Turkey is again turning to the U.S. to achieve its aim of controlling and annexing north Syria.
At the Tehran summit of the Russian, Iranian and Turkish presidents, Turkey presented a (likely U.S. induced plan) for Idlib governorate:
- prolongation of the deescalation ceasefire
- 12 armed groups, including Hayat Tahrir al Sham to be disbanded
- Turkey will train a new rebel force to control Idlib under Turkish command
- Groups who resist will be targeted in counter terrorism operations
Russia and Iran rejected the plan. Idlib is controlled by Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS) (vid) which is an internationally banned terrorist group affiliated with al-Qaeda. Turkey had over a year to solve the HTS problem under the existing de-escaltion agreement and failed.
As a possible showdown approaches, the rebels have arrested and tortured people they accuse of conceding defeat, sowing fear in the local population. A doctor was recently pulled from his home at night, witnesses said. A pistachio peddler was arrested as masked men patrolled the street.
Monitoring groups and local residents put most of the blame on HTS, formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra, but say the Turkish-backed fighters have also arrested dozens of people.
[R]ebel groups have embarked on their wave of arrests, accusing those they detain of secret communications with government representatives. Many have been taken to secret prisons and tortured, groups documenting the arrests say.
“Although this is certainly why some people have been arrested, the problem now is that it is also being used by al-Nusra to arrest the people who criticize their behavior, or to arrest their opponents,” said Fadel Abdul Ghany, director of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, a monitoring group.
After the Tehran summit the Syrian and Russian operation to liberate Idlib was to commence. The troops were in place, air as well as artillery attacks to ‘shape’ the battlefield were ongoing.
But Erdogan again turned on his partners and is back flirting with the U.S. he otherwise despises. In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal he begged for U.S. and NATO help:
All members of the international community must understand their responsibilities as the assault on Idlib looms. The consequences of inaction are immense. We cannot leave the Syrian people to the mercy of Bashar Assad.
It is crucial for the U.S., which has concentrated on chemical attacks, to reject its arbitrary hierarchy of death. Conventional weapons are responsible for far more deaths. But the obligation to stop the next bloodshed is not the West’s alone.
If the international community, including Europe and the U.S., fail to take action now, not only innocent Syrians but the entire world stands to pay the price. Turkey has done everything in its power to stop the bloodshed next door. To ensure that we succeed, the rest of the world must set aside narrow self-interest and throw its weight behind a political solution.
At the same time Erdogan is pushing the U.S. to do his bidding in northwest Syria, he accuses the Trump administration of supporting anti-Turkish PKK/YPK terrorists in northeast Syria. Turkey also continues to insist on buying Russian air defense systems instead of a U.S. produced one.
To halt the Idlib Dawn operations Erdogan shipped new weapon supplies to insurgent groups affiliated with Turkey:
Senior rebel officials said Turkey had sent more military aid to rebels in and around the Idlib region since a summit meeting with Iran and Russia last week failed to agree a deal to avert a government offensive into the area.
“They pledged complete Turkish military support for a long, protracted battle,” a senior FSA commander who was privy to talks in recent days with senior Turkish officials said, requesting anonymity as he was not authorized to speak publicly.
All border areas between Idlib and Turkey are under control of HTS. It takes a share of every load that comes through the border. Turkey is effectively arming the organization it is supposed to eliminate. Turkey also sent reinforcements to its observation posts in Idlib, including tanks (vid).
Erdogan claims that he fears a new wave of refugees coming towards Turkey. He uses this to press the European Union to support his position:
Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said a refugee influx across Turkey’s borders would have international repercussions.
“The global community also needs to take responsibility,” Kalin said after a Cabinet meeting Tuesday. “Another migrant wave coming to Turkey at a time when we already host millions of refugees will cause other complications,” he said. “This will spread from here to Europe and other countries.”
But the concern over a new refugee wave is exaggerated and likely a diversion. The real plan seems to be much larger. Turkey wants to annex Idlib.
