Is Turkey Planning a New Invasion of Eastern Syria? – Analysis
Seth J. Frantzman
Jerusalem Post, Mar. 24, 2020Turkey’s leadership thrives on crises. For the last several years the government in Ankara has invented a new crisis every month, sometimes with the US. In October 2019 it invaded part of eastern Syria, causing 200,000 people to flee. In November Turkey created a crises in Libya with an energy deal in the Mediterranean and in January and February it fumbled another crises in Idlib, only to hen encourages migrants to go to Europe in March. Now Ankara may be setting its sights on a new crises in Syria to distract from the coronavirus pandemic at home.Hints of Turkey’s new plan to push the US out of the remaining parts of Syria, where Americans are guarding oil fields and continuing to support the Syrian Democratic Forces against ISIS, came in early March. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke to his ally in Russia, President Vladimir Putin, and said that with Russian support Turkey could construct infrastructure using oil revenues from eastern Syria. “We can help destroyed Syria get on its feet.” Erdogan’s plan came in the context of the Russian-backed Syrian regime offensive in Idlib that had forced some 900,000 people from their homes in January and February. Erdogan wanted a deal with Moscow. The Syrian regime shelling, likely with the knowledge of Moscow, killed more than 40 Turkish soldiers in Syria’s Idlib in February where Turkish soldiers were monitoring the crises. Turkey’s response was to run to Moscow to secure a deal.
Turkey has a long history of working with Russia to partition parts of Syria. Beginning in 2017 Turkey, Russia and Iran joined the Astana Syrian peace talks. Turkey nominally backs the Syrian opposition rebels. It has turned them into the Syrian National Army and used them to fight Kurdish groups that Turkey claims are linked to the PKK. Then Turkey sent the Syrian rebels to bolster its war in Libya after Turkey sought gas and energy deals off Libya in December 2019. This is Turkey’s goal: Use the rebels to fight Kurds and as tools of Ankara foreign policy, while working with Russia on the rest of Syria.
Turkey signed a deal with Russia in September 2018 for Idlib province. Russia wants extremist groups linked to Al Qaeda to leave Idlib. Turkey doesn’t know what to do with the groups, including ISIS members like ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who was found by the Americans living a few kilometers from the Turkish border. One way to deal with the groups that are still independent of the Turkish-backed SNA is to let the Syrian regime destroy them until they run into Turkey’s arms. That was the plan in December and January as the Syrian regime advanced, but it advanced too fast and Turkey sent troops to Idlib to slow it down. Russia stepped in through discussions with Turkey in Munich and then in Moscow and finally came up with the deal. In the lead-up to the March 5 deal between Ankara and Moscow, Turkey sought to encourage Syrian refugees to go to Europe. Stoking the crises with Europe, Turkey turned its eyes to eastern Syria.
In October after Turkish threats the US had withdrawn from parts of eastern Syria. Turkey bombed the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces and invaded part of eastern Syria. Then Turkey signed a deal with Moscow in mid-October, partitioning parts of eastern Syria, similar to Idlib. But the deal may not be done. Moscow and Turkey both want the US removed from eastern Syria. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
Russia’s Arms Supply: Assad over Israel’s Security
Suriye Gündemi, Mar. 13, 2020
Restricted by Israel: Traditional Russian arms deliveries to Syria:
Russian-Assad regime military-technical cooperation includes both arms procurement (transfers) and security (military) assistance. Having inherited a long history of cooperation on the matter from the Soviet times, the relations in the military field were resumed in the mid-2000s and increased with the Syrian War, especially with the Russian intervention. Syria’s arms procurement attempts in the early and mid-2000s having been often jeopardized by Moscow’s relations with Tel Aviv. Many arms procurements were overcome by the end of the decade with Assad succeeding in the purchase of Buk-2M Ural medium-range theatre defense missiles, GM 39 Igla fire-and-forget surface-to-air missile (SAM) system, Tunguska SAMs, MiG-29SMT fighter aircraft, Pantsir S1E air-defense systems. Additionally to the arms transfer deals, Russia and Syria launched a security assistance program by reviving the Tartus Naval base in 2009 and launching the Hmeymim airbase.
Moscow popping up arms deliveries into Syria
In May 2005, Russian and the regime’s finance ministers signed an agreement nearly annulling the regime’s debt owed to Russia. The agreement included Russia’s consent of dropping 73% (nearly $9, 8 billion) of total debt with the remaining 27% ($3, 6 billion) of it going towards joint water, oil, gas, and other industrial projects. This generosity by Moscow was based on its desire to resume its more active cooperation with the country and consequently reacquire its physical presence in the region.
This development is a strong contrast to the past where Russia hesitated to deliver arms transfers to Syria, while the latter was paying enormous efforts at the negotiations table. For instance, repeated Syrian requests to procure Russian S-300 PMU self-propelled SAM system, aircraft MIG 29 Fulcrums and MIG-31 have not been met. This was based on the claim of Kremlin’s “unwillingness to upset the balance of power in the Middle East”, yet was simply a result of a strong Tel Aviv’s pressure on Moscow. Additionally, Israel managed to convince Kremlin to block its sales of the Iskander-E missile batteries to Syria; the batteries were capable of sending conventional or chemical weapons payloads deep into Israel in case of a war.
