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Fear of the Idlib Situation in Ankara
Syrians ride a motorcycle past destroyed buildings in the village of Kafr Oweid in al-Zawiya Mountain region of Syria's northwestern province of Idlib on March 8, 2020 following a Russian-Turkish ceasefire deal. (Aaref Watad/AFP via Getty Images)

Fear of the Idlib Situation in Ankara

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, March 6

The Syrian war, which erupted nine years ago, marked the first time that Turkey used its air force and artillery to target Syrian regime forces and Iranian militias. The Turkish F-16s and drones would not have entered Syrian airspace had it not been for the protection of American forces on the ground. Just like it allowed Israeli fighter jets to operate freely against Iranian and Hizbullah targets in the vicinity of Damascus, Russia also enabled the presence of Turkish planes over Syria. Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced his intention to travel to Moscow to meet with President Vladimir Putin, whose spokesman has said that Russia does not want to widen the circle of war in the region. What worries the Turkish president about the nature of the Iranian-Syrian military move in northern Syria is the fear that the latter will invade Turkish territory. Ankara revealed its suspicions, threatening the warring parties that it will do everything it can to protect its borders and citizens. As for why Damascus and Tehran want to expand the circle of war and redirect it toward Turkish territory, the explanation is clear: The goal is to cross the border under the pretext of pushing armed groups away in order to weaken Turkey. Suddenly, Ankara discovered that all of the understandings and arrangements it had reached over the past two years with Iran and Russia in Sochi came back to haunt it. The United States opposes the recent agreements in Syria and criticized the Turkish position at the time. Washington is demanding that the Syrian opposition be given a seat at the table and that Iranian forces be expelled from Syria. The truth is that Erdoğan is paying the price for his indecisiveness, as well as his decision to align himself with the Iranians and Russians at the expense of the Syrian opposition. A quick look at the map shows that most of the fighting is happening just several miles away from Turkish borders. During the past weeks, [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad’s forces have carried out the most violent and devastating attacks in Idlib [Province] and its vicinity. The Turks have only issued denunciations in response, while hundreds of thousands of residents have been forced to flee toward Turkey. Erdoğan has no room for errors. If he does not defend Idlib and the Syrian [civilians] in the areas adjacent to his country’s borders, the war will leak into Turkey. Millions of Syrians will be displaced from their homes and flee across the border. – Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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