Challenges, opportunities ahead of Syrian Army’s mother of all battles

Alwaght – The Syrian army’s liberation of Daraa and Quneitra in the south of the country from the terrorists over the past few weeks stands as a prelude to opening the northern front which many analysts call the final battle or the mother of all battles.

Over the past few days, the residents of pro-government al-Fuah and Kafriya towns, both located in Idlib province’s northeast, were evacuated after over three years of siege. The army’s amassment in the northern areas signals that soon the Syrian military will start the battle to liberate Idlib, the last major stronghold of the armed groups fighting the central government for eight years.

Idlib, located in the northwestern border with Turkey, was seized in May 2015 by an alliance of armed groups led by Jaysh al-Fatah, the Syrian affiliate of Al-Qaeda terrorist group. The battleground equations changes have opened the hands of the Syrian Arab Army to prepare for a huge offensive against the terrorists’ last safe haven. Reports suggest the army prioritizes liberation of Jisr al-Shughur city bordering Lattakia province.

The reports also talk about the Syrian army’s large-scale deployment to several fronts in southwestern Aleppo province, eastern Idlib, northeastern Lattakia, and northwestern Hama province. Over the past few days, the Syrian and Russian bombers pounded terrorist positions over 100 times in Hama, Idlib, and Aleppo. The targeted neighborhoods included Sheek, Al-Ziyara, Tal Waset, Qastoun, Al-Mansourah, Al-Habit, Khan Sheykhun, and other areas.

The events bear a sign that the upcoming days will witness the most decisive anti-terror battle since the defeat of ISIS. The fight, however, will not be an easy job to accomplish as the army could face obstacles ahead. Still, Damascus military potentials are so immense, making it possible to deal fatal blows to the terrorists.

Terrorists amassed in Idlib

One major hurdle is the massive presence of the terrorist fighters in the province. Three years ago, Jaysh al-Fatah, Al-Nasra Front, and other factions seized Idlib control on the strength of Saudi and Turkish support. Over the past few months, the Syrian army’s victories in the south and center forced a large number of the armed groups to surrender and relocate to Idlib together with their families. Idlib, thus, represents an ending point for the anti-Damascus militiamen. But their expected resistance to a heavy assault will slow down the operation.

European worries about Western fighters’ return home

Another roadblock can be set up by the European governments which are afraid of the return of extremists to the home counties. Since 2011, a large number of European radical Islamists traveled to Syria and Iraq, both hot spots of a regional crisis, to join terror organizations. Idlib loss to the government can force a large number of them back to Europe. Europe may resort to establishing some barriers ahead of the northern front operation. A propaganda campaign accusing the government of chemical weapons, like what happened in Khan Sheykhun and Duma last year, is highly anticipated.

Turkey may start a game attacking Tahrir al-Sham Front

The Syrian government, moreover, has to deal with Turkey’s objection to the operation. Ankara intends to roughen Idlib liberation for Damascus. To this end, it eyes capturing the would-be battlefield before the government forces arrive using the opposition armed wing, the Free Syrian Army. It is now busy mobilizing the opposition forces against Tahrir al-Sham, the dominant group on Idlib ground. Idlib borders Turkey, which means the armed groups will get bigger life lines. Turkey-aligned militants already exist in Afrin in Idlib’s north and can disrupt the operation.

Military capabilities and cohesion

The first and most important factor that gives the Syrian army an upper hand in the northern battle is its military capabilities and unity. Over the seven years of unceasing fight in a multi-fronted war against multiple militia groups honed the army’s combat skills. If we add the Russian air cover and the Iranian advisory support, no force can confront its firepower. Recent victories in Damascus outskirts, Daraa, and Quneitra bear proofs to this claim.

China coming on board

China’s offer of support to the upcoming Idlib operation adds to chances of success. Beijing is concerned that Uyghur minority fighters, whose number in Syria is believed to be between 15,000 to 20,000, can return to China and endanger its national security. They are mainly based in Idlib. The Chinese military backing to the Syrian government comes as during the crisis Beijing has maintained its diplomatic cover to Damascus on the global stage along with Russia.

Damascus international legitimacy

Another potential is the central government’s internationally recognized right for annihilating the terrorists. On the one hand, President Bashar al-Assad has every right to restore full governance over the whole Syrian territories and on the other hand, the international law supports the army’s battle against terrorism. World’s public opinion now knows that Idlib is the terrorists’ sanctuary and army’s assault is the only way for the province to be reclaimed.