by Aram Mirzaei for the Saker blog
The much expected Idlib offensive has been further delayed as tensions are rising among the major players of the Syrian war. The western mainstream media is as usual focusing heavily on the chemical weapons and refugee issues with fraudulent lies and manipulation of facts. The Idlib offensive will first and foremost not target Idlib city, but rather the surrounding countryside, secondly just as the Aleppo offensive did not create a refugee crisis, neither will the Idlib offensive as Russia and Syria have made sure to set up exit corridors for civilians to enter territory under Syrian government control. Of course this is how Washington and its vassals set the stage for another illegal act of aggression towards Syria. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov disputed the Western mainstream media narrative. He went on to say that “the fact that they are just people who have settled in Idlib, like in a fortress, and want a truce – it’s not true. From there they actively carry out military operations, using the support they somehow receive from abroad.”
All this was expected and predictable, but what will happen to the Turkey-Russia-Iran cooperation on the Syrian peace process?
As the Syrian government troops have been building up their forces across the Hama-Idlib-Latakia axis, Turkey has been building up its forces on the opposite side. Dozens of convoys have entered northern Syria these past weeks, including special operation forces and heavy armour. This is a major violation of the Astana agreement which only allows for a limited number of Turkish “observation points” in the Idlib province. Ankara claims that it is bringing more troops into Syria to intimidate jihadists into either joining their proxy forces or face battle.
Ankara has for weeks tried to delay the offensive with offers to help disarm and clear the region from mutually recognized terrorist forces such as Haya’t Tahrir Al-Sham. This was most likely the main topic of discussion during the Tehran summit last week. Moscow is however growing tired of waiting, and who can blame them? Over the past few months, the Russian air base in Latakia has come under attack on at least 55 occasions by armed Jihadist controlled drones from Idlib. How long will Moscow have to compromise the security of its personnel?
Ankara has been clear that it wants the offensive to be stopped. Erdogan even went as far as to having an article published on the New York times, calling on the international community to stop the offensive, adding that “the entire world stands to pay the price” otherwise. Erdogan also tried to get the EU to join in as he has warned that a “flood of refugees and jihadists will come to Europe” as a result of an attack. The reason for Ankara’s opposition to this offensive is because Ankara has serious fears for its national security as battered jihadists will certainly retreat into Turkish territory, wreaking havoc there instead, a concern shared by the French foreign minister Le Drian, who fears French terrorists will return home. On top of that, jihadists have in recent days posted videos on social media threatening Turkey and Erdogan, warning that militants in north-western Syria have dug a tunnel stretching into Turkey’s Hatay province. The militants in the video threatened to carry out attacks in Turkey if Ankara were to abandon them.
As a result of these developments, Moscow must consider whether Turkey is able to honor its commitment of ending the terrorist presence in and around Idlib. Ankara has been taking advantage of the recent surge in Western threats against Damascus in relation to the inevitable upcoming false flag operations being planned to take place any day now. This has caused Russia to partly shift its attention elsewhere and away from Ankara’s deceitful moves. The offensive is at this moment at risk of being further delayed or even scrapped as all three players (Russia, Iran and Turkey) have some major considerations to take into account while further talks surely are to be held before the launching of any large scale attack. However any delay or cancelation of the offensive is dangerous for Syria and her allies while Ankara rightly believes that any attack will result in a serious security threat for Turkey as jihadists will retreat into their territory as a result of losses on the battlefield.
Ankara’s boldness in this situation has effectively made it a kingmaker here, either it can end this war or create a whole new conflict. Erdogan is relying on his rapprochement with Tehran and Moscow, including the recent surge in commercial ties with the two, to help him get his will through. Still, he should not underestimate Moscow and Tehran’s closer ties to Damascus and their will to end this war. What is clear is that Damascus considers Turkey to be an occupier intent on annexing Idlib, something Damascus will never accept, with or without Moscow and Tehran’s support. The question however remains, will two years worth of diplomacy and political efforts survive this decisive moment of the Syrian war?