Turkey: wants – at least – the ‘orange light’ from Moscow to invade Syria

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By Paul Iddon

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have said they are ready to co-operate militarily with the Syrian government if Turkey implements its repeated threats to invade northern Syria. The SDF has asked Damascus to use its air defenses against Turkish warplanes if the area is attacked.

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“The Syrian army will have to activate its air defense systems to strike Turkish fighters and defend Syrian territory,” Syrian Democratic Forces leader Mazloum Kobani told Reuters in early June.

However, various facts from the recent history of the last 6 years show that the Syrian air defense and Damascus warplanes are impossible to prevent Turkish air raids without the support of the Russians.

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Turkey launched its first military operation in northern Syria about six years ago, on August 24, 2016. Operation Euphrates Shield was aimed at removing Islamic State fighters from an area near northwestern Syria’s border with northern Syria. Turkey, but at the same time prevent the SDF from building a land bridge that would connect the Syrian Kurdish hinterland in the northeast with the Syrian Kurdish enclave of Afrin in the northwest.

On October 26, Syria warned Turkey not to violate its airspace. The Turkish Air Force has suspended its support for ground forces operating in the ISIS-occupied Syrian city of Al-Bab. In November, however, Turkey resumed airstrikes in the region, following a high-level meeting between Turkish and Russian military chiefs – in which the Turks assured the Russians that their al-Bab operation would not expand to Aleppo, the eastern suburbs of which were being bombed by Russian and Syrian forces at the time.

Since then, it has become clear that Moscow – and not Damascus – was setting the “war rhythm” and that Syria alone could not repel the Turkish Air Force.

This was confirmed in early 2018, when Turkey invaded Afrin. Syria has threatened to shoot down any Turkish aircraft attempting to attack Afrin. Only on the first day of the Turkish military operation – codenamed “Olive Branch” – 72 fighters bombed the city of Afrin, without the slightest resistance from the Syrian air defense.

Kurdish forces in Afrin have called on Damascus to do its duty and protect its borders. Pro-government paramilitary forces were sent to Afrin, but their convoy was bombed on the way by Turkish fighters.

Russia once again showed that it has the upper hand on March 18-24, 2018, after Turkey occupied most of the enclave, including the city of Afrin, blocking airspace and allowing several Kurdish fighters to flee to neighboring Tal Rifaat area.

Moscow opposes a new military intervention by Ankara, which would probably focus on the Taj Rifaat and Manbij in northwestern Syria. Russia has reportedly deployed a Kurdish-controlled Pantsir-S1 air defense system at Qamishli Airport in northeastern Syria. While Russia is at war with Ukraine and logically does not want escalation in the Middle East, Turkey wants at least the “orange” light from Moscow to make a military move.

The Syrian air defense has no deterrent force against a new Turkish invasion. The most advanced air defense system in Syria, the S-300 long-range aircraft received by Damascus in 2018, is controlled by Russia. And while the Pantsir-S1 and Buk-M2 are not insignificant, nevertheless the Turkish drones and their missiles could neutralize them if they found resistance.

The only way to thwart Turkish plans is for Russia to oppose a new invasion. There are some recent events that could turn developments towards this scenario.

Last May, as Israeli aircraft were returning from a raid on northwestern Syria, a Syrian S-300 missile was reportedly fired for the first time. The missile did not directly threaten Israeli fighter jets, but logically did not launch without Russian approval, with Moscow sending a message to Tel Aviv that – at least – the attack violated Russian’s red lines in Syria.

In early June, the Russian and Syrian air forces conducted their second joint patrol this year – and the first since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Two Russian Su-35 Flanker-E fighters and six Syrian MiG-23 Flogger and MiG-29 Fulcrum fighters took part in the patrol. The Syrian aircraft simulated a battle against enemy fighters and drones, while the Russian provided them with cover.

To show its opposition to an impending Turkish invasion and at the same time remind that it remains a viable force in Syria, Russia may choose to take similar action in the coming days and weeks. Such an attitude could have prevented the Turkish attack. But if Moscow even tacitly consents to another Turkish military intervention, then the SDF will not be able to count on Syria’s air defenses to repel enemy forces.

Source: Capital

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