On August 2, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told reporters: “From our perspective, the situation is returning to how it was before the civil war, meaning there is a real address, someone responsible, and central rule.” This is rather noteworthy at this time that the Syrian front will be calmer. In other words, Israel prefers to see Syria return to pre-war status when the central government in Damascus was in full control before March 2011.
Such a statement is not void and is of utmost importance as it demonstrates that the plans or schemes to divide Syria into various provinces or federal states had gone with the wind. What Lieberman said and the Jordanian armed forces’ assistance to the Syrian Army in the Yarmouk Basin against Khaled bin Al-Walid, an ISIS affiliate, reveal a fact that both Jordan and Israel are back to pre-Syrian war era in terms of cooperation with the Syrian government regarding securing borders. However, the issue at stake is Idlib, a predicament to the Syrian government, Russia, Iran and China on one hand and Turkey and the militants in Idlib province on the other.
Turkey is hostile to the Syrian regime. Ankara has ethnic and regional aspirations in Syria. At present, the Turkish government is at odds with the West. The Turks have never forgotten that once they were part of the Byzantine Empire, the first Christian State, and the capital of the Ottoman Empire. Thus, the coming era for Turkey will be an existential war. Therefore, the clash of the Turkish civilization with others is in parity with existentialism which is inevitable. This justifies why Ankara is pragmatic, depending on situational contradictions in Syria on one hand and American-Western interests on the other.
The formation of the “National Liberation Front” in Idlib, a group of opposition factions, formed by the Free Syrian Army backed by Turkey, aimed to fortify the Turkish stance because the number of fighters reached 100,000. This figure would create a major dilemma for the Syrian Army and its allies to free Idlib as plans have been set up to start the operation in September. Thus, the battle of Idlib will be the last in the Syrian conflict that determines the future not only for Syria, but also for Turkey as a new ally will join the battle: China, which has Uyghur fighters amongst those militants in Idlib.
The Chinese ambassador to Syria, Qi Qianjin, told a Syrian Arabic daily, few days ago that China will allegedly assist the Syrian Army in their upcoming battle in southwestern Idlib, and that the Chinese military is prepared to somehow take part in the upcoming Idlib offensive, especially because of the large presence of Uyghur fighters near Jisr Al-Shughour.
The Chinese ambassador to Syria, Qi Qianjin, told a Syrian Arabic daily, few days ago that China will allegedly assist the Syrian Army in their upcoming battle in southwestern Idlib, and that the Chinese military is prepared to somehow take part in the upcoming Idlib offensive, especially because of the large presence of Uyghur fighters near Jisr Al-ShughourShehab Al Makahleh
The ambassador elucidated: “The Chinese military has played an imperative role in protecting sovereignty, security and stability of China. At the same time, it (China) is seeking to take part in peacekeeping operations later on. At present, there is ongoing cooperation between Syria and China in combating terrorism. We also know that the war on terror is not only for the benefit of the Syrian people, but also for the Chinese people and the people of the world.”
That is an indication on the coming battle of Idlib where the Chinese army will be involved as China will not allow them back to their homeland as they are a high risk to Chinese national security.
Chinese presence in Mideast via Syria
The vigorous military interposition of the Chinese forces in Syria would be a major step forward towards a more ample participation of China in the Middle East and the world as a whole. China has refrained from taking part in military operations beyond its borders. Therefore, a military operation in Syria could open the door to more Chinese military engagements around the world. What Beijing fears most is the return of those Uyghur militants, members of the Turkestan Islamic Party, who are now in Idlib province to China where they can launch attacks against the Chinese government, seeking an independent state.
The Chinese ambassador’s statement demonstrates that China is paving the ground to send Chinese special operations forces (SOF) to actively take part in the forthcoming battle of Idlib to liquidate the Uyghur fighters amongst others. This Chinese bid will be of due concern to Turkey as the Turkish army cannot counter pressure from both Russia and China which both have huge economic and business transactions with Ankara. The Turkish President Recep Tayyep Erdogan cannot lose them for a number of militants.
The Middle East has become the new playground for China strategically. With SOF arrival to the port of Tartous on the Syrian coast in order to participate in the coming battle in Idlib, such Chinese participation in Syria could lead to more competition between Washington and Beijing. The reason is that China has been deeply concerned about the large number of Chinese-born militants known as the “Turkmen” or “Uyghurs” movement who have joined ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
Today, with the arrival of two units of the Chinese (SOF), known as the Siberian and the Night Tigers, to fight the terrorist factions in the province, which is adjacent to Turkey, Beijing is seeking to fight those outside its territory for fear of their return to the region which is located in the territory known as Xinjiang as those pose an existential threat to the territorial integrity of China.
The number of Chinese militants fighting alongside terrorist groups in Syria is estimated at 5,000. Therefore, China’s participation in military operations against these militants is due to China’s own interests in Syria, not to mention the economic, political and security interests. The return of these Chinese fighters from Syria to China with their extremist and terrorist ideology means a great security and military threat to the Chinese economy and society. Moreover, China’s participation in the coming campaign against terrorists aims to protect its economic interests in Syria as China has invested more than $40 million in Syria’s infrastructure.
Few days ago, Ankara has prepared a document to discuss with the Russians and Chinese regarding the future of Idlib without going to war, fearing the spillover and the refugee influx to Turkey. The terms were not satisfactory to both Moscow and Beijing. This is conducive to the scenario of war which would end the dreams of Erdogan in Syria.
Shehab Al-Makahleh is Director of Geostrategic Media Center, senior media and political analyst in the Middle East, adviser to many international consultancies. He can be reached at: @shehabmakahleh and @Geostrat_ME
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