Is Turkey mulling a counterattack in Idlib?

A Turkish military mobile rocket launcher fires from a position in Idlib toward Syrian regime forces’ positions on Friday. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 15 February 2020

Is Turkey mulling a counterattack in Idlib?

  • Ankara gives ultimatum to Syria: Withdraw forces by the end of the month or face a large-scale war

ANKARA: As Turkey is poised to send additional troops to Syria’s rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib, there is speculation of a large-scale war if the deadline given to Damascus to withdraw its forces by the end of the month is ignored.

Turkey’s military continued on Friday to move armored vehicles and bulldozers to Idlib. This has angered Russia, which recently said the crisis in the province is being worsened by the inflow of weapons from Turkey.
Any military operation by Ankara would aim to push Syrian regime forces back. The possibility of this has led to a nadir in Turkish-Russian relations not seen since 2016.
Seth J. Frantzman, executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, said Turkey’s preference is to use the regime’s offensive as an excuse to exercise more control over Idlib and get rebel groups there to be more dependent on Ankara for support.
“Turkey benefits from US support in Idlib, but isn’t interested in the US prodding it into an offensive,” he told Arab News.
“A conflict puts at risk too much for Ankara, such as its S-400 (missile system) deal (with Moscow), TurkStream (a natural gas pipeline running from Russia to Turkey) and Libya operations.”
So far, no deal has been reached between Turkey and the US regarding Idlib, following days-long meetings in Ankara.
Turkey backs some rebel groups, which it has used against Kurdish forces in Syria over the last two years.
Frantzman said Ankara wants to cement control of the provinces of Afrin and Tel Abyad, which it seized from Kurdish forces, as part of a deal with Russia that sees fewer refugees fleeing to Turkey from Idlib, which is home to 3 million civilians.

FASTFACTS

• Any military operation by Ankara would aim to push Syrian regime forces back.

• No deal has been reached yet between Turkey and the US over Idlib.

• Importance of Idlib needs to be understood in light of Turkey’s agenda.

Ankara recently gave Damascus an ultimatum to withdraw from seized territory in Idlib by the end of this month or face military action.
In the span of one week, 13 Turkish soldiers were killed by shelling from forces loyal to Damascus. There are 10 Turkish observation posts entirely surrounded by regime forces.
“The consolidation of Russian and Iranian power in Syria threatens Turkey’s positions in, and its goals for, northern Syria,” Prof. Michael Tanchum, senior associate fellow at the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy, told Arab News.
“The importance of Idlib must also be understood in light of Turkey’s agenda for the region of northern Syria along Turkey’s border.”
He said any further refugee influx into Turkey would be detrimental to the country’s economy and the popularity of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party.
“Thus, making a defiant stand against Russia in Idlib wouldn’t harm the ruling party’s support in Turkey and serves the AK Party’s needs,” Tanchum added.
But he said the question is one of calibration: “Can Turkey raise the cost to Russia to bring Moscow back to the table, or will escalation simply impel Russia to forcefully seek an endgame in Syria without concern for its impact on Russia-Turkey relations? If the former possibility exists, it will be a very narrow window of opportunity.”


Israel strikes Hamas positions in Gaza over fire balloons

Updated 5 min 41 sec ago

Israel strikes Hamas positions in Gaza over fire balloons

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military said Wednesday it carried out overnight strikes on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip after incendiary balloons were launched across the border from the Palestinian enclave.
The army said the strikes were “retaliation” for the launching of multiple balloons from the Hamas-run enclave in recent days.
Jets, attack helicopters and tanks struck a number of Hamas targets including “underground infrastructure and observation posts,” a statement said.
Fire services in southern Israel said the balloons caused 60 fires on Tuesday alone but reported no casualties.
Explosives tied to balloons and kites first emerged as a weapon in Gaza during intense protests in 2018, when the makeshift devices drifted across the border daily, causing thousands of fires in Israeli farms and communities.
Israel has closed its Kerem Shalom goods crossing with the Gaza Strip in response to the recent balloon launches.
Hamas denounced the closure as an “aggressive” move that showed Israel’s “insistence on laying siege” to Gaza, and warned it could cause further worsening of the humanitarian situation in the territory.
As the Kerem Shalom crossing closed, the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt opened Tuesday for the first time since April.
Traffic in both directions was to be permitted for three days, allowing Gazans to leave the enclave for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
The Rafah crossing provides Gaza’s sole access to the outside world not controlled by Israel.
The Palestinian territory has been under an Israeli blockade since 2007.
Hamas and Israel have fought three wars since 2008.
Despite a truce last year, backed by the UN, Egypt and Qatar, the two sides clash sporadically with rockets, mortar fire or incendiary balloons.
Palestinian analysts say cross-border fire from Gaza is often used as a bargaining tool to secure Israel’s green light for the entry of Qatari financial aid into the territory.