The new Turkish ‘plan’ for Idlib which it offered to Russia and Iran is said to include:
- no Syrian army attacks on Turkish supported groups
- no Syrian army entry in areas controlled by Turkish supported groups
- Turkey and Russian troops are to enter to eliminate HTS
- Turkey and Russia will police the areas after HTS is cleared out
- Turkey will only leave when the Kurdish YPG, the U.S. proxy force in northeast Syria, is dismantled
The YPG in Syria, which operates as the PKK terror organization in Turkey, is under U.S. protection. It can not be disbanded. The condition Turkey sets out is unfulfillable.
Moreover Turkey is preparing a ‘legal’ claim on Idlib. It uses its proxies in Idlib to claim ‘Ottoman’ ownership of the areas they control and to installs its own state structures there:
[T]he sources confirmed to the Syrian Observatory that there are 15 villages in the south-eastern sector of Idlib countryside, in the area between Maarrat Al-Nu’man and Sinjar area, including Al-Sayyadi, Barsah, Khyara, Seraa and Saree, have been owned by the Turks, since the time of the Ottoman presence in the area, which pushed the Turks, according to the sources, to interfere strongly and bring grand military forces and large numbers of members, equipment, ammunition and vehicles in addition to fortifying their military posts stationed in Idlib, Hama and Aleppo.
Turkey depends to prove that it owns these areas, on titles and deeds of ownership of these villages, and what supports this claim is that Turkey deliberately established 3 observation posts in the east of the International Highway which passes through Idlib province and links between the Syrian – Turkish border and the Syrian – Jordanian border, and Turkey also depends on similar proofs to prove its ownership of other areas such as Jarabulus, Manbij and the areas where Ottoman commanders had been buried
Turkey will work on preventing the regime forces from starting any battle in the western countryside of Idlib, and will not allow this to happen along with requesting the factions to be completely ready in the case that any changes that may take place, while a request will be submitted to Ankara for the services and the restoration of schools, as well as a request that will be submitted about the demanding of the return of Jabal Al-Akrad and Jabal Al-Turkman and putting them under the Turkish protection and the return of their residents to them.”
The claims are of course ludicrous. The Ottoman empire is gone and the territory is internationally recognized as part of Syria.
Russia seems to be willing to give Turkey more time:
“We are saying the situation in Idlib should be settled most preferably in a peaceful way. It is possible to abstain from using military force,” Alexander Lavrentiev, Russia’s Syria envoy, told reporters after talks in Geneva with U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura.
“Idlib province is…a sort of zone of responsibility of Turkey; it is their responsibility to separate the moderate opposition from the extremists, from Jabhat al-Nusra and other groups, other terrorist groups,” he said.
Syria and Iran will be very unhappy about this delay but they need Russia’s backing to proceed.
Russia anticipates that the ‘west’, with the help of Turkey, will try to use the Syrian liberation of Idlib for an all-out attack on the Syrian government. The Russian Defense Ministry continues its warning of another fake a chemical incident which would be a pretext for a ‘western’ attack on the Syrian government. For the last 48 hours, all Syrian and Russian air attacks on the terrorists in Idlib have stopped. This is probably to prevent that such strikes are used to claim a ‘chemical bombing’:
Another U.S. attack on Syria would help U.S. President Trump on domestic issues, most importantly in the upcoming elections for Congress. In two weeks Trump will chair a UN Security Council meeting which he could use to propagandize against an Idelb attack. It is possible that Russia will hold back until these events are over.
For Russia this is a tricky situation. Erdogan can probably be pressured into retreat. But Russia also wants to prevent that it falls back into the U.S. fold. The typical Russian reaction in such a situation is to hedge, to play for time and to hope that some other incident happens which then helps to turn the situation. Such an event may come sooner than expected.
This morning Erdogan called on the Turkish central bank to lower its interest rates. He believes that high interests rates drive high inflation. The Turkish Lira fell 3%. Two hours after Erdogan’s call the Central Bank raised the interest rate by 625 basis points to 24% and the Lira rallied. This will over time bring down the inflation rate but Turkey’s economy will stall.
Such economic turmoil increases Turkey’s dependence on Russia and Iran which are the main energy suppliers to Turkey. The Central Bank move is also a threat to Erdogan’s personal authority which he can not to let unanswered. But attacks on the independence of the Central Bank will bring ‘western’ punishment. Who will then back him if not Russia and Iran?