How Turkey, Russia and Israel’s airstrikes are part of the new era of war in Syria | Syria
Over the plains of northern Syria, an approaching warplane typically emits a distinctive roar, allowing those on the ground to determine whose it is and whether hiding is necessary.
But the past few days have been more onerous than ever for plane spotters as air forces from three countries scoured the Syrian skies, bombarding targets from the Mediterranean coast to the eastern deserts in the most comprehensive airstrikes. of the last three years.
Turkey, Israel and Russia have all launched raids in recent days, reaffirming that a decade-long war remains a rumbling conflict with the potential to escalate on at least three fronts. But even as attention focuses on the escalating conflict in Ukraine, the unfinished business of the Syrian war casts a growing shadow over the rest of an incendiary region.
The barrage began early Saturday when Israeli airstrikes targeted several sites along Syria’s coast and heartland. Loud explosions were heard in Latakia as well as in the cities of Hama and Homs, where regime forces have reestablished strongholds with the support of Russia and Iran after 11 grueling years of war. Syrian officials reported that at least four soldiers had been killed, in what was the latest in a series of Israeli strikes against Iran-linked targets, which are widely believed to include components of weapons advances aimed at Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Islamist group is seen by Israel as the pinnacle of Iran’s regional military interests and an existential threat to the country’s existence.
Turkish airstrikes followed on Sunday, targeting Kurdish positions in northeast Syria, ahead of bellicose warnings from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of another ground push into Kurdish centers his government has earmarked as new homes for up to 1 million Arab refugees who NGO fear in the face of impending exile. Hours after his comments, Kurdish militants fired rockets across the border, killing at least two people and wounding 10 others in a Turkish border town.
The few remaining Russian planes in Syria took to the skies later Sunday and early Monday morning, bombing rural areas of Idlib near the Turkish border and civilian sites near two refugee camps. The Syrian army would have given its support. Russian planes have repeatedly attacked communities and militant groups in areas beyond Damascus’ control, claiming they support extremists. The attacks, however, mostly hit civilian targets.
“We know Russian and Syrian planes by the sounds they make,” said Mustafa Shabanda, a displaced Syrian in Idlib province. “They are old and you can hear them from very far away. Turks are different. They appear out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly. But they don’t bother us. They are after the Kurds.
“As for the Israelis, I only heard them near Hama when they attacked Bashar [al-Assad]the army last year. They all control our skies. It’s like hawks picking up rabbits.
In northeast Syria, Turkish airstrikes have become widespread. Ankara has linked the attacks to revenge for a bombing in Istanbul that killed six people last week and blamed it on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a militant group. The airstrikes are seen inside the Syrian province as a precursor to a ground invasion, which could attempt to link Turkish-held Jrabalus to the border with the city of Tel Abiad.
The incursions of the last three years have already consolidated the Turkish presence in the region, partly fulfilling Ankara’s objective of driving the Kurds away from the border. Turkish officials have long viewed the PKK’s presence in northeastern Syria as an incubator for an insurgency it has been fighting for four decades with Kurdish rebels in southeastern Turkey who want to form an independent state.
Ahead of a planned ground operation, some Syrians in Turkey have been returned to border areas. Many others point to a growing climate of fear in Turkey as anti-Syrian rhetoric develops.
“We are cleaning it up now,” said a Turkish regional official in the south of the country. “It is time for this war to end.”
However, what marks the end for many who witnessed the early days of the anti-Assad uprising in 2011 is seen as a new era for the main players in the conflict: Turkey, which actively backed opposition groups; Russia, which backed Assad from a desperate position on the battlefield to a Pyrrhic victory; and Israel, which has played mole with Iran inside Syria ever since.
“The war in Syria risks becoming a forgotten conflict,” said Dr Lina Khatib, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at the Chatham House think tank. “But the ongoing airstrikes by Turkey, Russia and Israel show that regional interests remain at stake, with each of the three countries targeting their opponents to prevent them from consolidating their influence in Syria.
“This is a reminder that the Syrian conflict is neither an isolated conflict nor a civil war whose actors are only Syrians. Regional and international interests have always played a role and the recurrent Turkish, Russian and Israeli bombardments aim to protect these interests.
In northeast Syria, known locally as Rojava, Merva Syamend, spokesperson for the predominantly Kurdish YPG militia, said: “The Turks have shelled many places in northeast Syria. by drones and planes. Their excuse is the Istanbul bombing. They blamed the YPG for this attack, but that’s not how we behave. We believe that the attack was staged by the Turkish intelligence services to kill two birds at once: one as a pretext to attack us and the other to speed up the process of returning Syrians to the areas occupied by the Turks in Syria.
Additional reporting by Nechirvan Mando