On 28 March, terrorist gangs took control of the Syrian city of Idlib, in the province of the same name. Al-Nusra, a close affiliate of al-Qaeda and on the USA’s own list of terrorist groups, drew about itself a number of disparate jihadi forces for the offensive.
Most western media coverage has glossed over the precise identity of the attackers, preferring to lump them together as ‘opposition forces’, rather than acknowledge that al-Qaeda affiliates were at the helm of this temporary setback for the Syrian patriotic forces.
The Syrian army at once regrouped and has subsequently secured the southern part of the province, from which it is now directing operations to drive the rebels from the city. The pace of these operations is conditioned by the need to minimise loss of innocent lives – a consideration that carries no weight for those who have taken the city and its people hostage.
Ankara wades deeper into war
Idlib is in the far north of Syria, close to the border with Turkey. The government in Ankara has consistently opened its border to the forces trying to oust President Assad and undermine Syrian sovereignty. Terrorist gangs enjoy both safe passage over the border and base camps in Turkey from which to launch aggression against Syria.
The recent capture of Idlib was made possible by the assistance of Turkish artillery and advisers and upon Ankara’s efforts to coax the gangs into suspending their mutual feuding long enough to carry out this theatrical coup.
Since the capture of Idlib, Ankara has also been emboldened to new provocations. In a grotesque violation of Syria’s sovereignty, Turkish troops were dispatched deep into Syrian territory in order to seize a tomb and ferry it to a location about 200 metres from the Turkish border. The tomb in question belonged to the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman empire, Osman the First, and thus, in the eyes of some, stands as a symbol of Turkish President Erdogan’s treasured pipe dream of an Ottoman revival.
The purpose of this bizarre adventure became clear on 10 May, when Erdogan’s prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, scuttled across the border uninvited to have himself photographed visiting the tomb, hoping thereby to boost his Justice and Development party’s (AKP) vote in the then-imminent elections.
Imperialism pulls the strings
Both the Idlib invasion and Ankara’s tomb-raiding escapade need to be understood in the context of Washington’s current escalation of the war against Syria, mobilising the regional forces of reaction to greater provocations.
Of course, direct imperialist military involvement has long been in place: it was back in 2013 that the CIA launched its covert programme to train Syrian fighters in Jordan. But in February this year the Pentagon took a step closer to open intervention, announcing that deals have now been done with Turkey and Jordan to set up facilities to train and equip ‘opposition’ fighters.
Whilst the ostensible purpose is to battle against the terrorist IS, just as with the US airstrikes the real goal remains, as ever, the overthrow of Syria’s legitimate government.
To this end, reports Sputnik: “The first of the 400-strong cohort of military trainers have recently arrived in Turkey and Jordan in preparation for carrying out the training, which aims to train more than 5,000 rebels annually for three years, covering small arms, radio communication, battlefield tactics and medical equipment. The rebels will also be provided with weapons, trucks and tactical radios.” (Pentagon begins training of ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels, Global Research, 8 May 2015)
Speculation is rife that the seizure of Idlib is to be followed by the invention of an Idlib-based shadow ‘government’, much as was done in Benghazi when the object was the overthrow of the Libyan government of Colonel Gaddafi. (If this project goes ahead, no doubt some useful idiot will be found to follow in the footsteps of Stop the War’s John Rees, who infamously told us all to “support the Benghazi government” against Gaddafi.)
According to such a scenario, the puppet ‘government’ would then call for a ‘no-fly’ zone. That something along these lines is planned by imperialism seems to be clear from the unaccustomed tone being adopted now by the terrorist butchers, who have taken to prating about engaging in ‘consultation’ over the administration of the city. (See Syria: Al-Qaeda seeks ‘consultations’ to rule newly seized city by Tony Cartalucci, Global Research, 10 April 2015)
Thieves fall out
Some will doubtless welcome these developments as indications that, after four years of a proxy war that has inflicted untold misery upon the Syrian people, the ‘tide is finally turning’ against Syria’s survival as a bulwark against imperialist domination in the Middle East. As with so many previous ‘turning points’ eagerly announced over the period of this cruel war of subversion, however, this one is likely to prove just as illusory.
As President Bashar al-Assad calmly pointed out to a Swedish journalist: “When you look at the context of the war for the last four years, you have ups and downs. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.” (Syria interview: Assad blames Idlib defeat on ‘outside powers’ by Scott Lucas, EA World View, 17 April 2015)
For the forces of subversion to advance from winning the odd battle to winning the war would require a high degree of unity and steadfastness. The problem for imperialism is that nowhere among the forces of reaction – either on the ground or holed up in exile – is there the requisite steadfastness of purpose or unity of action.
The ‘opposition’ now supposedly in control of the city of Idlib is not a unified force, but rather a permanently squabbling nest of rats, drawn together only by the lure of the Yankee dollar and a rabid hostility to the progressive, anti-imperialist stance of Damascus. Alliances amongst this rabble are made and broken in the same breath, reflecting the rival agendas of their regional sponsors in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Israel, and ultimately the confusion and acrimony reigning both between and within the centres of imperialism itself.
Whilst Ankara and Riyadh may have recently managed to paper over the cracks in their anti-Assad alliance just long enough for the two to agree a common strategy to engineer the passage of well-armed foreign fighters over the Turkish border and into Idlib, past performance suggests that this unity will be fleeting, as Erdogan’s marriage to the Muslim Brotherhood (and flirtation with IS) gets under the Saudis’ Wahhabi skin. After all, the Muslim Brotherhood is not averse to portraying itself as a giant-killer, and the throne of the House of Saud is fragile indeed – the more so currently thanks to the failure of its murderous airstrikes to quell the Houthi-led anti-imperialist resistance in the Yemen.
Syria stands firm
Through the agony of war Syria endures, steadfast in defence of her national independence, yet dogged in the pursuit of peace. It was out of the Homs experience, when local ceasefires made it possible to get humanitarian aid into the city and evacuate the trapped citizens, resulting in the removal of armed gangs from Homs with minimum loss of life, that the tactic of such local ceasefires (or ‘freezes’) was first attempted.
The tactic then found favour with the United Nations envoy Staffan de Mistura, who has since tried to apply a similar approach elsewhere in the conflict. President Assad has been supporting de Mistura in his efforts to establish a six-week ‘freeze’ in fighting in Aleppo, but told the Swedish journalist that this seemed unlikely to succeed, since “the Turks told the factions, the terrorists they support and supervise, to refuse to cooperate with de Mistura”.
At time of writing, the fate of Idlib is not yet clear. Many towns and cities have had to suffer occupation under similar circumstances in the past – notably Homs and Aleppo – until patriotic forces were able to reassert national sovereignty. In such cases, terrorist forces were able for a time to impose a reign of terror over a civilian population held hostage as a cynical bargaining chip.
However, they have soon found that it is one thing to plant a flag on a pile of broken bricks and spread terror on the streets, but quite another to win the hearts and minds of those whose allegiance is demanded with menaces. The reality is that, after four years of war, the gangs are further than ever from commanding the loyalty of any more than the feeblest minority of the Syrian population, and equally far from toppling the Syrian people’s government.