Amid Mideast Tensions, Turkish-Backed Militants Plan Attacks on Hamas Ally Syria

Jihadist militants affiliated to UN-recognised terrorist organisations operating in Syria’s Idlib governate are planned to launch offensives against Syrian and Russian forces, according to a report from the deputy chief of the Russian Defence Ministry’s Center for Reconciliation of the Opposing Parties in Syria Vadim Kulit. “Terrorist groups active in the Idlib de-escalation zone are plotting attacks on the civilian population, areas where Russian and Syrian forces are deployed, as well as civilian infrastructure facilities with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles and modified medium-range multiple launch rocket systems,” he stated, adding that Russian and Syrian forces would take necessary preemptive measures. The report follows predictions that Turkey and multiple jihadist groups under its influence and protection in northern Syria would seek to exploit the diversion of Syrian and allied Iranian and Hezbollah military attentions southwards towards Israel to make military gains in northern Syria. This followed the outbreak of hostilities on an unprecedented scale between Hamas and Israeli forces from October 7.

Turkey continues to support a wide range of terrorist groups in northern Syria such as the formerly Al Qaeda affiliated Al Nusra Front and East Turkestan Islamic Party, with such groups having since 2011 frequently had Turkish special forces units embedded within their ranks. Militants have also benefitted from Turkish, and at times Israeli and Western, air and artillery support when engaging the Syrian Army or its allies. Militants in Idlib from Al Nusra and the Turkistan Islamic Party were reported in November 2022 to have been planning a major assault on Russia’s leading military facility in the Middle East Khmeimim Air Base, which at the time was hosting growing quantities of strategic assets aimed at NATO’s southern flank. Alongside Turkey’s major role as an arms supplier to Ukraine its support for such jihadist operations against Russia, Syria, Iran and Hezbollah has made it a critical contributor to NATO’s broader strategic objectives. The presence of a force of tens of thousands of Turkish backed militants in Idlib imposes a major constraint on the ability of Syria, Iran and Hezbollah to respond to the ongoing increase in tensions with Israel amid ongoing hostilities between Israeli and Palestinian Hamas forces. Syria, Iran and Hezbollah have been leading supporters of Palestinian military efforts against Israel since the 1980s, including Hamas and multiple other parties, with their role becoming more central after NATO military interventions toppled the governments of Iraq and Libya which had previously been major sponsors.