Emboldened by S-400s, Turkey threatens offensive in eastern Syria

US calls move "unacceptable."

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July 14, 2019 02:09
3 minute read.
Emboldened by S-400s, Turkey threatens offensive in eastern Syria

First parts of a Russian S-400 missile defense system are unloaded from a Russian plane at Murted Airport, known as Akinci Air Base, near Ankara, Turkey, July 12, 2019.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Turkey has prepared a large military deployment on the border of Syria ahead of what could be a new offensive into eastern Syria where US troops are located. US intelligence is showing the build-up, according to Ryan Browne of CNN.

Turkish armored units in recent days could be “planning cross-border combat operations,” he wrote on Twitter. The US has said any operation would be unacceptable.

The build-up comes as Turkey showcased its first components of the Russian-made S-400 air defense system. The US is “closely watching the Syria-Turkish border due to growing concerns,” tweeted Browne. The offensive could come in the next days.

Turkey’s Daily Sabah, which generally reflects the government’s position, said that Turkey’s “huge” deployment signals an extensive offensive east of the Euphrates. This is where US forces are located and partnered with the Syrian Democratic Forces. The SDF defeated ISIS in eastern Syria. Turkey accuses it of being linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and calls the leftist Kurdish group “YPG terrorists.”

The Pentagon has said that “unilateral military action” in eastern Syria is unacceptable. But it made the statement in relation to US personnel being present, adding that coordination and consultation between the US and Turkey were necessary.

The US has condemned Turkey for taking delivery of the S-400. It has also threatened to end Turkey’s role in the F-35 program because of the Russian S-400s.

At the same time, the US wants the UK and France to deploy troops in eastern Syria and has discussed a “safe zone” along the border with Turkey. Turkey demands that the YPG, a component of the SDF, be removed from eastern Syria. The US is now at a crossroads, and Turkey wants to pressure the US to move faster. The deployment is part of this pressure.

On Friday, Russian Presidential Special Envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentyev met with Syrian President Bashar Assad to discuss the latest developments in Syria. The meeting came as Ankara posted the first photos of Russia’s S-400 air defense equipment arriving in Turkey.

Turkey has backed opposition to Assad, but Moscow – an ally of the Syrian regime – is now growing closer to Ankara. For Assad, therefore, the Russian visit was important as a way to shore up relations with Moscow and discuss the next moves in Idlib, where extremists and the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army still hold a large area of Syria.

Lavrentyev was accompanied by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin, according to Russia’s Tass News Agency. They discussed Idlib and the establishment of a “Constitutional Committee,” Tass said.

“The meeting focused on efforts toward the soonest completion of the formation of the Constitutional Committee and its launch as a major step in encouraging the political process carried out by the Syrians under United Nations mediation, as envisaged in the resolutions of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi and United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

The official statements from Russia were typically non-specific. Syria’s SANA state media also reported on the visit, saying that efforts were made to make progress on the political track. Damascus is concerned about Idlib and the continued fighting there between the regime’s army and the rebels. Syria’s army has been fighting since 2011, and the regime clearly wants a road map showing how it will return all or parts of Idlib to government control. SANA said Syria wants to protect its citizens and meet any “provocations by the terrorist groups in Idlib.”

Blue and White MK Yair Lapid wrote on Twitter that he warned members of US Congress this past year that Turkey would ignore all threats and purchase the S400 system.

“The US has to cancel the F-35 deal with Turkey, otherwise nothing will stand in Turkey and Iran’s way as they learn how to neutralize America’s most advanced weaponry,” Lapid wrote.

Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.

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