Tensions between Turkey and Syria over the issue of Idlib have been heightened following military operations by Syria to liberate Idlib. Dozens of Turkish troops have been killed in Syrian attacks in Idlib region in recent days, prompting the wrath of Ankara against Damascus. At an emergency meeting of the Turkish National Security Council chaired by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he underlined the need to respond to Syria’s attacks.
Now the question is why Turkey is so sensitive to the developments in Idlib and why it shows reaction? Is it not true that the operations conducted by Syria against the rebel and terrorist forces in Idlib in the context of safeguarding its territorial integrity and national sovereignty? Then what are these reactions Turkey is showing?
In response to this question, there has been a great deal of debate ranging from Erdogan’s ambitions to the requirements and constraints that Turkey is stuck in.
In analyzing the situation in Idlib, one has to look back at the developments of the past few years, when Turkey was attending joint meetings with Russia and Iran in Astana. In Sochi, there was widespread debate over the future of Idlib until a meeting in Sochi agreed to allow Turkey to disarm rebel groups in Idlib and to differentiate between terrorist armed forces and opposition groups, but in the past two years, Turkey has failed to fulfil this obligation. Instead, Turkey expanded its military presence in the Idlib region. However, the Syrian government, after liberating much of its territory from the occupation of terrorist groups, turned its attention to liberating Idlib, with Russian support.
But Ankara did not tolerate this action of Damascus and reacted strongly to the start of the liberation campaign by the Syrian army and tried to either delay it or abort it. While the Syrian government’s determination is strong, Damascus and Moscow called on Turkey to stop supporting armed groups in Idlib, but Turkey refused to respond to the call and instead reinforced its military potential in Idlib.
However, the continuation of Syrian operations in the areas around Idlib, which also led to the siege of some Turkish observation towers, further complicated the situation. In the latest case, as a result of the new Syrian military operation, more than 30 Turkish soldiers were killed, which sparked the reaction of Turkey. In recent years, Turkey has supported some rebel movements in Idlib, including Jabhat al-Nusra or Tahrir al-Sham, which believed that Idlib would remain in control of these forces in a separate region. Turkey has, of course, even tried to increase its cultural influence in the Idlib region in recent years. One of Turkey’s major concerns now is the future of Idlib and Syria, as well as the future of rebel-backed groups.
That is, if the Syrian military operations continue and lead to the final liberation of Idlib, what will the rebel groups eventually do, and there is concern within Turkey that they may spill over into the country. In the meantime, US reactions to the situation in Idlib and Turkey’s positions are questionable, and in fact, this time Washington has voiced support for Turkey. From Washington’s standpoint, observers see it as an attempt to create division between Turkey and Russia. On the other hand, the question is where would the tensions between Turkey and Syria over the issue of Idlib lead to? Will it affect the military, economic and political relations between Moscow and Ankara? In response, it should be noted that the US seems to be trying to take Turkey back into the Western camp and keep it away from Russia.
At the same time, another issue that has heightened Turkey’s risk is that if Idlib is liberated Turkey’s role in the next political process in Syria will decline, and the Syrian government may in the future seek to oust Turkish forces from other areas, such as Afrin. It is in this context that Ankara has set conditions for the withdrawal of its troops from Syria, including the drafting of a new Syrian constitution, holding legitimate elections and establishing a constitutional and democratic government in Ankara.
But critics say there is a big difference between Turkish military operations in northern Syria and Ankara’s insistence on continuing to support insurgent groups in Idlib and threatening military operations in the region; in northern Syria, Turkey’s pretext for military operations was to oppose terrorist and separatist groups. There is this big question in the face of Turkey’s stance: for what purpose it wants to fight inside Syria. Isn’t this Ankara’s violation of Syrian national sovereignty?
In sum, Turkey’s militaristic approach to Syria can be analyzed and evaluated in the context of Ankara’s risks and efforts towards the future of Syria, in which the result of Idlib’s developments will affect both the future of Syrian events and the future of Turkey’s relations with Russia.