Who will withdraw: Erdogan or Assad?

Read Time:3 Minute, 44 Second

Based on the article writen by Jonathan Marcus, BBC

The conflict in Syria has long had a dual aspect—civil war and dirty war—with several external actors supporting the parties with their own strategic goals.

Now, as the conflict in northwest Syria draws to a close, these two aspects are merging into a powder keg whose explosion will have a profound impact beyond the Middle East.

Idlib is the last Syrian province where significant territory remains in rebel hands.

In 2017, it appeared that Russia and Iran (the main backers of the Syrian regime) and Turkey (the main backer of the rebel groups) reached an agreement:

– There will be a truce.

– All these actors will have some presence in the area.

– The rebels want to disarm.

-Turkey will set up some surveillance posts in the area.

Was this a deal to buy time? Hard to say. But recent Syrian government offensives in Idlib, backed by Russian airstrikes and Iranian militias on the ground, have ended hopes of a deal.

Syrian regime forces have made significant progress, gaining some important areas, while Turkish positions have been isolated.

Over the past weeks, Turkish and Syrian forces have been embroiled in conflict: Ankara has sent more troops and President Erdogan has issued an ultimatum for Syrian troops to withdraw from the de-escalation zone.

The fighting has continued anyway.

earlier in the week, Syrian opposition forces, backed by Turkey, sought to retake the city of Saraqeb, an important strategic point. President Erdogan said on Thursday that the developments in Idlib show that things are in Turkey’s favor.

Then, later on Thursday came the devastating air attack on Turkish forces.

The Turks have blamed the Syrian Air Force, although it is clear that Russian jets have been involved in the recent fighting.

The possibility, to put it more strongly than that, is that the Russian planes have hit the forces of a NATO member country, making the situation more difficult.

But regardless of the nationality of the planes involved, what happened could be anything but accidental.

There is talk of a Turkish army convoy being attacked, while the planes targeted precisely the positions of the Turkish army.

Turkey responded with heavy fire. The stage is set for an open confrontation between Turkey and Syria.

All this raises many questions.

Will Ankara or Damascus retreat? Could Moscow – which is not seen as a neutral party – encourage de-escalation?

And is there any way to convince the Syrian regime to stop the broad offensive in Idlib?

This seems doubtful as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad seems intent on regaining control over the area and the Russians are supporting him in this goal.

Human tragedy

These are more pressing questions.

But there are others of a more fundamental nature: what is happening on the ground.

What human tragedy is unfolding? In the Syrian winter, hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced for the second and third time.

Turkey has hosted some of the 3.7 million refugees. It is thought that there may be over two million more people ready to flee to the Turkish border.

Turkey has been generous with immigrants, but now this is becoming a hot issue in domestic politics. Turkey’s savagery could send another wave of migrants to Europe.

It has always been said that the problem of Syria is not only Turkey’s, but also Europe’s.

But Turkish President Erdogan doesn’t have many friends in the West at the moment. Turkey’s relations with NATO and Washington are tense.

US spectator role

What we are seeing in Idlib is the culmination of Erdogan’s foreign policy: a failed attempt at a triangulation between Washington and Moscow.

It all looks like a terrible mess, and there seems to be no outside actor that can act to reduce tensions, except Russia.

This is the extent of the Trump administration’s failure in the Middle East.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper spoke with his Turkish counterpart and, according to a Pentagon statement, the two discussed “the Assad regime’s brutal aggression in Idlib, which is supported by Russia and Iran.”

But Washington has largely been a spectator in Syria since President Trump accepted the Turkish incursion into Syria.

Perhaps a new wave of Syrian refugees will encourage some concerted international action.

But the brutal endgame in Idlib and the dire plight of the people remains a dire indicator of the current state of world diplomacy and the self-serving behavior of so many actors.

 

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