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)
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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.”


UN urged to prevent Houthi oil ‘disaster’

Updated 33 min 9 sec ago

UN urged to prevent Houthi oil ‘disaster’

  • The Houthis have refused for more than 5 years to allow international engineers to board the Safer to carry out essential repairs
  • The Houthis have rejected all independent international requests to board the vessel

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s government has urged the UN Security Council to intervene to prevent a derelict tanker from leaking more than a million barrels of oil into the Red Sea.

The FSO Safer has been moored 7 km off the coast of Yemen since 1988. The vessel fell into the hands of Iran-backed Houthi militias in March 2015, when they took control of the coast around the port city of Hodeidah.

The Houthis have refused for more than 5 years to allow international engineers to board the Safer to carry out essential repairs, and as the vessel’s condition deteriorates there are fears that the 1.4 million barrels of oil it contains will start to seep out.

An oil leak from the Safer’s tanks would be “one of the biggest environmental disasters in the region and the world,” Yemen’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Al-Hadrami told Christoph Heusgen, Germany’s permanent representative at the UN and president of the Security Council.

The Houthis have rejected all independent international requests to board the vessel, including the latest one from the UN Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths, who demanded access for an international technical team.

Anwar Al-Ameri, head of the government oil company in Hodeidah, said an oil spill from the Safer would be more destructive to the environment than the damage caused by the oil tanker Exxon Valdez in Alaska in 1989. “A looming environmental disaster is awaiting the Red Sea countries if the oil tanker Safer is destroyed,” Al-Ameri said.

Michael Aron, UK ambassador to Yemen, has also warned of a potential catastrophe. “The threat to the environment in the Red Sea is enormous, and will impact on all the countries who share this coastline,” he said.

“We urgently need to allow UN experts to board the craft, assess its condition and take the necessary steps to secure the vessel and prevent the oil from leaking.”

Yemeni activists, politicians and government officials have launched a campaign on social media aimed at focusing attention on the derelict vessel and pressing the international community to act quickly to safe Yemen from disaster.

Mohammed Al-Omada, head of the Yemeni Network for Rights and Freedoms, said the Houthis were using the vessel to blackmail the legitimate government into offering concessions in peace talks brokered by the UN Yemen envoy, and to enable them to sell the vessel’s oil.

“We call on the international community to take swift and urgent measures to prevent this serious environmental catastrophe from happening,” he said.