“Turkey is prepared to shoot — just not today, because the Putin/Assad escalation via air strikes without a ground offensive still gives room for diplomacy.”


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Turkey appears to have taken a stand against an offensive by the Assad regime and Russia to reoccupy Idlib and northern Hama Provinces, the last major opposition territory in Syria, sending in heavy weapons and armor.

Ankara is the only barrier to an aerial and ground assault, threatening an estimated 3 million people. Since August 2016, it has had forces in the area, initially to push out the Islamic State and then to take most of the Kurdish canton of Afrin.

On two occasions last month, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu rejected pressure by Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, and Turkey maintained its line at a summit of Turkish, Russian, and Iranian leaders last week. On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “A regime assault would also create serious humanitarian and security risks for Turkey, the rest of Europe and beyond.” Yesterday, Ankara called on Western countries to oppose a conventional Russia-regime assault as well as chemical attacks.

The Military Move

It has been confirmed that Turkey is accompanying its political steps with a military message through reinforcement of rebels and of its ring of 12 observation posts around Idlib, northern Hama, and western Aleppo Provinces.

Since last weekend, EA has been told by reliable local sources of Ankara’s supply of rebel factions. One local journalist summarized:

We’ve seen “weapon nights” on a scale that exceeds everything we’ve witnessed since 2012. Humanitarian as well as military supplies delivered to various rebel factions in greater Idlib are partially funded by non-Turkish actors.

Another pointed to the extent of Turkish determination, “Turkey is prepared to shoot — just not today, because the Putin/Assad escalation via air strikes without a ground offensive still gives room for diplomacy.”

According to the sources, large convoys have arrived at the observation points, with only a few soldiers rotating back to Turkey in return. Some of the trucks are unloaded out of sight of any observers.

The sources claim that air defense is now in place around the posts, even though these were not agreed in Turkey’s ongoing “Astana talks” with Russia and Iran, the two essential backers of the Assad regime.

All Turkish posts are in range of Turkish jets which are capable from within Turkish airspace and with air-to-air missiles, of downing any hostile aircraft that approaches Turkish troops in Syria. Ramping up their air defense by a software-switch (they can jam not only Assad’s anti-aircraft systems), Turkey is also capable of supplying their forward bases with troops and material from above.

The sources knock back some claims of large-scale deployment of new Turkish forces inside Syria: “The troops waiting in Turkey can move to the Afrin- and al-Bab fronts within hours. They can move deep into Idlib in case a Turkish post is in danger, and they can stop civilians from flooding Turkey in the worst case.”

They note the Turkish personnel already stationed in western Aleppo Province have hardentheed the front in western Aleppo Province, south of al-Bab and north of Aleppo city, where there have been significant regime and Iranian-led reinforcements in the past week.

As for the current Russian-regime bombing outside the ring of observation posts, local journalists and activists say that — while “desperate for civilians”, with scores killed and wounded and medical facilities knocked out of service — rebels have lost fewer than 10 troops.

“Necessary Retaliation”

On Wednesday, Reuters published its own account from Turkish sources confirming EA’s information.

“Three Turkish security and government officials” said that troops, armored vehicles, and equipment have been sent to the Syrian border, and that the observation posts have been reinforced.

One official said, “We have a military presence there and if that military presence is damaged or attacked in any way, it would be considered an attack on Turkey and would therefore receive the necessary retaliation.”

A “senior Syrian rebel”, Mustafa Sejari, said Turkey has sent dozens of armored vehicles and tanks. He also claimed hundreds of special forces personnel have been dispatched to Idlib, a move he said showed Idlib would not share the fate of the other rebel regions.

“These observation posts have now in effect become permanent military bases,” Sejari said.

Claimed footage of Turkish armor and equipment moving to the frontline in northern Hama Province:

The Turkish political messages and military steps appear to be having some effect — after a sharp escalation last week, Russian and regime bombing and shelling has almost ceased since Monday.

Both Russia and Iran shifted their lines on Tuesday towards “peaceful” resolution, after a meeting in Geneva with the Turks and the UN envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura.

Russia’s envoy Alexander Lavrentyev said, “It is possible to abstain from using military force.”

Iranian counterpart Hossein Jabari Ansari said of an offensive, “We are also worried. We are going to work toward that not happening.”

Syria Daily, Sept 12: Has Turkey Forced Russia-Regime Retreat from Idlib Offensive?

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