Syria – Turkey plays with conflagration
In recent weeks the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) has made steady progress towards the liberation of the province of Idlib, the last terrorist stronghold in Syria. The HTS, better known as al-Nusra, have occupied the would-be de-escalation zone and used it as a base from which to launch thousands of terror attacks in the past couple of months alone, underlining the urgent need to push the jihadis back towards the Turkish border.
Syrian Arab Army advance into Idlib
To this end the SAA, assisted by Russian air cover, has been making inroads from the south of Idlib. At the end of January it drove insurgents out of Maarat al-Numan, the second largest town in Idlib province, strategically located on the main highway linking the capital Damascus with Aleppo in northern Syria. Other towns liberated by the liberation forces include Saraqib, al Eis and many others.
In striving to clear the north west from its occupation by al-Nusra the SAA is exercising its right to uphold Syria’s sovereignty. In so doing it is simply acting in accordance with the Sochi Memorandum of Understanding signed by Ankara and Moscow in 2018 and is also acting against al-Nusra forces which are branded as terrorists by the UN. Yet neither Turkey nor the UN Security Council see matters in this way.
Hypocrisy at the UN
The UN, unfazed by the thousands of terror attacks being launched by al-Nusra in the north west, suddenly hits the panic button when it sees the national liberation forces of the SAA making short work of jihad. Sure enough, Washington, London and Paris rushed to bounce the Security Council into a special meeting, giving the US and its gang the opportunity to denounce Syria for its lawful actions. As Russia’s envoy to the UN noted sardonically, “The unplanned meetings have a common pattern now: we meet together precisely when the terrorists in Syria are under threat, and the Syrian government is regaining control of its national territory” (‘Unplanned meetings on Syria convene when UN-recognized terrorists are under attack’, RT, 7 February 2020). When the envoy turned the tables and denounced the US occupation of Syria and the theft of Syrian oil, the president of the Security Council rudely shut him up, thereby demonstrating the ‘objectivity’ of the UN, this neutered international body.
Ankara’s broken promise
Turkey was no better pleased than the US at the SAA’s vigorous measures against the jihadi infestation. Yet by acting to enforce the demilitarised zone in Idlib, the SAA was simply performing the task which Ankara had promised to undertake in concert with Russia in Sochi back in 2018. Under the Memorandum of Understanding, Ankara was going to use its influence with the jihadis to achieve through diplomacy what would otherwise require force. Under the agreement, all tanks, artillery and mortars were to be pulled out of the demilitarised zone (DMZ) by October 2018, and the Turkish army would, jointly with Russian military police, patrol and monitor the DMZ. After many extensions of the deadline it became clear that Ankara either could not or would not deliver on its obligations, instead using its observation posts, installed along the border for the ostensible purpose of enforcing the DMZ, as places affording cover for al-Nusra and related jihadi gangs.
One of the stated goals of the joint Memorandum was to get traffic flowing safely along the routes M4 (Aleppo-Latakia) and M5 (Aleppo-Hama) – which is what finally started to happen thanks to the current SAA offensive. What cannot be achieved by persuasion must be accomplished by other means.
Erdogan, however, is refusing to accept defeat for his plans to overthrow the Syrian government through the mobilisation and arming of jihadis. He has continued to arm the local jihadis, thus enabling them to shoot down two Syrian government military aircraft. In retaliation the SAA launched an attack on Turkish troops in Syria that left a further 36 dead and as many seriously injured. Turkey also supported the jihadis in seizing back control of towns that the SAA had painstakingly succeeded in returning to government control only a few weeks previously, in particular the town of Saraqib, which guards the M5 highway south of Aleppo as it passes through Idlib, Though Russia originally held back from intervention in order to avoid escalating the situation, this was a step too far on Turkey’s part, and on 2 March the Russian air force and ground forces joined with the SAA in returning Saraqib to government control.
In the meantime Erdogan has been demanding support from his Nato allies, which shows no sign of being forthcoming, beyond a certain amount of logistical support from the EU. Much as these imperialist hyenas would have liked to see the downfall of the Syrian government, most have reluctantly realised that it is no easy thing to overthrow a government which has the active or passive support of most of the population, and they are now anxious not to throw good money after bad. Furiously Erdogan has opened his borders to millions of refugees that the EU had paid him handsomely to keep in Turkey. Even the US is unwilling to lend a hand, given Erdogan’s recent purchase of a Russian missile defence system in preference to a US system, made at a time when Erdogan was furious with the US over its support of Kurdish rebels whom Turkey regards as a threat to its territorial integrity and fiercely opposes. In the circumstances, Erdogan is on his way to meet with President Putin in an attempt on both their parts to break the impasse. For the sake of the people of the whole region one can only hope Putin is able to persuade him to let the Syrian government restore peace after so many bitter years of war. Erdogan has been claiming to have the interests of Syria’s displaced population at heart when intervening to prevent the Syrian government from recovering control of its own territory, but the truth is that when peace is restored, when the terrorists have been routed, millions who have been forced to flee will be able thankfully to return to rebuild their homes and their lives. Turkey is now standing as an obstacle to that, and as such is setting itself up for its forcible removal should Erdogan continue in his stubborn stance.
It is to be hoped that, having made some headway in distancing Turkey from its former slavish relations with the US, Erdogan will not mistake his own weakness for the Muslim Brotherhood for the real national interests of Turkey.
Victory to the Syrian President, Government, Army and People!