HTS stoking tensions between Turkey and Russia in Syria - analysis
The Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), formerly known as Nusra Front, is seeking to provoke the Syrian regime and Russia into a larger attack with the hopes that Russia and Turkey might end up in a conflict, wrote Seth J.Frantzman, Middle East affairs analyst for the Jerusalem Post.
Syrian government troops have recently been repelling big attacks by the militants in Syria's Idlib province, the article said, quoting the Russian Defence Ministry.
In September 2018, Ankara and Moscow agreed to establish a demilitarised zone in Syria's Idlib and to crack down on the HTS in Idlib province in return for halting a destructive Syrian government offensive into the province.
Accordingly, Turkey, which controls Idlib, was supposed to keep the group away from the front line behind a buffer zone.
Meanwhile, the HTS has other plans, Frantzman wrote, and is playing a “complex and dangerous game,’’ to spoil the Turkey-Russia deal over the S-400 missile system.
The U.S. is firmly opposed to Turkey’s planned purchase of the system, due for delivery in July, and has been threatening sanctions on Turkey and a freeze on the delivery of the F-35 stealth jets.
Highlighting that the HTS’ rocket fire on a Russian base appears to be escalating, Frantzman noted that his could also be a case of Russian media playing this up to send a message to Ankara that it needs to ‘’rein in the rebels and stop the rockets.’’
What is clear in Syria is that Russia is demanding a reduction of tensions in Idlib, the article stressed, placing more on Turkey’s shoulders to prevent the groups in Idlib from targeting Russian forces.
While Russia has a key role to play to prevent the Syrian regime from its recent attacks on Idlib, the Syrian regime’s agenda is also to prevent Turkey from entrenching itself forever in northern Syria, amid threats from Kurdish militants, the article noted.
Neither Ankara nor Moscow do not want war in Syria, particularly amid increasing ties over the S-400 deal and energy deals, Frantzman wrote.
Their allies, the Syrian rebels and the Syrian regime, as well as extremist groups such as HTS, however, have different agendas, he added.