For nearly two years, Idlib province in Syria has been subjected to fierce attacks by the forces of the butcher Bashar Al-Assad and the criminal Vladimir Putin. The Syrian regime and its Russian allies are like a pack of hyenas, resulting in tens of thousands of Idlib’s residents being killed, either by internationally-banned bombs, stray bullets or the rubble of their homes that were demolished over their heads. Moreover, hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced, their only shelter being on the Turkish border under trees and the open sky, with not even tents to shelter them from the snow. Tents are luxuries for displaced people.
In Idlib, war crimes are committed with the same casual brutality as those committed by the Nazis, while the world remains silent as it witnesses the massacres. Nobody bats an eyelid; their hearts do not skip a beat; and their consciences are clear. In fact, in a world where a one-eyed man is king, hypocrisy rules and consciences have died.
Idlib is a precis of the tragedy that is the Syrian revolution, which everyone, from far and wide, came to abort. They have all torn into it to take what they can for themselves and leave it drowning in its own blood. The so-called “Friends of Syria” abandoned the oppressed Syrian people and went instead for their share of the spoils.
The province of Idlib is all that remains of the revolution; the last fortress of freedom to which the rebels and liberals who oppose the Assad regime have fled. The Syrian leader and his criminal militias have been trying to enter Idlib to seize control, with the support of Russia and Iran. This means that they have trampled on the 2018 Sochi Agreement and broken their promise to Turkey, the country tasked with monitoring the regime and the ceasefire in Idlib. Russia and Iran have allowed the barbaric Assad regime to launch intense strikes and bomb the supposed de-escalation zones. Hundreds of helpless civilians have been killed, and nearly one million have been forced to flee from the hell of the criminal regime, in the freezing cold and heavy rain.
The Assad regime has violated the Sochi Agreement and launched attacks on Idlib on numerous occasions; Russia has given it a green light to do so, while Turkey has generally turned a blind eye to avoid a clash with Russia. Ankara was content with condemning the regime and holding it responsible, until Turkish troops were attacked and killed. Now it is Russia which is held responsible by Turkey.
It responded by killing over 100 Assad militiamen and destroying some tanks. Sochi is dead in the water, it seems, soon to be joined by the Astana process. The ceiling for threats by Turkey has come down; it knows that the regime would not have dared to attack Turkish troops without the nod from Russia. Relations between Moscow and Ankara are now very tense, with negotiations ongoing to bridge the widening gap. The Russians want to enable the Syrian regime to gain complete control over Idlib and use what it gets as negotiation tools with Ankara. Meanwhile, Turkey remains committed to what is left of Sochi, and the withdrawal of the regime to the borders set by the agreement behind the Turkish supervision points. It is also committed to establishing the ceasefire and gave the regime until the end of the month to withdraw.
It is clear that strong statements from Ankara, either by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan or Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, show that Turkey is serious about confronting the Assad regime, even if this requires military action. It has increased its own troop deployments with daily reinforcements and supplies of military hardware.
Moreover, Erdogan has cross-party support in Ankara urging him to strike Assad’s regime and restore respect for the Turkish army. This is in addition to the strong US statements in support of the Turkish President; Washington seems to have remembered that Turkey is a NATO ally of the US and so must be supported in its legitimate defence of its borders. At the same time, though, America supports Kurdish separatist movements, and there are indications that the Syrian Democratic Forces are involved in the struggle against the Turkish army.
The situation is thus very dangerous and complicated. If the Turkish side carries out its threats and launches a military operation against the regime, even a limited strike, then it will inevitably clash with Russia, and neither Ankara nor Moscow want this. They have many common interests in Libya and the Mediterranean basin in general. What’s more, if a war were to break out, no one knows how long it will last or how it will end. There are sensitive calculations on both sides, but with the Turks insisting on their demands, it looks as if Russia will have no choice but to force Assad’s forces to withdraw from the areas they have occupied, just as it allowed their occupation, in order to reduce the tension. Otherwise, it will sacrifice its strategic and economic relations with Turkey and become estranged. Will Russia sacrifice Turkey for the defeated Assad regime? I don’t think so.
Rapid developments on the ground mean that matters will be decided in the field to determine whether the way forward is by arms or negotiation. We must not forget that war is a major political negotiation played out on the ground.
The whole world is waiting for the end of February to see whether the Assad regime will withdraw and peace will break out, or if the regime will be stubborn, on Russia’s orders, making Erdogan carry out his threats. If he doesn’t, he will lose credibility in the eyes of the wider world, the Muslim world and his own people. I do not think that he will risk that. The war in Syria is not about limited warfare; it is a multi-party, international conflict, with all that entails.
According to Ibrahim Karagul, the Editor in Chief of Turkey’s Yeni Safak newspaper, the war in Syria is aimed at Turkey and involving it in Idlib with the Assad regime, with implications fo the natural resources of the eastern Mediterranean. He also noted that Israel, France, Russia, the UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Greece are using the Idlib card to keep Turkey away from Libya. Karagul described this as a very dangerous game.
There is no doubt that Turkey, as a rising and relatively powerful Muslim state, is targeted by both the East and the West, who do not want any Muslim country to have any power and escape from under their collective thumb. The Arabs are plotting against Turkey in order to overthrow Erdogan, and billions of dollars have been allotted to exhaust his country. However, I am sure that the Turkish leadership is aware of this and is confronting the obvious and once covert enemies now that the masks have fallen. It is saddening, though, that this involves the shedding of yet more Arab blood on Arab land.
The battle of Idlib is a decisive battle, and President Erdogan said that the attack on Turkish soldiers is a turning point for Turkey in Syria, with his country’s presence entering a new era in the province. He also noted that Turkey is willing to pay the price for the free Syrian people to remain on their own land. This is what we want and what we wish for, so let us wait for what the coming days have in store.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.