On Monday, new Turkish forces crossed the border into Idlib in a bid to reinforce their positions in the Syrian province, which is the last main stronghold of the terrorist groups. With regard to this issue and consideration of other developments that are happening simultaneously, we can talk about two scenarios marking the start of new clashes in the war-ravaged country.
Idlib operation zero hour
Currently, Idlib is the biggest base of the terrorists and armed position in Syria. The province is subject to a truce as a result of negotiations between Russia and Turkey that led to “de-escalation zones.” Over the past year, the Tahrir al-Sham terrorist group, the rebranded Al-Nusra Front, gained a large part of the province from other armed groups, rendering the Russian-Turkish-sponsored ceasefire useless. Since the beginning, the Syrian government held a tenacious intention to regain control of Idlib. Damascus has been skeptical about the Western and Turkish plans for the cessation of fire in Idlib. Now it finds the domination of Idlib by Al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists a ripe opportunity to recapture the northwestern province. That is why the Syrian officials reiterate the unavoidability of the military operation against the Idlib-based terrorists.
Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad in a recent interview said that Idlib is an inseparable part of Syria. He further said that the operation to reclaim Idlib will begin soon, vowing that the “resistance Syrian forces” will hold the control of the province.
On the other hand, the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said that the current media and diplomatic propaganda and controversy created before Idlib operation is motivated by the fact that the operation’s results are decisive for the Americans and their allies. “It is obvious that the victory of the Axis of Resistance and return of Idlib to Syria represents a defeat to the US plans for the region.” It has been said that the February trip of President Assad to Iran signaled Tehran’s declaration of support to cleanse Idlib of terrorist groups.
The military movements also add to the veracity of speculations about the imminent start of Idlib assault. According to Russian Sputnik news agency, on April 12 the Syria Arab Army received new equipment from the Russian military based in the country. It has already been trained on how to use the new arms, the news agency added. According to Sputnik, the new arms are delivered to Syria as part of a weapons contract with Moscow and contains updated missiles as well as modern weapons to thwart drone attacks launched by the terrorists in Hama and Idlib. News reports have recently talked about foreign parties sending combat and reconnaissance drones to the Idlib-based terrorist groups through the Turkish border.
On Monday, the Syrian army in a limited operation targeted the positions of foreign-backed terrorists in Al-Tamaniya town southwest of Idlib. A day before, the Russian warplanes had bombed positions belonging to the terrorists in Idlib outskirts.
Recent airstrikes by the Israeli regime on the provinces neighboring Idlib also heat the speculations about the start of Idlib operation. The military operation against 146,000 terrorists from 60 countries is quite hard and requires air and missile support. Syria appears to be preparing the equipment for a full-scale operation if the political solution fails to go anywhere.
The closest region to Idlib is Hama province and the neighboring provinces like Aleppo and Latakia. The government needs to arrange its facilities and weapons there so that the neighboring provinces could work as back fronts paving the way for swift obliteration of neutralization of the terrorists in Idlib.
Syria's plans have drawn reactions from Turkey, which as a backer of the Idlib armed groups has intensified its forces on the border with Idlib. On April 12, Najat Rushdie, the UN humanitarian affairs envoy to Syria, said that the US received news of a new military escalation in Idlib. The military operations, he said, will displace many civilians in Idlib.
Launching joint anti-terrorist operation in Idlib
Yet another scenario is likely. Turkey is apparently opposed to military operation in Idlib. If the operation is launched, Ankara may decide to walk out of Sochi and Astana peace initiatives. Still, Turkey may have struck a deal on Idlib with Russia. Turkish President Recept Tayyip Erdogan recently visited Moscow to meet his counterpart Vladimir Putin, with their talks focusing on Idlib. The leaders appear to have agreed to save the ceasefire by jointly repressing Tahrir terrorists in the Syrian province. Ankara’s softened position may rest in the record of coordination with Russia during the Turkish army’s operations in Northern Syria and Erdogan’s understanding of Damascus right to fight groups labeled by the international community as terrorists.