Putin-Erdogan meeting: a storm is expected over the “mother of all battles” in Idlib; Ayn al Arab is at stake

Hezbollah in Saraqeb attacking at night to free the western part of the city with special equipment.

The Turkish-Syrian battle is the battle of the Kurds in Ayn al-Arab, Kobane.

By Elijah J. Magnier:  @ejmalrai

Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan had decided to attack Russia, Iran and Syria when he sent his army to Idlib and bombed Russian and Iranian allies on the Idlib front. The Turkish president is feeling strong and believes he is holding many good cards to play against his Russian counterpart President Vladimir Putin. He trusts he is in a position to bomb Iran’s allies, despite the fact that they hold armed drones, precision missiles and experienced Special Forces that can hit Turkey very hard in the case of war. 

The conflict Erdogan envisions between Russia, Iran and Syria on one side and Turkey on the other would suit the US and Israel. They would be happy to see Presidents Putin and Erdogan sinking into the Syrian quagmire and Hezbollah losing more men in the Levant. Negotiations, intense battles and attempts to reshuffle the military situation are taking place behind the scenes. President Erdogan is trying to improve his military position on the ground before his meeting with President Putin in Moscow tomorrow Thursday- but to no avail. Stormy negotiations can be expected.

President Erdogan is not in a position to bang his fist on the table. At the time Russia is receiving Erdogan a tweet by the Russian Foreign Ministry reminds him how Russia defeated the Ottoman Empire and forced it to sign the Treaty of San Stefano in March 1878 in Constantinople. It has accused Erdogan of altering Syrian demography after occupying the Afrin province and Tal Abyad, forcing the departure of over 350,000 Kurds and the relocation of Turkmen militants and their families instead.

The battle of Idlib follows many secret talks before the struggle and reflects serious disagreements between Turkey on one side and Russia, Iran and Syria on the other. Erdogan was ready to negotiate and clear the roads linking Damascus and Aleppo (M5) and Aleppo and Latakia (M4) but in exchange, he asked for concessions in north-east Syria that were rejected. Turkey tried to stop the Syrian army and its allies and wanted to reach the gates of Aleppo. The current battle for Idlib, the “mother of all battles”, follows many secret talks which are the necessary context for understanding the current Turkish war on Syria and Syria’s response. For the first time, Syria has dared to hit the Turkish army directly- this has never happened before in the modern history of Syria.

Turkey is more isolated than it has ever been. It has lost its privileged position within the US by buying the S-400 and hosting the Turkstream pipeline selling Russian gas to Europe. It has lost European respect by organising the transfer of over 110,000 Syrian and other nationalities’ refugees to the borders, allowing them to reach the borders with Greece and refusing to close the Turkish borders to prevent the crossing. This Turkish blackmail is not winning friends on the European continent, especially since Erdogan is at the same time asking for more money to compensate the refugees’ presence in his country. 

Arab countries are standing with Syria against Turkey. Libya’s eastern-based government linked to General Khalifa Haftar inaugurated the opening of its embassy in Damascus. Saudi Arabian, Egypt, and the Emirates are showing solidarity with President Assad against the Turkish-Qatari-Muslim Brotherhood alliance. A strong message was delivered during the battle of Idlib where for the first time the Syrian and Turkish armies face each other on the battlefield. 

Erdogan is also losing support from Putin by bombing the Syrian army, trained by Russia, and damaging Syrian military effectiveness honed with Russian help. When Moscow closed an eye to Turkey’s desire to avenge the killing of 33 Turkish soldiers and officers in south Idlib, Erdogan responded with a disproportionate bombing which angered Russia and the allies that suffered the most. In response, Iran threatened to hit back against more than a thousand Turkish troops within the 14 Turkish observation points located within liberated Syrian territory and guarded by Hezbollah and Iranian IRGC forces. 

