Syrian UN Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari declared on Sept. 7 that his government was determined to wipe out the rebels from the Idlib province. The next day, the Idlib Dawn Operation began, encircling a town 59 km. southwest of the Syrian city of Aleppo. As of Sept. 9, Russian aircraft have attacked the rebel positions in western Idlib, the mountains of the Latakia province, and the Sahl al-Ghab plain, with the goal of softening up peripheral targets and preventing a breakthrough or counterattack. Syria’s forces are ready to move.
The Russian military warned that a false-flag chemical attack staged by the rebels could occur at any time and be used as a pretext for Western missile strikes. A massive Turkish military convoy, consisting of more than 300 vehicles, including tanks, armored vehicles, and MLRS launchers, has entered Idlib from the province of Hatay.
Syria needs Idlib — the last stronghold of the jihadists and the shortest route from Latakia to Aleppo. The M5 international highway crosses Idlib, linking Turkey and Jordan through Aleppo and Damascus. Control of the province would greatly facilitate the negotiations with the Kurds and strengthen Syria’s position at the UN-brokered Geneva talks. If the negotiation process succeeds, the only territories left to liberate would be the zone controlled by the US, such as the al-Tanf military base and the surrounding area, the northern parts of the country under Turkish control, and small chunks of land still held by ISIS.
Turkey opposes the idea of an Idlib offensive. It wants assurances for the groups in Idlib under its control and it doesn’t want an influx of refugees. These controversial issues can be tackled with Russia as a mediator. Turkey, Iran, and Russia did not agree on everything at the recent summit in Tehran, but the West’s hopes that they would go their separate ways, or even clash in Idlib, have been dashed.
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