Articles > > Human Shields

Articles - Addostour - Date: 2020-03-17
By: Oraib Al Rantawi

The Nusra Front and its allies in Idlib have blocked joint Russian/Turkish patrols on the M4 highway linking Aleppo to Latakia by using 'civilians' as human shields this time around.
Since civilians cannot be thrust into the fray, Nusra and Ansar al-Tawhid fighters bearing their weapons and black flags managed to station themselves on the international highway. The result was the failure of the first attempt to open the highway as an axis to the safe zone stretching six km North and South as per the [March 5th] Moscow protocol signed by Putin and Erdogan and the result of intensive military and logistical talks between the two sides over the past few days in Ankara.
This is not the first time jihadist factions hinder the implementation of a de-escalation agreement. The first time, the [October 2019] Sochi Agreement fell through due to Ankara's failure to persuade these factions to withdraw and disarm them of their heavy weapons, and it likewise failed to separate the jihadist (terrorist) groups from the (moderate) others per the same agreement's provisions. At the time, Turkey denied its failure to fulfill its obligations and held Damascus, Moscow and Tehran responsible for the renewed vicious battles.
Will Ankara do so again today, and return to the accusatory/offensive rhetoric it usually resorts to hide its failure to contain the jihadists, and sometimes resorts to in an effort to evade its commitments to the same agreements?
From Astana [Russian/Turkish/Iranian political track] to Sochi, and before and after both, Ankara has sought to portray itself as 'guarantor' to the armed factions in Northern Syria, some of which are – at least officially – considered terrorist factions. Turkey's no-longer-hidden 'secret' was that it established and maintains relations with these factions, and still provides them with various forms of support, training, armament, financing, and political cover.
Turkey's embrace makes the 'Syrian opposition' factions mere pawns and mercenary armies doing the Sublime Porte's bidding, at one point moving them in Operation Olive Branch, at another in Euphrates Shield, then yet another in Peace Spring. More importantly, it sent about 5,000 militants to Libya to fight General Haftar's forces under the banner of Fayez al-Sarraj's [National Accord] government and the salafi and Muslim Brotherhood factions supporting it.
But this apparently 'generous' Turkish embrace has so far failed and seems unlikely in the future to succeed in buying the jihadist factions' loyalties, or turning them into mere pawns in the sultan's hands, despite repeated, multilateral, prolonged attempts over the past several years to rehabilitate the Nusra Front.
And despite the extreme flexibility [Nusra head] Jawlani has displayed to safeguard his position and his 'emirate's' gains, the al-Qa'ida offshoot along with other jihadist factions still retains a margin of independence and room to maneuver. After the Moscow protocol was unveiled, it expressed its total rejection of it just as it did when the Sochi agreement was rolled out.
The ball is now in Turkey's court. Ankara has a narrow and limited margin of maneuver thanks to Russia's understanding of Turkey's considerations and its president's sensibilities. The ink has not yet dried on the pledges that Erdogan and his pledges made, and the Turkish troops taking part in the joint patrols are eyewitnesses to the factions obstructing the course of the agreement's implementation. Ankara has no choice but to act in accordance with its obligations as a state party to the agreement, a guarantor of its implementation, and the sponsor of the factions tampering with it on the ground.
aOtherwise, Moscow and its allies will have the right to take action as they see fit and as dictated by their interests and calculations, even if Turkey goes back to complaining and its president ramps up his threats and warnings, especially after he has demonstrated time and again that he will jump off the tree-top just as fast as he scurries up one.