Syrian army soldiers are deployed in the town of Dahrat Abd Rabbo, in Aleppo province, Syria, in this handout released by SANA on February 17, 2020. SANA/Handout via REUTERS
CAIRO - 26 February 2020: The Syrian Arab Army has been advancing in the countryside of Idlib and Aleppo prompting Turkey to intervene directly in Syria along with the militant groups it backs.
Writer and Regional Affairs Journalist Hend al-Dawy builds up a holistic image of the developments on the Syrian scene.
Evaluation of the Syrian Arab Army’s Advances
“The Arab Syrian Army does not seek to free Idlib city at present to not risk the lives of civilians because militants would use them as human shields, and to not destroy the infrastructure. That is why it is moving only in the countryside of Idlib and Aleppo,” Dawy explains.
“The Syrian Arab Army targets to encircle Idlib city from Maarat Al Numan to Saraqib and Darat Izza blocking the path between the governorate and Afrin where Turkish munitions are brought. That is the first step to free Idlib city later. That has prompted Turkey to intervene directly for the first time since 2011 and not through proxies,” the regional affairs journalist elaborates.
Dawy points out that the Arab Syrian Army was also able to control the M5 highway between Damascus and Aleppo and the M4 highway between Aleppo and Latakia controlling the path between the North, South, and West of Syria.
“What is happening now is a direct engagement but not a direct war as NATO can only defend Turkey, if attacked on its soil, but not when being an aggressor on foreign soil. There will be an agreement between Turkey and Russia soon,” the writer estimates.
Dawy asserts that the Syrian Arab Army is executing the political leadership’s willpower to restore all Syrian soil from all non-government forces and foreign parties.
Speculations on the Future
“The Syrian Arab Army will keep hold of restored lands. Yet, the conflict in Syria will end by a massive war since the Syrian state wants to eliminate all foreign military presence but that war will not be between Turkey and Russia,” Dawy speculates.
“Turkey will be used to annoy the Syrian state. The U.S., French, and German forces will not leave. For them to withdraw, fierce battles must take place, particularly if the United States starts escalation against Iran next year,” the writer estimates.
Turkish Ambitions in Syria
“Militants were receiving support from several states - mainly Turkey and Qatar - that aim for different goals. The main of which are the recovery of political Islam in a state that used to stand against such project, and making Aleppo fall into ruins as it is the industrial hub of the Middle East and the main competitor of Turkey in that sector,” the writer clarifies.
“Turkey is part of the “creative chaos” project; however, it has been working on its own project,” Dawy says. The Treaty of Lausanne signed in 1923 to draw the current borders of Turkey and dismantle the Ottoman Empire will expire in 2023. Hence, Turkey is now trying to revive the Milly Charter signed in 1920 by Ottoman parliamentarians providing that Turkish borders include Mosul, North Syria, and Sanjak of Alexandretta.
“Turkey did not abide by the Astana and Sochi agreements providing that militants must be segregated from moderate opposition so that civilians do not get harmed when the Syrian Arab Army enters the city,” the regional affairs journalist highlights pointing out, “After the Arab Syrian Army had captured Aleppo in 2016, the Turkish ambition in Syria - embodied in reviving the Milli Charter - technically ended.”
“Turkey is not an ally of Russia. Turkey became an economic partner of Russia after the United States turned against it by backing the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Russia is the ally of Syria which had rejected extending a gas pipeline from Qatar to Turkey through its lands. Hence, Russia is now bearing its share of responsibility in the war. Turkstream launched in January between Russia and Turkey does not constitute an alliance,” the regional affairs journalist expounds.
“Turkey serves western interests in Syria and Libya turning against Russia in the latter as it will always be the ally of the United States and NATO. Nevertheless, [U.S. President Donald] Trump is penalizing [Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip] Erdogan for acquiring S-400 from Russia and for extending its gas pipelines through Turkish territories,” Dawy suggests.
The fate of Armed Groups
The liberation of territories occupied by militants resulted in their displacement to Idlib’s de-escalation zone where their number has reached between 80,000 and 100,000, as estimated by Damascus. “Those militants are foreigners as they belong to the Caucasus, European countries, and Uighur ethnicity,” the writer says.
Return of the Displaced
“Syria and Russia demanded the return of refugees but the European Union has taken them hostage to pressure the Syrian regime. The return of refugees means the country is safe and thus admitting the legitimacy of the incumbent regime,” Dawy says.
On the other hand, the presence of the Islamic State did not end because it gives legitimacy to the deployment of the Coalition forces in the country, the regional affairs journalist points out.
Impact on Libya
“When Erdogan felt he was losing ground in Syria, he intervened in Libya driven by greed to take over gas fields Eatsern Mediterranean. He has held Libya hostage. Turkey houses millions of Syrian refugees, lost soldiers and billions in the Syrian civil war, and got its economy sinking as a consequence. It is exerting pressure in Idlib and Libya for the gas but the cake will be divided among the big boys,” Dawy suggests.
“Turkey moved militants from Iraq’s Mosul and Tal Afar to Tripoli, and not just from Syria. Trump had asked France and Germany to prosecute IS militants as their imprisonment costs by the U.S forces are high. Yet, they refused and turned a blind eye to their transfer by Turkey to Libya,” the writer says.
Turkey’s actions are a breach of UNSC resolutions no. 1973 and 1970. “Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Ghassan Salame could request imposing a penalty upon Turkey but he did not. That reflects a western collusion. Also, a wide sector of the Pentagon and CIA still supports political Islam and aims for its restoration in Egypt, Tunisia, Alegria, and Mauritania,” the regional affairs journalist stipulates.