The situation in Syria’s Idlib appears to be, once again, on the brink of escalation, with the US preoccupied with what’s happening at home, and Turkey attempting to push towards Ain Issa, while being targeted by its own proxies.
The terrorist threat is far from removed, and attacks are common, moments of calm in the country’s east and northwest appear to be few and far between. The situation that’s transpiring is, to a large degree, due to Turkey’s actions and its policies.
Ankara, too, is suffering from it, since the many of the groups that it backs, officially or otherwise, seem to be eager to bite the hand that feeds. On January 16th, Turkish troops in observation posts in Idlib were targeted by sniper fire from a group that calls itself “Saryat Ansar Abu Baker As-Siddiq”. According to the group itself, three Turkish soldiers were shot. One appears to be in critical condition.
This is the group’s third attack against Turkey, with the first taking place in November of 2020, and then in December of 2020. The December attack resulted in one Turkish soldier’s death. Other reports of Turkish proxies attacking Ankara’s armed forces occasionally take place.
The Turkish military maintains more than 60 posts, camps and bases throughout Greater Idlib. Most of them are located in terrorist-controlled areas, and attacks on them are rather infrequent due to Ankara’s close ties with terrorists operating in the area. Nonetheless, as the recent attacks show, this policy has some weak sides for the Turkish personnel deployed.
Ankara is attempting to encroach near the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)-controlled area, attempting to establish an observation post near Ain Issa. A push on SDF positions is expected, but there will be a defense.
Meanwhile, Iran has been expanding its presence in Syria despite the endless Israeli-US attempts to oppose this. Tehran’s forces deployed a signal intelligence system along Syria’s border with Jordan. This may be used to either spy on the US forces deployed in Jordan, or even on Israel.
Iran has ample opportunity, Tel Aviv is likely to be on the back foot, since the US’ Biden administration is likely to support Israel less than that of Trump. This provides Tehran with a chance to dig in and reinforce its position and prepare an asymmetric response to its geopolitical opponents.
There is likely to be an advent of a new round of confrontation in the conflict zone, with the Syrian Arab Army still struggling to get rid of ISIS cells in the Homs-Deir Ezzor desert, Turkey focused on the SDF and being targeted by militants in Idlib, and Iran attempting to focus on its opponents.
Both Ankara and Tehran are likely taking a chance to improve their positions in Syria due to the lull in American activity in the face of the unprecedented chaos in the United States. At the same time, the new US administration would not likely support the Trump-announced troop withdrawal effort. So, Washington still has a word to say.