Executive Intelligence Review


Russia Steps Up Syria Diplomacy as Idlib Situation Deteriorates

Nov. 12, 2018 (EIRNS)—Russia has been engaged in intense diplomacy around Syria. This was summarized in a report by Al-Monitor which described meetings that Russian diplomats had in Damascus, Tehran, and Moscow as part of a broader effort to tie the Astana format of guarantors Russia, Iran and Turkey, to that of last month’s Istanbul meeting of representatives of Russia, Turkey, Germany, and France.

“Russia is making sure its own initiatives are well sealed and recognized by other major regional players before UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura steps down at the end of November. Russia is thus pressing Assad to speed up the formation of the Constitutional Committee,”

Al-Monitor reported.

At the same time, the ceasefire in Idlib province appears to be getting increasingly fragile, which is not surprising, given Turkey’s limited influence with some of the more radical jihadi groups that refused to abide by the Russian-Turkish agreement of early October. According to a series of reports in Al Masdar News, both the jihadis and Syrian army units are on alert along the frontlines of the de-escalation zone in Idlib province. Al Masdar reported this morning that the Turkish-backed National Liberation Front is seeking alliances with jihadi groups, including Ahrar al-Sham and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham to repel what they expect will be a major government offensive. This followed a report yesterday that the Syrian Army’s Tiger Forces, led by Maj. Gen. Suhail Hassan, were ordered on high alert by the army command. According to the Tiger Forces, their troops are preparing to launch a big ground offensive that will target the remaining towns under the control of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham near the Abu Dhuhour Airbase, which is about 53 km south of Aleppo city.

Another 65 km southwest of Abu Dhuhour is the town of Mughayr, one of several that jihadis from the Turkestan Islamic Party attacked overnight, Nov. 10-11, in an effort to gain some ground near the Al Ghaab plain. However, Al Masdar reports, the jihadist rebels were unable to penetrate the Syrian Army’s defenses, resulting in their eventual withdrawal before dawn on Sunday morning, Nov. 11.

In eastern Syria, meanwhile, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are reported to have resumed their offensive against the last remaining ISIS enclave in the Euphrates valley. The offensive was “suspended” about two weeks ago in the aftermath of Turkish attacks on the Syrian Kurdish YPG positions on the Syrian border. However, Al Masdar reports this morning that Turkish forces are gathering across the border from the Syrian city of Ras Al-‘Ayn, about 100 km east of the Euphrates River, in preparation for an assault on YPG positions there, following two weeks of artillery strikes.