For The Century Foundation (originally published November 28):
More than a month after Turkey’s intervention to enforce a “de-escalation” in Syria’s Idlib province, there’s still little clarity on exactly what Turkey is doing in Syria.
That might be deliberate, because Turkey’s deployment is – as best as I can tell – based on an unpalatable deal with the jihadists who control Idlib. To secure Turkish interests and safeguard at least some of Idlib’s residents, Turkey seems to be working with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the successor to Syria’s former al-Qaeda affiliate.
By engaging Tahrir al-Sham mostly Syrian leadership, Turkey may be working to flush the northwest of transnational, al-Qaeda-loyal jihadists . Or, less charitably, it may just be looking after Turkish concerns and collaborating with the local partner closest at hand.
Either way, the Turkish move into Idlib is risky, both in terms of its slim chances and Turkey’s reputation. But it may also be the only way to avert a battle for Idlib that would be disastrous for millions of civilians.