The Idlib Showdown: five to midnight

The Russian are meeting with the Turks and Iranians in Tehran on Friday. The Russians have begun limited airstrikes to soften up Hay’at Tahrir el-Sham (HTS) positions (above picture). These have been pinpointed by Turkish Intelligence (MİT), with raids beginning after Turkey blacklisted the organisation, in a final move pressuring it to disband and surrender to them. The Russians are impatient because of the repeated drone attacks by HTS on the Khmeimim airbase, and are the prime movers of the new phase of military operations in Syria.

On the other hand, the Syrian régime forces backed by Iranian militias are so far holding off on a major attack and engaging only in limited shelling. They are awaiting, it seems, the outcome of the Tehran summit. Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu’s interventions with the US to hold off an American response has resulted in rumblings and threats from Trump against the Syrian régime and a full UNSC meeting on the subject of Idlib. The French are also pressuring to stave off an attack by Assad.

The likely outcome is for limited strikes and advances and a slow strangulation of the HTS units that refuse to surrender. The Iranian economy is heavily dependent on Turkey and this is already showing in Iran sensitivity towards Turkish demands. With the Turks ensconced in their positions around Idlib, their vision of a province surviving the crisis to go on to prosper in the manner of the northern Syrian areas of Al-Bab, Jarablus and Afrin, and avoid an apocalyptic fate similar to that of Aleppo, Raqqa and Mosul, is become more likely with every passing day.

What happened in those last three historic Arab cities – cities that will now limp into the future as a mere shadow of their former selves- has taught us that there is little difference between the scorched earth military tactics of the Americans and the Russians. The future of Syria will lie with the Syrians both in Turkey and in the Turkish controlled areas of northern Syria, who have been given an economic future by the Turkish nation. The power of the Syrian people must become an economic not a military one.