Putin is not completely losing his relationship with Erdogan, nor is it Russia’s intention to declare war on Turkey. In recent days, during a private meeting between Iranian and Turkish officials in Ankara, Iranian officers explained that “Iran and Russia believe that any war with Turkey will serve the US and Israel who would happily watch and contribute to fuelling the animosity between both sides.” US special representative for Syria James Jeffery said his country is ready to provide ammunition to Turkey in its Idlib battle. However, US defence secretary Mark Esper ruled out US intervention in favour of Turkey in Idlib.

In Idlib, Turkey seems to have lost hope in the capacities of tens of thousands of jihadists to hold the ground notwithstanding years of fortifications, tunnel digging and building stronghold positions in the cities along the Damascus-Aleppo (known as the M5) and Aleppo-Latakia (M4) roads. These jihadists are made up of a mixture of foreign fighters from dozens of different countries but mainly from the Tajik, Uighur, Turkmen and Arab jihadists fighting under Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (former ISIS, former al-Qaeda in Syria, former al-Nusra) fighting under different banners: from al-Qaeda (Hurras al-Din), Jund al-Aqsa to Ahrar al-Sham and many other names.

Hezbollah stopped an attack aiming to take back el-Eiss and from it to reach the gates of south Aleppo last Friday. The Turkish army bombed Hezbollah and Zul-fiqar brigade (Iranian IRGC, Fatimiyoun and Zeinabiyoun) at Talhiya to allow jihadists supported by Turkey to push into a corridor from Binnish and Taftanaz towards Talhiyah and from it to Rasm al-Is, Rasm al-Saharij, El-Eis strategic hill until al-Hader. Notwithstanding the Turkish intensive bombing to clear the road for jihadists and the killing of nine Hezbollah and over 66 wounded, the jihadists did not manage to get through. Hezbollah and their allies from the Zulfiqar brigades held their ground and stopped the advance.

Russia grounded its Air Force for 48 hours after the killing of 36 Turkish soldiers and officers (officially Turkey has declared 41 killed so far). The lack of air coverage surprised the allies of Russia who have anti-air missiles but were not expecting the Russians to abdicate their agreed role. Turkey managed to stop the Syrian army and its allies’ advance for 48 hours. However, all areas lost to the Turks were recovered within 48 hours. The battle of Saraqeb was the harshest. Hezbollah and the Zulfiqar brigade never withdrew from the east side of the city, while jihadists controlled the west side.

 Following the Turkish “disproportionate bombing”, as described by the Russian generals in Syria, Moscow ordered its Air Force commanders to escort a dozen Syrian anti-air batteries to the front line to protect Syrian troops from any Turkish bombing. Syria brought the Tor-M1 and its Pantsir system and took measures to reduce the casualties caused by the Turkish drones. 

Syria and its allies carried out (exceptional) night attacks liberating the strategic city of Saraqeb and held their positions in it. Hezbollah and Iran tripled the number of forces along the 70 km (M5 and M4) front against Turkey and its jihadists. Russia made 27 air attacks against Saraqeb and resumed air bombing in support of its allies.

Russia declared it could no longer “guarantee the safety of the Turkish aviation in Syria after Damascus shuts Idlib airspace”. The Syrian air defence systems downed around 7 Turkish drones. The Syrian army is showing dauntless courage by standing and bombing the Turkish military and fighting it face to face. Syrian artillery pounded Turkish positions and killed close to a dozen Turkish soldiers on the battlefield. President Bashar al-Assad’s decision to stand up to Turkey is something not even his father Hafez dared to do.

This is a response to Turkey’s killing and wounding of a large number of Syrian soldiers. Syria has been at war for nine years and has withstood significant losses. On the other hand, Turkey has one of the most prominent NATO armies with the most advanced means. A small and reduced Syrian army has now managed to kill Turkish soldiers on the battlefield, to destroy Turkish tanks and down their drones.

