Executive Intelligence Review


Intense Diplomatic Efforts Underway To Minimize Idlib Assault in Syria

Aug. 31, 2018—Statements made from a variety of locations, ranging from Moscow to Geneva, indicate that intense diplomatic activity is underway to try to minimize the amount of fighting that the Syrian Arab Army will have to engage in, in order to liberate Idlib province from the collection of armed groups of various stripes that currently occupy it. The problem, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pointed out yesterday, during a joint press conference in Moscow with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, is that the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat Al Nusra, known by its current name of Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS), is among those armed groups and must be eliminated. He stressed that the Syrian government is hard at work on reconciliation agreements with armed groups which are seeking to separate themselves from Al Nusra. “We exchanged assessments of the progress of the steps to differentiate the armed opposition ready for dialogue with the Syrian government from the terrorists,” he said.

Turkey and Russia are also working on this problem, as Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan indicated in a speech yesterday. There are also reported to be talks between Turkey and the leadership of HTS to get HTS to disband. “This is the condition set by Moscow to avert a broad offensive.... Its launch hinges on the failure or success of these talks with HTS,” Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told AFP. HTS appeared to leave the door open to that possibility.

“The issue of the disbanding—should it ever take place—is one that would be discussed internally by the alliance’s consultative council but not dictated by local or foreign parties,”

HTS said in a statement on its propaganda site. The Turks’ ability to get this done is unclear however.

Staffan de Mistura, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, confirmed much of this activity in remarks to reporters in Geneva on Aug. 30. He acknowledged that there are up to 10,000 al-Qaeda terrorists in Idlib, who need to be defeated, but at the same time there are nearly 3 million civilians who need to be protected.