The Syrian war has largely disappeared from the front pages of papers due to the mistaken assumption that the war is ‘winding down’.
After the pro-Assad coalition re-captured large areas in the war-torn country and restored Assad’s rule over vital areas such as the Golan Heights and the Daraa province, where the uprising against the Syrian dictator started in 2011, all eyes turned to the north of Syria.
The northwestern Province of Idlib seemed not on Assad’s re-conquer agenda due to the presence of a large army of Islamist rebels who are supported by the regime of Turkish autocratic leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Over the last three months, however, Assad’s army stepped-up its actions against the Islamist rebels but the Syrian army failed to make gains due to fierce resistance by the Islamist coalition of anti-Assad militias which is led by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.
However, the situation began to change when the Russian air force stepped up airstrikes against the rebels and more recently when Iran-backed Shiite militias began to operate in Idlib, Hama and eastern Latakia.
Last Sunday, the pro-Assad coalition scored its first victory over the rebels in Idlib who receive most of their weapons and ammunition from the Erdogan regime.
The Syrian army finally succeeded to capture the town of al-Habeet and has now set its sights on Khan Sheikhoun.
Khan Sheikoun is home to a large contingent of Tahrir al-Sham rebels and was the scene of a chemical attack by Assad’s army in the spring of 2017 which led to a retaliation by the US military whichbombed the Shayrat Air Base with 59 cruise missiles.
The town is currently bombed by Syrian helicopters and Russian warplanes while the Syrian army and its allies are making rapid progress toward Khan Sheikhoun and are now within 3 miles of the outskirts of the town, according to Associated Press.
To make things even more complicated for the rebels in Idlib and Hama Erdogan apparently thinks it’s now pay-back time for the massive military aid he has been supplying to them.
The Turkish hot-headed leader has his own agenda for Syria and after conquering the Kurdish canton Afrin in 2018 has now set his sights on the other two Kurdish cantons of Rojava, the Kurdish autonomous region in Syria along the long border with Turkey.
Already for a long time, the Erdogan regime has been amassing troops and heavy weapons along the border with Syria and the Turkish leader repeatedly threatened to ‘liberate’ the Syrian Kurdish areas along the border with Turkey.
Erdogan claims “terrorists” (Syrian Kurds) are threatening the security of Turkey but also made clear he views the Syrian Kurdish areas as part of Turkey.
The Turkish dictator told Brett McGurk, the former US envoy to Syria and Iraq, that he regards Rojava part of Turkey because the borders of the country were unfairly drawn under the 1923 Lausanne Treaty.
“I have sat in meetings with Erdogan and heard him describe the nearly 400 miles between Aleppo and Mosul as a ‘Turkish security zone,’ and his actions have backed up his words,” McGurk wrote in an article for Foreign Affairs.
The only thing which prevented Erdogan from invading Rojava is the presence of US Special Forces who have been assisting the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the war against Islamic State and are now still in Syria to prevent Iran from entrenching itself in the country.
Erdogan first demanded the Trump Administration ceased its aid to the SDF and when the Americans refused announced he wanted to create a 250 miles wide and 18 miles deep ‘safe zone’ along the Turkish border in Syria.
Officially the ‘safe zone’ is meant to allow the repatriation of Syrian refugees who live in Turkey and who are increasingly targeted by Turkish nationalists who blame the severe economic crisis in their country on the presence of the refugees.
In reality, however, the safe zone will be used as a safe haven for the Islamist rebels in Idlib and as a means to end the Kurdish autonomy in Syria.
If a large part of the refugees will be deported to the safe zone the demographic situation in Rojova will dramatically change because the overwhelming majority of these displaced Syrians are Sunni Arabs.
At the beginning of August, Erdogan indicated he was running out of “patience” with the US and increased the military built-up along the Syrian border while later making the prediction that August would see another Turkish victory in Syria.
“God willing, we will add a new link to our history’s chain of victories this August,” Erdogan said in reference to ‘Operation Euphrates Shield the first Turkish incursion into Syria which began at the end of August 2016.
The Trump Administration then decided to enter in talks with the Turks in a last-ditch effort to stave off the imminent Turkish invasion.
American negotiators flew to Ankara where they held talks with their Turkish counterparts over what was called a “peace corridor” in Rojava.
The sides later released a statement which said that Turkey’s security concerns would be addressed by “the implementation of initial measures” and the establishment of a joint operations center in Turkey which would examine how to implement the decision to establish the peace corridor.
Erdogan continues to build-up forces in both Syria and Turkey, however.
He has reportedly 14,000 Sunni Islamist rebels in Syria at his disposal who will join the Turkish army in its quest to take over the Kurdish region along the Syrian Turkish border.
Last weekend the Turkish leader again warned of an imminent invasion of Rojava and said Turkey would pay “a higher price” when it would not carry out its threat.
During a meeting with Turkish ambassadors in Ankara Erdogan predicted the process (invasion) would, God willing, very soon be taken to a new stage.”
If he makes good on his promise the Syrian war could further destabilize the Middle East even further and turn into a conflict of possible global proportions.