With the Syrian Arab Army’s (SAA) liberation of Palmyra in late March, ISIS was served a major symbolic blow which many expected to have a domino-effect, eventually spelling the demise of the Islamic State caliphate itself.
However, ISIS launched a large-scale offensive 15 days ago northwest of Palmyra which subsequently resulted in Islamist forces overrunning the SAA at several points, most notably the al-Sha’ar oil and gas fields.
However, in the past 72 hours government forces have gone on the counteroffensive, thereby securing the al-Mahl oil field, recapturing the Muhajarah Tank Base and taking several hills from ISIS en route to the al-Sha’ar oil and gas fields.
The latter fields represent a major energy supplier to the Syrian Government which is already heavily burdened financially due to its ongoing counter-insurgency efforts.
Remarkably, if the SAA can recapture al-Sha’ar gas field, Major General Suheil al-Hassan will be presented an opportunity to strike a salient north towards the government controlled Ithriya, a small town along the Aleppo supply route.
In turn, such a military manuever would sever the jihadist supply line to dozens of ISIS-held villages in eastern Homs and Hama, an area often refered to as ‘the triangle of death’.
Although arguably wishful thinking, this frontline scenario should not be ruled out; just 6 months ago, commander-in-chief Suheil al-Hassan deployed a similar plan to eastern Aleppo which resulted in the previously unthinkable liberation of Kuweiris Airbase, a military site which had otherwise been besieged by ISIS for years.