Turkey halted its direct bombing against Hezbollah and the Zulfiqar brigade. Iran and Hezbollah threatened to hit Turkey if the bombing continued. Close to 2000 Turkish officers and soldiers are now positioned, under Hezbollah and Iran’s ‘protection’, in 14 observation posts inside Syrian controlled areas, where they receive supplies locally. A meeting between the Iranians and the Turkish army and an exchange of messages took place between Hezbollah and Ankara, explaining that any clash between the two will bring the Levant and Turkey into a comprehensive confrontation that no one could win. The battle in Syria should not be against Turkey, and Erdogan needs to understand that the presence of his troops on Syrian territory is not acceptable.

Moscow moved its military police and special forces into Saraqeb to draw a line on any possible Turkish intention to attack the city again. The Turkish army attacks have yielded nothing, and the Syrian army and its allies are gaining momentum and have the upper hand. What is pushing Erdogan to fight with his own army alongside the jihadists for the control of two roads which it had previously agreed to de-escalate and declare a demilitarised zone in 2018?

According to decision-makers in Syria, President Erdogan asked his Russian counterpart to allow his forces to occupy an area 50 km deep in north-east Syria. At the start, Russia did not react to the Turkish advance to replace the US forces who decided to limit its presence in Syria to stealing Syrian oil, i.e. around the oil wells in north-east Syria. When the US redeployed, Russia asked Turkey to halt its operations in al-Hasaka and Raqqa provinces. Erdogan then lowered his request, asked for a 30 km deep buffer zone.

Russia has good ties with the Kurds and wants to see Syria united and all foreign forces leaving Syria. Erdogan said he was ready to clear the M5 and M4 in exchange for the control of Ayn al-Arab (Kobane). Putin refused and agreed with Iran and Damascus to remove jihadists along the M5 and M4 by military force. Erdogan felt he was cut out of the deal because his jihadists did not hold their ground, and proved to be an incapable military force against Syria and its allies. This is why the Turkish army was pushed into the battle, supported by drones, F-16s, precision missiles and artillery. Today it is fighting on behalf of the jihadists that, according to Sochi agreement, should have been eliminated by Turkey more than a year ago.

Turkey wants to bring back the deployment of forces on the ground to where they were before the Idlib battle and is calling for the respect of the Astana agreement but from a weaker position. In fact, it is too late for that; deals have a short life in Syria! Ankara will have to accept the status quo and prepare to lose Idlib without further concessions in the Kurdish area. This does not mean Erdogan will accept and surrender without a fight all the Syrian territories he has occupied without a fight. The Putin-Erdogan meeting will probably not end all differences, and much may have to be postponed until the forthcoming Putin-Erdogan-Rohani meeting this month in Tehran. 

Erdogan seems to have forgotten the help Putin and Rohani gave him during the 2016 failed coup-d’état. He is showing recklessness and wrongly believes his potential partners are weak. The Turkish president is prioritising his territory-expansion ambition over his commercial and partnership relationship with Russia and Iran. The Turkish army is grinding its teeth over Idlib. The Ottoman Sultan never defeated the Russian Czar in the past and he certainly won’t succeed now in Syria…

Proofread by: C.G.B. and Maurice Brasher

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Copyright © https://ejmagnier.com  2020

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10 thoughts on “Putin-Erdogan meeting: a storm is expected over the “mother of all battles” in Idlib; Ayn al Arab is at stake

  1. ERDOGAN’S TURKEY: THE $64K QUESTION

    “…And we are not going to fight against anybody, but we are creating such a situation in the defense sector so that nobody even dares to think about fighting us…”

    TASS Russian News Agency, “20 Questions With Vladimir Putin,” 02/20/2020

    We sure hope Putin extends the same principle to Syria, and expands Russia’s umbrella of protection to the Levant as a whole. Iran, via Shahid Sardar Qassem Soleimani, woke up the Russians from their slumber while ISIS and Al-Qaeda in all their permutations were taking over a good chunk of the Levant and the ME. The Russians realized the entrails-eaters/head-choppers were getting too close to their soft underbelly, and decided (were forced?) to join the fray.

    And the rest is history still in the making.

