Syria is heading for another crucial junction
The statement by Anatoly Viktorov, the Russian Ambassador to Tel Aviv, came at a time when developments regarding the Syrian war have heated up. He said Russia would not be able to force Iran to pull its forces out of Syria. Instantly, there were comments on social media, which said under the circumstances, Israel could take care of the problem by its own means without Russia’s help. That may be easier said than done.
Recently, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been complaining of the presence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and pro-Iran Hezbollah near his country’s borders, has asked both United States President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin for their help in moving Iranians out of Syria. Recently, Ali Akbar Velayeti, Iran’s former foreign minister and currently the special envoy of Iran’s religious leader Ali Khamanei, said they could leave Syria if Damascus wanted. It was Bashar al-Assad in Damascus who invited both Russia and Iran to help his regime in the civil war that has been ongoing since 2011.
Putin supports Assad and they are on the same page with Iran in doing so. However, that does not mean Iran acts on Russia’s suggestions. Recall that it was after Tehran’s backing during the evacuation of Aleppo, which forced Russia and Turkey to include Iran in the Astana Process early 2017. The three countries are also guarantors for the cease fire between the Syrian government forces and the armed opposition groups, except those terrorist groups affiliated with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL). Idlib, a northwestern Syrian city close to the Turkish border, has a key importance in that sense. So far, Turkey has set up to 12 military observation posts around the city, which is reportedly inhabited by both armed opposition and terrorist groups.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan has said there is a risk of another migration flux into Turkey. The source of the risk comes from an attack of Syrian government forces without coordination with Russia, thus Turkey and Iran. The diplomats from the three countries met on July 31 to discuss Syria in general and the delicate situation in Idlib in particular. Another dimension of the problem is the pressure the U.S. is exerting on Turkey in order to join the sanctions against Iran; Erdoğan says the U.S. should suggest a viable alternative to Turkey, who is deprived of energy sources and imports oil and gas from Iran, its eastern neighbor.
As of last week, Turkey has had an additional problem. There are talks reported between the Assad government and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) for joint action against al-Qaeda and ISIL in the western parts, meaning near Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. SDF is a shell organization, mainly commissioned by the U.S. forces in Syria in order to avoid the impression of cooperating with the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is also considered a terrorist organization by the U.S.
Turkey has launched two major military operations into Syria in coordination with Russia, one against ISIL and one against the YPG, controlling sections of its border areas with the help of the rebel Free Syria Army (FSA). In the meantime, Erdoğan has suggested a meeting on Syria in Turkey; diplomatic sources say the meeting could take place between the leaders or foreign ministers of Turkey, Russia, France and Germany, possibly in early September.
As the summer proceeds, the situation in Syria is heading to another crucial junction, exposing Turkey to new risks.