As Syria Moves Toward Idlib, Potential for Clash With Turkey Becomes Real – Will Russia, NATO Be Involved?

Turkey has called on Syria, Russia to cease their offensive into Syria's Idlib province where Turkey has some troops in territory under control of Turkey-friendly Islamists.

After the defeat of ISIS and the liberation of Deir ez Zour, the Syrian military is now setting its sights on the terrorist capitol of Idlib. While maintaining a sizable terrorist presence since the beginning of the conflict, various cease-fire agreements have seen terrorists shipped from cities and towns from all across the country into the city and province of Idlib. As a result, a massive concentration of terrorists now populate the area and thus, Idlib represents the last major battle to eliminate Islamic extremist terrorists from Syria (not counting the Kurdish extremists in the north and northeast).

Indeed, in the last several weeks, the Syrian military has launched a large number of successful operations in the province of Idlib, liberating nearly fifty villages and towns. Terrorist infighting has also helped the Syrian government’s operations since, given the nature of extremists, many of these groups have been battling one another over the course of the last few years.

But as the Syrian military closes in on terrorists in Idlib, there is another enemy openly embedded in the area that presents the possibility of a wider war and greater conflict if the two forces meet.

The Turkish military deployed troops to Idlib last October, allegedly as part of an agreement with Russia and Iran to “enforce de-escalation zones” in the area, but, in reality, it is more of a defensive measure against Kurdish extremists. It was also clearly an attempt to annex more territory from Syria and to shore up the terrorists Turkey has been supporting since day one in the Syrian crisis.

As Reuters reported in October, 2017

A first convoy of the military operation that Turkey is carrying out in Syria’s Idlib province crossed into the area late on Thursday, two rebels and a witness said.

The convoy included about 30 military vehicles, said Abu Khairo, a commander in a Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel group based in the area, and it entered Syria near the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, according to a civilian witness.

It was heading to Sheikh Barakat, a hilltop that overlooks large areas of rebel-held northwestern Syria, but also the Afrin area held by the Kurdish YPG militia.

The convoy was escorted by fighters from Tahrir al-Sham, an alliance of jihadist groups including the former al Qaeda affiliate previously known as the Nusra Front, Abu Khairo said.

“The Turkish army convoy is entering under the protection of Tahrir al-Sham to take positions on the front line with the YPG,” another FSA official in the area said.

Turkey said on Saturday it was carrying out a military operation in Idlib and surrounding areas as part of a deal it reached with Russia and Iran last month to enforce a “de-escalation” zone in northwest Syria.

The zone is one of several set up around Syria to reduce warfare between rebels, including groups backed by Turkey, and the government, which is supported by both Russia and Iran.

UPI News explains the agreement further by reporting,

Last September, the plan for Idlib was altered by the Russians, at An­kara’s request. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had been wanting to send troops to the coun­tryside of Damascus and Aleppo, arguing that they could monitor the cease-fire and serve as a buffer be­tween warring factions. This would give Erdogan a permanent foot­hold in Syrian territory, under the umbrella of the Russian-imposed cease-fire.

The idea, however, was rejected by the Iranians, who vowed never to give the Turks what they had been denied after opposition forces had refused to accept Iranian peace­keeping troops in Ghouta, the agri­cultural belt surrounding Damas­cus.

Tehran agreed to look the other way as Erdogan’s forces marched into Idlib province, which borders Turkey, if the Turkish president signed off on increasing Iranian troops around Damascus. The Turk­ish military move was positioned as part of the international peace-keep­ing forces mandated by the Astana process.

As illegal as it may be for the Turks to be setting up shop in Syria, the fact is they are there and the Syrian military is marching steadily toward those positions. Keep in mind that the Syrian President has already promised to liberate every inch of Syria from all invading forces.

This presents a major military question. Once the Syrian military reaches the positions held by the Turkish military, will it continue its push and clash with Turkey? Will Turkey withdraw as Syria pushes forward? Will Syria and Turkey negotiate an exit for the Turkish troops? Will Syria stop short of liberating areas with deployed Turkish military personnel? Have the Russians agreed to partition Syria? Are there other unforeseen agendas afoot?

And what happens if Turkey and Syria clash? Turkey is a member of NATO and, if the two engage a direct clash, it could be argued that the NATO treaty could be invoked and NATO forces might then attempt to move against the Syrian government. Russia, too, would have decisions to make if a conflict were to break out between Syria and Turkey. Would Russia continue to back Syria and risk being drawn into a wider (or massive) military confrontation with Turkey and/or NATO? Likewise, Iran and Hezbollah would also be drawn into the military mix.

At this point, we can only wait and see what course the new military operations take. However, for the sake of everyone in the region and for the sake of the rest of the world, the Turks must leave Syrian territory immediately and cease all support being provided to terrorists crossing the Turk/Syria border and those that currently reside in Syria.

Source: Activist Post