In 2006, Russia was committed to modernize and repair military hardware used by the Syrian army and continued to train Syrian military personnel at the senior officer level. By 2006 about 10,000 Syrian officers had received training at either Soviet or Russian military academies. Furthermore, as of 2006, up to 2000 Russian military advisors were serving in the country’s military. 
The aforementioned Kremlin’s “minor steps” towards Damascus, in terms of arms supplies, were undertaken in 2006-2007 when Russia resumed its arms transfers to Syria by delivering the vehicle mount variant of Russian Kolomna KBM Strelets multiple launch units for use with the GM 39 Igla fire-and-forget surface-to-air missile (SAM) system and Tunguska SAMs. 
… [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
War-Torn Syria Braces for Lockdown after First Virus Case
Al Jazeera, Mar. 23, 2020
Syrians rushed to stock up on food and fuel Monday amid fears that authorities would resort to even stricter measures after reporting the first coronavirus infection in the country, where the healthcare system has been decimated by nearly a decade of civil war.
According to the World Health Organization, testing for the novel coronavirus is to start within days in northwest Syria, amid fears of a disaster if the pandemic reaches overcrowded displacement camps. “Testing will be available in Idlib in two days,” WHO spokesman Hedinn Halldorsson said on Monday.
Some 300 COVID-19 diagnostic kits are to be delivered to a laboratory in Idlib city on Wednesday and “testing should start shortly afterwards”, he said.
An additional 2,000 tests would be delivered as soon as possible, he added.
So far three suspected cases in northwest Syria have tested negative after hospitals sent samples to Turkey, Halldorsson said, but fears remain high. “WHO is extremely concerned about the impact COVID-19 may have in the northwest,” Halldorsson said.
“Displaced people [there] live under conditions that make them vulnerable to respiratory infections,” he told the AFP news agency. Those included overcrowded living conditions, physical and mental stress, as well as a lack of housing, food and clean water.
As part of a wider response plan for the region, three hospitals with intensive care units have been modified as isolation units equipped with ventilators, the WHO spokesman said. Up to 1,000 healthcare workers have been mobilised, and a new delivery of protective gear, including 10,000 surgical masks and 500 respirator masks, should arrive within the week.
Bracing for wider closures
Concern about all the displaced was increased after the Damascus government on Sunday announced the country’s first official case of the novel coronavirus. Lines formed outside grocery stores, banks and petrol stations across the Syrian capital, Damascus, as people braced for wider closures. The government has already closed restaurants, cafes and other businesses, and has halted public transportation.
The city’s famed Hamidiyeh souk, a network of covered markets running through the Old City, was deserted after the government ordered all shops closed on Sunday. Authorities closed border crossings with Lebanon and Jordan, and Damascus International Airport was closed to commercial traffic after a final flight arrived from Moscow. State-run newspapers issued their last print edition and will only be available online. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
Kurdish-Led Northeast under Lockdown as Syria Announces First Coronavirus Case
Al-Monitor, Mar. 23, 2020
The Kurdish-led autonomous administration in northeast Syria announced a lockdown in the broad swath of territory under its control today, just hours after the Syrian government confirmed its first case of the coronavirus.
The autonomous administration has declared a two-week curfew. It said in a statement this could be extended “in case of necessity and the public interest.” The administration said no cases of COVID-19 had been detected in the northeast so far. The area lying east of the Euphrates bordering Turkey to the north and Iraq to the east is home to between 4 million to 5 million people, among them hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians and Islamic State prisoners.
The real number of coronavirus cases in Syria is widely believed to far higher because of its proximity to Iran, which is among the worst affected countries worldwide. The Kurdish-led administration has sealed all its borders save for humanitarian and coalition deliveries and set up additional checkpoints to monitor people’s movements.
Mazlum Kobane, the commander in chief of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which provides security for the area, appealed in a video posted on his Twitter account for people to abide by the new rules and called medical staff “our new leaders.”
“We must adopt these decisions and unite in implementing them, and because our capabilities are few, we must take the necessary preventive measures that are important to protects ourselves, our families, and our friends,” the militia leader, who is also known as Mazloum Abdi, said.
Videos posted by the Hawar News agency showed rows of shuttered shops and empty roads in the SDF-controlled zone today. “There is 100% compliance with the curfew,” said a Kobane aide, speaking not for attribution.
The co-chair of the administration’s health authority, Raperin Hassan, told Al-Monitorin a telephone interview, “Our means are truly very limited. We have only two normal size hospitals with 200 beds each and they aren’t fully in service, seven ventilators, and no [COVID-19] testing kits. We urgently need help.”
Hassan’s colleagues had reached out to the World Health Organization. “They haven’t been cooperative and we don’t know why,” she said. “They told us they would send us kits for each suspected case we report.” She said the administration had also contacted the US-led coalition and the central government in Damascus for assistance. “We haven’t heard back from any of them. We are basically on our own in this,” she said. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK– Ed.]
For Further Reference:
The War in Syria: Michael Doran: TRT World, YouTube, Mar. 5, 2020 — TRT World Correspondent Ali Mustafa asks to Research Fellow Michael Doran of the Hudson Institute about the US position on Syria at the Istanbul summit on Syria’s Idlib.