- The United States is not keen on engaging in a proxy war with Russia.
- For Turkey, Idlib is of vital importance, as Ankara considers this region to be its zone of influence.
- The Turkish economy is in crisis and in no shape or form to engage in an all-out war.
Unsuccessful negotiations between Russian and Turkish diplomats, and the UN Security Council have doused all hope of easing tensions in Idlib, Syria. In anticipation, Ankara has asked the United States to deploy Patriot anti-aircraft missile systems to the Turkey–Syrian border. The U.S. Embassy in Turkey has, however, declined to comment on the matter.
Turkey will need such a defense system if it wants to launch a full-scale offensive operation in Idlib. As past combat experience has revealed, an attack without aerial support in the region is doomed to failure. As such, Turkey will have to fly its F-16 fighter jets to support anti-Assad forces on the ground.
Such a maneuver is, however, unlikely because it will pit Turkish jets against a ground enemy equipped with advanced anti-aircraft weapons, and Russian combat aircraft.
How likely is an All-out Military Conflict?
Turkey’s military is unlikely to launch serious attacks against Russian and Syrian government forces. This is because the U.S. military tapered cooperation with the Turkish army after Ankara bought Russian S-400 air defense systems in 2019. There are, however, several Patriot systems in Turkey, but they are installed on American bases.
The most that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan can do right now is request the United States to transfer Patriot batteries that are under their control to the Turkish province of Hatay, which is situated at the border with Syria. In this case, the air defense systems will be able to detect and fire upon Russian combat aircraft. The United States is, however, not keen on engaging in a proxy war with Russia.
Since the end of January, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s army has been conducting an offensive in Idlib province with the support of Russian jets and pro-Iranian groups. It has led to close to a million people fleeing the region. This development is seriously unnerving for politicians and military leaders in Turkey.
Why is Idlib so Important?
Idlib is the last stronghold for rebels and jihadists who have been trying to overthrow the Assad regime since 2011. For the Syrian regime, a successful offensive in Idlib would yield substantial political and economic dividends. A victory would give the Assad government almost complete control of the country.
For Turkey, Idlib is of vital importance. Ankara considers this region to be its zone of influence. Since 2016, Turkish forces and allied Syrian rebels have been able to launch attacks and project power from this location. Erdogan does not want to abandon his allies at this dire moment because they have in the past helped him fight Kurdish militia groups. Deserting them would cause his rating in Turkey to tank.
The Turkish Economy is Struggling
Many experts agree that Erdogan could launch a full-scale operation in Idlib for domestic and political reasons. But the Turkish economy is in crisis and in no shape or form to engage in an all-out war. It will struggle to meet its ambitious 2020 target of 5 percent growth. Conservative projections point to a reasonable 2.8 percent growth rate.