The military operation launched by Turkey on the town of al-Nairab, in the Syrian governorate of Idlib was only an expression of a fire test in a crucial battle for the Turkish policy in Syria. Therefore, the question arises here is: Will this operation be limited and only for political purposes, or will it be a rolling operation which will be opened for all possibilities?
First of all, it must be said that this operation was an expression of Turkey's sense of a great loss in Idlib, after the great advancement made by the Syrian government during the past weeks with great support from the Russian and Iranian allies, as well as it was an expression of reaching the Russian-Turkish understandings in Astana and Sochi to a deadlock, and it was in response on the new Russian proposals which bypass Astana and Sochi agreements, in light of seeking new understandings to arrange the security situation on both sides of the border, which was practically embodied in the failure of the Russian-Turkish negotiations in Moscow.
What does Turkey want from its military operation in al-Nairab?
There are those who believe that Turkey wants to achieve three main goals, the first of which is to stop the advancement of the Syrian army, as it sets its sights on reaching the strategic Bab al-Hawa border-crossing.
Second: The possibility of regaining some vital areas, especially Saraqib, which the Syrian army has recently taken control, in order to preserve some privileges related to the highways linking Aleppo with Damascus, Hama and Latakia.
Third: To keep an area of vital depth under its control, in order to preserve its role and influence in the Syrian crisis in the next stage.
Although these main goals seem to be related to the developments of the Syrian crisis, but they are related to the Turkish domestic equations and Erdogan's internal accounts in depth, especially with the increasing of the Turkish opposition's criticism over Erdogan's policy in Syria and Turkey's burdens due to this policy, as the last of these was from the former President Abdullah Gul, Erdogan's former companion, when he held Erdogan the responsibility for that, calling for a new Turkish policy toward the Syrian crisis.
In the assumptions of the dimensions of the Turkish operation, there is a suggestion that this operation will be limited, and that Erdogan's primal goal is to reach a new agreement with Putin, which guarantees the three above-mentioned goals for Turkey, and therefore, one could understand the Turkish insistence on holding such a summit between Erdogan and Putin prior to the trilateral summit among the guarantor countries, which will be held in Tehran next month.
Despite weighting this hypothesis, the arrival of matters to this critical point, strongly indicates the fragility of the Russian-Turkish understandings, since Erdogan feels he fell into the trap of Putin's agreements in Sochi and Astana, and the latter put him in front of the mouth of the Syrian army's cannons, after he believed that the mentioned agreements would be a gateway into a political solution, not a phased one, as Putin had planned.
Erdogan, who feels the difficulty of his position between accepting a strategic loss in front of the Syrian army’s advance in both Idlib and Aleppo countryside or going to a confrontation with it, which may lead to a confrontation with the Russians, has mobilized all his cards by trying to bring the support of NATO and Washington in this battle, a path which would create a state of political and diplomatic clashes among the concerned parties, especially in light of NATO speech in support of Erdogan, for reasons mainly related to the conflict with Russia, and an attempt to end the Turkish-Russian rapprochement within the framework of NATO conviction of the importance of preserving Turkey's role in this alliance, and not from the point of Turkey's participation in its military operation.
Perhaps, Washington itself has waited long for the chance of the tension in the Russian-Turkish relationship to get closer to Turkey and to keep it away from Moscow, and this development may have caused Moscow to look more carefully at its options with the Turkish escalation in Idlib, and to show great concern not to clash with it, looking forward to acceptable new understandings.
This poses the challenge for Russia between how to reconcile its steadfast support for the Syrian government and its assertion of the latter's regaining of all the Syrian lands outside its control, and the fulfillment of the Turkish demands in the form of the recognition of the establishment of a ‘safe zone’ under Ankara's influence and policy, where all of this leads to an increase in the rift between Russia and Iran in Syria.
Although the Turkish military operation seems limited in light of the previous equations, it shouldn't be ruled out its transformation into an open operation, due to many possibilities, especially if the Syrian government forces continue their advance, and it may resort to targeting inside Turkey in order to mix the cards, and to put Moscow in a position of direct defense of it in the face of Turkey, which may develop NATO's supportive position for Turkey in this difficult, risky battle.
Therefore, the question arises here is, whether there is still a possibility for a new Russian-Turkish understanding or that the contradiction of the strategies has become the most likely option for a clash between them?
A question, where the answer for it doesn't depend on seeing the course of the ongoing clash on the ground, or even the mutual accusations between Moscow and Ankara, as the picture isn't complete without knowing what Washington and NATO want from the Syrian crisis in the next stage.