The truth about Idlib
In the midst of the ongoing vias crisis with the U.S., we seem to have forgotten about Idlib. But there is heavy military action going on around Turkey’s southern border province of Hatay. Drones and intelligence personnel are working around the clock.
Last week, a sense that Turkey would enter Idlib similar to how it entered al-Bab in the Euphrates Shield Operation was reflected in newspaper headlines. Idlib, however, is a completely different case. That’s why it is beneficial to take a closer look at it.
Idlib, one of the three operations of Russia
Let me note down some of the details about Idlib:
- The Euphrates Shield Operation was conducted with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and planned with the National Intelligence Service (MİT) at the armed forces command center, in line with the terms the Foreign Ministry came to with the U.S. and Russia. The operation into Idlib, however, is the brainchild of the Astana Agreement, reached between Russia, Iran, Syria and Turkey.
- The Idlib Operation is one of the three operations designed to inspect whether the Bashar al-Assad administration - as well as the armed rebel groups not labelled as “terrorists” - are abiding by the de-escalation agreement they agreed on in Astana.
- The first of the operations began in Syria’s southeastern border, while the second began in its southwest. Russia had been monitoring the east with Iran and Jordan and the west with Egypt. In both regions, armed conflicts have slowed down significantly.
- Turkey’s Idlib Operation is intended to identify and report violations, monitoring the ceasefire agreement between al-Assad and armed rebel groups in Syria’s northwest.
- The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) will be monitoring whether the ceasefire is continuing from 14 observation points set up in the north of Syria with 500 soldiers. Russia is monitoring the south with the observation points they set up.
- Some of the TSK observation points will be in Afrin, which is under the rule of the Syrian Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG). This will give the TSK an upper hand in strategizing against a possible YPG corridor connecting the group to the Mediterranean Sea. Russia and al-Assad are also both against such a YPG corridor.
- However, a TSK operation into Afrin does not seem likely because the Russian army is present there.
- Also distinguishing the Idlib operation from the other two operations is the fact that there are “terror elements” where the observation points are this time. I’m referring to groups such as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) – made up of armed groups from the Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham, which separated from other groups and waged war against those who accepted a ceasefire with the government. HTS considers the Astana Agreement to be a betrayal of the Syrian revolution.
- HTS seized control of Idlib, on Turkey’s Hatay border in the south, after the Astana meetings. That is why the TSK’s scouting for and deploying to “ceasefire observation point locations” became “dangerous.” That is also why the FSA and other groups in the region not considered “terror elements” began another security and public order operation to remove HTS. Turkey supports this operation with artillery fire from the ground, while Russia takes the airstrike role.
- The U.S. also supports the removal of HTS. Indeed, Washington and Moscow have an agreement on this particular issue.
- If the Russian-led operations conducted with Iran, Turkey, Jordan and Egypt are successful and the de-escalation is permanent, the parties will gather in Geneva in early November to discuss the new Syrian constitution.
As you can see, Turkey is not going to war with the Idlib Operation. It is an operation that is conducted in agreement with Russia and al-Assad and is a “peace operation,” as Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said. It has also not gone unnoticed that al-Assad, who had filed a complaint to the United Nations against Turkey for territory violations during the Euphrates Operation, is remaining silent as the Idlib operation goes on.
It is also worth noting, the groups that make up HTS, which is highly likely to turn clash with the TSK in Idlib, were previously saved thanks to the Aleppo-Idlib corridor, which Turkey had strongly supported.