Tensions in Idlib and proxy war in Libya

Supported by Russia, the Syrian army has launched an offensive on Idlib, accompanied by allegations against Turkey.

Source: Mahmud Turkia/AFP

The author of the article is Thomas Pany. Thomas Pany studied political science with Kurt Sontheimer at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, plus modern history and Semitic studies. The original article has been published in Telepolis. Translation and editing by Defenseweek’s team.

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The Syrian government has launched an offensive that strikes Turkey’s allies. In Libya, the internationally recognized government has ratified a security agreement that essentially enables Turkey’s military aid.

Supported by Russia, the Syrian army has launched an offensive on Idlib, accompanied by allegations against Turkey. Meanwhile, the Libyan Unity Government (GNA) headed by Sarradsch yesterday approved military aid from Turkey. There the opponent of the GNA government, Field Marshal Haftar, announced last week that the offensive on the capital Tripoli would be intensified.

There are different representations as to whether the formal signature of military cooperation between the GNA and Turkey goes hand in hand with a request for the dispatch of Turkish troops. However, it is certain that the latest developments in Libya and Syria will increase the level of difficulty of the Russian-Turkish speeches considerably.

Aid to the jihadists in Idlib from the Turkish zone of influence

An example of this is in a Tass report from the past week. On Tuesday it was reported that a convoy loaded with heavy weapons consisting of 20 “pick-up trucks” and seven armored vehicles with 300 members of FSA militias had been transferred to the de-escalation zone in Idlib. The starting point of the troop transfer is remarkable, namely the “Afrin Area” in the Governorate of Aleppo. This is a Turkish area of ​​influence.

The report, which does not rely on Kurdish sources, but on statements by the Russian general Yuri Borenkow (head of the “Russian Reconciliation Center for the Parties to the Conflict in Syria”), contains a second interesting observation, namely that the FSA militias are fighting with the Al-Qaeda descendant Hayat al-Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) attacked positions of Syrian government forces in Idlib last Tuesday.

As is well known, FSA militias are largely allied with the Turkish army. Some militias, which are part of the extremely jihadist line, distance themselves from Turkey, but here too Turkey has wires and levers to prevent maneuvers that are clearly against its interests.

For a long time, at least the majority view of the situation in Idlib, Turkey was able to prevent, contain or delay an offensive on Idlib. Until recently there was a relative ceasefire, so no major battles and no clear signs of a real offensive by the Syrian army. Essentially, the Sochi Agreement between Russia and Turkey of September 2018 applied. Even though Russia and Syria have repeatedly signaled in recent months that they were not satisfied with the implementation of the Turkish promises.

In the fall of this year, the Turkish invasion in northeast Syria put a new focus. This then led to a new agreement between Russia and Turkey on a “security zone”, joint Russian-Turkish border controls and the return of control of the border to Turkey to the Syrian army.

The Syrian President al-Assad initially viewed the agreement in principle as a positive step, albeit with the clear assessment that the Turkish attack is an unwanted invasion and should not be used as an occupation. Battles between the Syrian army and the Turkish fighting alliance in the northeast were clear signs of a fundamental rejection of Turkish military action with Syrian allies who are militant opponents of the government.

As the Tass report mentioned shows, there have been fights between these fronts in the Idlib area – Syrian Army vs. Islamist militias associated with Turkey, which, according to Astana agreements, is the guarantee power of the opposition.

The “Idlib offensive”

In the meantime, several reports and reports from observers indicate that the movements of Syrian ground forces, led by the armored units known as Tiger Forces, are undertaking a major Idlib offensive.

It remains to be seen whether it is actually the second phase of the Syrian offensive on Idlib, as reported. So far, the conquest of several locations and the land gains have been portrayed by the Syrian government as “terrorists”.

However, Bashar al-Assad has recently made comments on Idlib that the problem of terrorism is there to be resolved and the reports of major air strikes with Russian support reported in recent days from Idlib suggest that that a major attack by ground forces was being prepared.

It is now speculated whether the Syrian command, like the first Idlib offensive, will be content with conquering strategically important zones that are important for controlling the expressway connection, as well as the city of Maraat al-Numan, or whether the Syrian leadership will major conquests is out.

In any case, this is not good news for the opposition militias, and this also applies to the Turkish government. The latest developments do not follow Erdogan’s taste. He recently expressed his dissatisfaction as usual with the fulfillment of his claims in Syria and once again sold his narrative about the occupation of the zone between Ras al-‘Ain (Kurdish: Serekaniye) and Tall Abyad (Kurdish: Gire Spi) as a need, to resettle refugees from Syria.

Reality speaks a different language, such as the building of the wall (Turkey creates facts for its annexation of parts of northern Syria) and reports that report evictions and thus confirm the accusation that the Turkish president is concerned with forced demographic resettlement – to the detriment and to the Suffering of the Kurds.

Putin and Erdogan are on crisis calls

There was a phone call between Putin and Erdogan, according to the Russian news agency Tass, whose relationship is currently shaped by difficult times. Because, as the Tass report does, the Russian-Turkish agreements are now also linked to “stabilization in Libya”. As if Syria wasn’t complicated enough …

“A special focus was on the need for joint efforts to fight terrorist groups,” says the Tass communiqué.

But who are the terrorists in Libya now?

The militias who support General Haftar? According to official statements from Turkey, Haftar and his supporters are illegitimate and on the side to be combated.

Russia takes a different position.

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