Idlib offensive sparks debate over Turkish reaction

Author: Menekse TokyayTue, 2018-01-09 03:00ID: 1515442379683828000ANKARA: The intensification of airstrikes by the Syrian regime and its ally Russia in the northwest Idlib province is generating debate about how Turkey will react.
Experts say the regime wants to reassert its authority in the province, the only one still controlled by Syrian opposition groups.
Idlib is one of four de-escalation zones endorsed by Turkey, Iran and Russia. Clashes in these zones are supposed to be forbidden by the Astana deal, which was brokered by the three guarantor countries.
If the Syrian regime storms Idlib, which according to the UN has a population of about 2 million, it may trigger a refugee influx to surrounding areas.
Experts say the most likely destination for such an influx would be neighboring Turkey, which has set up a new camp for the displaced in Idlib.
Salih Bicakci, a Middle East expert at Istanbul Kadir Has University, said he does not expect Turkey’s reaction to be a game-changer under the current circumstances.
The Astana process “is centered around Russia, not Turkey,” he told Arab News. “The rejection of any Russian-led move in the region wouldn’t be significant in military terms.”
If Ankara loses Moscow’s backing for its monitoring presence in Idlib, Turkey would not maintain its authority there, Bicakci said.
But “if Ankara doesn’t act quickly against any regime incursion in the de-escalation zone, Turkish military forces could be hurt in an eventual attack,” he added.
Nursin Atesoglu Guney, dean of the faculty of economics, administrative and social sciences at Bahcesehir Cyprus University, said Turkey’s initial reaction will be verbal.
“At the first stage, diplomatic channels would function, and probably Iran and even Russia may intervene in the process,” Guney told Arab News. “Probably Tehran will play a mediating role due to its warm relations with Ankara.”
Guney said she does not expect a comprehensive revision of the Astana deal, or a wide-ranging violation by the Syrian regime of the Idlib de-escalation zone.
Under the current circumstances, the guarantor countries would prefer to maintain the deal as a trump card against possible US moves, she added.
“The current joint moves by the Syrian regime and Russia might be seen as a policy of military escalation to weaken rebel forces in the region and strengthen the regime’s hand ahead of the Sochi Congress in late January,” Guney said.
“Turkey will try to resolve this through diplomatic channels. Should regime forces push further, it may trigger a refugee influx to neighboring areas, mostly probably Turkey.”
Main category: Middle-EastTags: IdlibSyriaDamascusDaeshTurkeyrelated_nodes: Syria regime unleashes its brutal air power on IdlibBattle looms for Idlib after Daesh defeat7 civilians killed in air strikes in Syria’s Idlib

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