad" they absolutely mean ISIS, along with the Nusra Front. In recent months, the two sides have splits, with mostly native Syrian rebels stepping up their attacks against the Islamic groups in the areas around the Syrian city of Aleppo. Unlike many armed opposition groups in the country, the ISIS extremists typically aren't Syrian. They came over from Iraq with the hopes of establishing an Islamic state if the Assad regime is deposed. If the groups are indeed secretly collaborating with the regime on some level, it's not clear what changed those plans, other than perhaps a desire to keep the state unstable and prevent it from falling into more secular hands.
The collaboration almost certainly does not extend to tactical military information sharing. But the Times reports that the Assad regime might not need that:
While other American officials discounted the possibility of tactical military cooperation between the group and Mr. Assad’s government, they said that Syrian intelligence had almost certainly infiltrated opposition groups, including the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and the Nusra Front, to track their activities.
“The Syrian regime is as Machiavellian as they come, and there is little it won’t do to hold on to power,” said an American counterterrorism official. “If the regime could strike a tactical accord with an enemy faction to achieve its larger strategic goals, it probably would.”
For their part, the Assad regime gets more out of the deal than just oil: the government has long referred to opposition groups in the country as foreign "terrorists." With the al-Qaeda groups working at an advantage, the picture on the ground looks more and more like what the Assad regime claims. To make things worse, the extremist hijacking of the Syrian conflict resulted in a temporary suspension of U.S. non-lethal aid at the end of 2013. The suspension was lifted as of Monday.