Alwaght- The quick advances by the Syrian army in the push to liberate Idlib province and the struggle by the terrorists and their foreign backers, mainly the Turkish government, to hamper the recapture campaign are escalating the tensions in the Arab country, especially that Syrian fighter jets struck a Turkish military convoy bound for the terrorists and killed several troops.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the one hand threatened to firmly respond to the attack that killed at least 5 of his soldiers and on the other hand talks with Russia in search of a solution to the escalated situation in Idlib, the last stronghold of foreign-backed terrorists.
The Syrian army keeps its heavy-handed attacks on the militias. On Tuesday, it pushed terrorist fighters from another part of Idlib.
Alwaght talked to Shaib Bahman, an Iranian political expert, asking him about the current situation in Idlib.
The first question was about the Idlib significance for the actors in the Syrian developments. Mr Bahman said that Idlib is among the important parts of Syria, historically, geographically, and also economically. Its proximity to the Turkish borders, he said, gives it even further importance. Its significance even doubled over the past years as it played as a path between anti-Damascus opposition and their foreign patrons.
“Currently, Idlib is significant because it is the last major region still held by the terrorists. Cleansing Idlib of terrorists can finally get Syria out of war situation and usher in a new period.”
Among the other players, in addition to Syria that seeks to reclaim territories by pushing out the terrorists, Russia has a similar aim. The Russians have the conviction that Idlib should be cleansed and stability and security should return to this part of Syria.
On the opposite side stands Turkey which does not want pressure on the armed groups as it over the past years unwaveringly supported them. That is the main drive behind its opposition to the Damascus and allies’ recapture campaign.
Another question was about why Turkey failed to accomplish its commitments in agreements with Russia over Idlib. Mr Bahman answered that the main reason Ankara has failed to realize its promises was the confusion and impasse the Turkish government is caught into. “Years of Turkish support gave the terrorist factions a special nature. They cannot be settled anywhere. The Turkish government cannot accept them in along with their families who are in large numbers. Moreover, they have seen military training and if the need arises for them, they can take military actions even against their backer Turkey. Now that the Turkish government has no choice to relocate them, it has no way out of the trouble it is in. One option was Libya, where Turkey sent part of the militias to fight against the warlord Khalifa Haftar. But there is no way Turkey can transfer them in large numbers.”
Another reason Turkey comes against Idlib attacks is the outlook of its role in this province. If the government takes control of the province, Ankara will practically lose part of its capability and chance to play a role in the war-ravaged nation. It finds it useful to its role playing prospectively to prolong the Idlib crisis and, if possible, guarantee the terrorists’ stay there. It fact, support for the terrorists and military presence there provides it with a trump card for playing in the Syria future.
The Iranian expert was asked about the chance for a Turkish-Russian agreement over Idlib and how a new deal can be different from those reached in the past.
He said there is a big chance of a deal between the two countries, especially that Turkey expressed its will to engage in talks all to block further Syrian forces’ progress. On the opposite side, the Russians have never closed the doors to negotiations.
“But there are two important points: Any new agreement should contain a timetable, namely they have to agree on a specific date for pull-out of the terrorists from Idlib. Accepting such a timetable will force Turkey to abandon its bargaining chip. Second, the past deals have not been sturdy and each side sometimes violated them based on their interests and goals. So, even if an accord is made, it cannot be strong enough because the Turks find the loss of Idlib a hard blow to their strategic and geopolitical position in Syria. The Russians want domination of the central governments over the disputed province, however.”
Mr Bahman was asked for comment on how Damascus will be committed to any possible Turkish-Russian deal. He answered that the main motivation for Syria to announce a commitment to a new deal is the timetable for terrorists withdrawal, which should not be long-time. Damascus is not interested in war in which innocent people lose their lives or cities see more destruction. In this situation, Syria will accept an agreement, otherwise, it will continue its operations in Idlib to restore stability and security to the whole country.
How capable is Syria to realize its anti-Syrian threats? Alwaght asked. Mr Bahman said the past few years show that Ankara has tested a variety of ways, from logistical, financial, and intelligence support to the terrorists to direct military actions in the Syrian territories. It launched a couple of operations in northern Syria and established watch posts, including in Idlib, to back its presence. Now that it is caught in an impasse, any behavior from it can be likely. Ankara can neither transfer the opposition out of Syria nor can it allow them in or accept losing its play card for a future game in Syria.
“The Turkish leaders know that in case of Idlib recapture, the Syrian government will tighten the control of the borders with Turkey to block logistical and military support to the terrorists. Furthermore, the long-term Damascus plan is to thwart the demographic changes Ankara plans to adopt in the north.”
For Turkey, losing Idlib poses challenges to its goals in Syria in the future. So, there is any possibility by Turkey, including direct military action against Syria, though such a confrontation will not be wide-ranging. It would be limited and affect some spots. After all, Russia stands by Syria and the Turks will avoid any military encounter with the Russians. Therefore, though there is a possibility of Turkish military action, Ankara faces challenges and limitations. This can balance and moderate upcoming Ankara behavior.