There are around 9 Turkish Observation Posts currently situated within Syrian controlled territory inside of the Idlib province. The Turkish servicemen manning those OPs are cut off from Turkey.
The Sochi agreement on Idlib reached in September 2018 by Erdogan and Putin stipulated that the province was supposed to become a demilitarised zone. All hostilities between the SAA on one side and the rebels and jihadis on the other had to cease immediately and the frontline had to be frozen.
Both Russia and Turkey were allowed to set up Observation Posts along the frozen frontline to enforce the cease-fire. Russia was supposed to prevent Damascus from launching attacks on Idlib. Turkey was meant to prevent the rebels from launching attacks on government-held positions. More importantly, Ankara was meant to disarm the jihadi factions in Idlib and somehow withdraw them from the province.
Instead, Turkey allowed Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the main Al Qaeda offshoot in Syria, to take over rebel positions in Idlib. Worse, instead of disarming the jihadis, Turkey recruited some of them to use against the SDF/YPG.
Attacks from Idlib based jihadis were regularly launched against the Latakia, Hama and Aleppo provinces.
Last April, the SAA launched several operations aimed at gaining a better starting point for an offensive on Idlib. Russia provided the SAA with dozens of T-62Ms toward the end of 2019. In December, the SAA launched an assault on Idlib from Hama and Aleppo. Said assault has been supported all the way by Russian intel and air support. Russian officers have regularly been seen just behind the frontline advising their Syrian counterparts. On the other side, the Turkish army was seen supplying the rebel/jihadi side with increasingly heavy and sophisticated weapons. When that wasn’t enough, the Turkish army supplied artillery support. Ankara even resorted to committing its own servicemen when its proxies proved to be unable to resist the SAA advance.
Where are we now?!
Well… The SAA is 4km from Idlib city and now controls over 50% of the Idlib province. The M5 Highway is also under government control for the first time in over 8 years. The suburbs of Aleppo city have also been reconquered by the Syrian army. There have been several direct clashes between the SAA and the Turkish army. Turkish OPs along the old frontline have been overrun and are now isolated.
Both Turkey and Russia have been accusing one another to have failed to uphold their respective promises made in Sochi. Erdogan has ordered the SAA to withdraw beyond the limits of the Idlib province before the end of this month. He has threatened Syria with a Turkish military invasion of the province should Damascus not comply.
It is unlikely that Damascus will comply with such ultimatum. So what’s next?!
Well, in the coming days/weeks, we might see two things happening… This is our educated guesses:
1) An attempt by the SAA at trying to cut off Idlib from Turkey by cutting it off from the North (A Westward Syrian push from Aleppo). This would be followed by a Turkish operation/invasion targeting the Idlib province and directly targeting Syrian regulars and Iranian militiamen… On paper, the Turkish army is infinitely superiors to the tired and depleted SAA. However, it would be pitted against a small number of experienced, well motivated and Russian advised Syrian units. The Turkish side would prevail but the cost (human, political, diplomatic and economic) for Erdogan could be higher than anticipated.
Turkey is fighting a fair few battles (military, diplomatic and economic) at the moment:
– Against the US/NATO with the S-400 saga
– Against Syria, Russia, Iran and the YPG in Syria.
– Against Greece, Cyprus, and Israel regarding oil deposits off the coast of Cyprus.
– Against Russia and Egypt in Libya…
Has Erdogan bitten more than he can chew?
2) We could see the SAA announcing a pause in its operations in the Idlib province. Ankara would save face as its threats of military intervention could be seen as pivotal in the SAA decision to stop its operations. The SAA would save face as while they would not retreat, they would temporarily agree to not attempt to reconquer the whole province while they have momentum. It would be a compromise that would suit everyone short term. It would avoid a continuation of hostilities in the province, would prevent a Turko-Syrian war and would ease the refugee’s situation along the Turkish border.
Both Turkey and Russia could even agree on setting up new OPs along the new frontline…
Which scenario is going to become reality? Do you think a different scenario could play out? How do you see this situation evolving?