    Enter Erdogan, a war profiteer, a quasi-fascist tool of the Muslim Brotherhood, an entity without morals, principles, scruples, or values, greedy for power and money, corrupt to the core. Using the Kurds as a pretext, Erdogan decided to take a chunk of Syria as a “buffer zone,” and populated it with Turkmen and other ethnic groups, imposing Turkish law, local government institutions and schools that teach in Turkish language, a de facto annexation of Syrian territory.

    The Russians, who saved his ass from a certain death during the 2016 coup d’etat, have known all along they are dealing with the lesser of any other evils Turkey’s cesspool politics might bring to the foreground, and have dealt with Erdogan’s erratic, wrecking ball foreign policy with patience and a firm hand.

    Same reasoning was behind the reconciliation with Erdogan after the 2015 downing of a Russian Su-24 by a Turkish F-16. After a half-hearted “apology” by Erdogan, Russia decided to continue “business as usual” with Turkey, hoping Erdogan would make amends on his mercurial foreign policy. The latest showdown in Idlib has provided enough evidence to reach the certain conclusion that Erdogan remains attached to his delusions of grandeur, and no Russian attempts to tame the beast will have any long term, enduring results.

    Russia’s leverage on Erdogan in the military, gas, industrial and business sectors are the main drive behind his “acquiescence” to a new “agreement,” one we know the Turks will be violating before the ink dries on Erdogan signature. It was the Russians closing of their borders for Turkish products after the shooting down of the Su-24 that forced the Turkish business sector to convince Erdogan to “apologize” to Putin, the effect of Russia’s sanctions proved too damaging for the Turkish economy.

    We are now before yet another agreement, which goes through same blah, blah, blah of the preceding ones, and we wonder if this will become the pattern for Russia to deal with Turkey in Syria. On this latest agreement (the “Moscow Agreement 2020”?), Erdogan will be kicking the can down M4 until the next one, embarking in joint patrols with the Russians, while the shrinking taqfiri scum, Turkey/US/Saudi cannon fodder, will stay in the surroundings, setting the stage for more of the same old, same old, provocations, denunciations, Erdogan foaming at the mouth, another round of fighting, calls to Putin, you know the rest.

    The question we need to answer, regardless of all the speculations about the future of Idlib or Russian-Turkey relations, Syria-Turkey relations, Iran-Russia-Turkey relations, NATO/US intervention, Erdogan’s future, etc., is why is Erdogan’s Turkey hellbent on taking a piece of Syria, by hook or by crook, in violation of all international law and his own fake and phony “commitments” to “Syria’s territorial integrity” and “respect for Syria’s sovereignty”?

    What is Erdogan’s Turkey grand plan for a future Turkey?

    We all know the origins of his “pan-Islamic neo-Ottomanism” doctrine, a delusional byproduct of Turkish hot-headed careerist academia, now wreaking havoc in Libya and Syria. The question we have is, was this stupidly short-sighted revival of the century-deceased Ottoman Empire adopted by Turkey’s “Deep State” as a state policy? Is Erdogan an instrument for the conglomerate of national security, intel, military, tank-thinkers, MIC, and Turkey’s corporate ruling elite? Is this a policy that will define Turkey for decades to come, or is this a temporary policy linked to Erdogan’s ego and transitory passing through government? Will this end once Erdogan finds its way to the trash-bin of history, or will it continue unabated whether a Gülenist affiliated government, a military junta via coup d’etat, or any other party follows Erdogan?

    Is Erdogan another messianic-driven Netanyahu (their similarities are plenty), is he the forefather of a quasi-fascist nationalist trend in Turkey, a post-modernist tin-pot dictator in steroids? He claims to be a Muslim, his actions however belie his faith, as he has used the Deen as a tool to feed an ego bigger than Mount Ararat, stealing, killing, pillaging and plundering, while shedding the blood of hundreds of thousands Muslims to enrich himself, his family, and his plethora of sycophants.

    He must remember Kemal Ataturk dictum before Turkey’s Grand National Assembly during the foundation of modern Turkey, while working on the elimination of the caliphate,

    “The religion of Islam will be elevated if it will cease to be a political instrument, as had been the case in the past.”

    Lone Wolf

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