Near Idlib’s engagement lines, military visit with more than one message

General Abdul Karim Mahmoud Ibrahim, Chief of Staff of the Syrian regime forces, and the commander of the 25th Division (Special Forces/Tiger Forces), Brigadier General Suhail al-Hassan, during military training for soldiers - July 30, 2022 (Facebook/Syrian Defense Ministry)

General Abdul Karim Mahmoud Ibrahim, Chief of Staff of the Syrian regime forces, and the commander of the 25th Division (Special Forces/Tiger Forces), Brigadier General Suhail al-Hassan, during military training for soldiers - July 30, 2022 (Facebook/Syrian Defense Ministry)

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Enab Baladi – Hassan Ibrahim

Without an official announcement, a number of Syrian regime officers recently visited military sites near the lines of contact with opposition-held areas in the northern Idlib region.

The visit coincided with the return of shock offensives (Inghimasi operations in Arabic) carried out by the opposition factions behind the contact lines, which amounted to 25 attacks between September and last March.

A visit near the contact lines, the like of which the region has rarely seen since the cessation of military operations in March 2020, raised questions about the reasons, timing, messages it carries, and the media blackout on it.

Four officers near Idlib

The Chief of Staff of the regime forces, General Abdul Karim Mahmoud Ibrahim, the commander of the Fifth Corps-Storming, Major General Munther Ibrahim, Major General Ghassan Tarraf, and the Director of the Political Department, Major General Hassan Suleiman, visited the headquarters of the regime forces near the front lines in Idlib countryside.

No official announcement was made about the visit, while loyal local social media pages and media outlets circulated images of the officers, accompanied by a number of members, on March 27, and they said that they were on the “first direct lines of fire with the enemy in Idlib countryside.”

Visits by officers or military commanders of the regime forces to sites near the contact lines are rarely publicized, photos of which are published by local pages, as a visit was previously recorded by the commander of the so-called Tiger Forces (Division 25- Special Forces), Brigadier General Suhail al-Hassan, on January 31.

Local social media pages mentioned that al-Hassan visited headquarters in Idlib without specifying the exact location, while opposition military observatories in northern Syria reported that he conducted a field tour in which he visited his forces deployed on the axes of the southern countryside of Idlib.

The most prominent visit to the contact lines in the region was the visit of the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, to the town of al-Hbeit, the largest town in the southern countryside of Idlib, in October 2019, and it was his first since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in 2011.

Al-Assad’s visit coincided with the escalation of the regime forces and their intensification of bombardment of the southern countryside of Idlib and the countryside of Latakia.

It came three months after the regime took control of the town in a campaign and violent attack launched by its forces with Russian air cover, through which they took control of hundreds of cities and towns, and at a time when the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was discussing with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, the developments in northern Syria.

On impact of “Inghimasi” attacks

The officers’ recent visit was not without sending messages to the inside and outside, especially with the cessation of military operations in the region since 2020 and their confinement to sniping operations, repelling infiltration, or shock attacks, which have increased in frequency recently.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which has military influence in Idlib, intensified its “Inghimasi” attacks” behind the front lines and included separate places extending from the countryside of Latakia to the western countryside of Aleppo.

The former military pilot colonel, Mustafa Bakour, told Enab Baladi that these visits can be viewed from two perspectives.

The first is that they are routine inspection visits to check on the readiness of the forces and to study the weaknesses that made the majority of “Inghimasi” attacks” succeed in claiming the lives of dozens of regime’s military personnel.

The second is that it is an attempt to raise the morale of the soldiers, especially with the deterioration of the living situation in the areas controlled by the regime, and this applies to the livelihood of the soldiers on the fronts.

The visits also send a message to the residents of the regime-controlled areas that they have to be patient because the capabilities of the “state” are used to prepare for the restoration of areas outside al-Assad’s control, according to Bakour.

There are no accurate statistics on the number of deaths among the regime forces as a result of the infiltration operations, as the regime rarely announces this.

On the other hand, news accounts loyal to the regime publish information about deaths, in addition to obituaries for members of its forces in the area of engagement or targeting.

The visit, was it a cross-border message?

The military pilot suggested that the visits could be interpreted as part of the preparations for any possible military operations towards the Syrian north, in case the conditions are available, especially after talk of a Turkish and Arab rapprochement with the Syrian regime.

Bakour believes that there are messages sent by these visits to the factions in northern Syria that the regime is determined to restore its control over the region and that the factions must accept any international understandings; otherwise, the regime is preparing for major military operations.

Bakour believes that the visit coincided with talks about the regime’s meeting with countries and an attempt to refloat it, carrying messages that al-Assad still places the military option and escalation among his priorities in case those countries reject his conditions.

There is still talk about a Turkish rapprochement with the Syrian regime in a phase of tension and attraction, postponed by other statements and rapprochement, and there is talk of holding quadruple consultations at the level of deputy foreign ministers of the regime, Russia, Turkey, and Iran in early April.

In turn, the military analyst, Brigadier General Abdullah al-Asaad, said in an interview with Enab Baladi that the visit is a protocol in order to inspect these sites and verify missions and combat readiness and that it is not in order to locate points or scouting the area due to the rapprochement between the Syrian regime and Turkey.

Al-Asaad believes that obscuring this visit and keeping it away from media promotion was in order not to appear as a provocative process towards Turkey so as not to affect the negotiation course between the two parties.

The military expert suggested the possibility of Russian instructions not to disclose such visits at the present time.

Al-Asaad also considered that the visit does not carry big messages, as it is not at a high level that reaches the rank of Minister of Defense, for example, and it is unlikely that there will be any military action at present due to the presence of coordination and a process that works at the international and regional levels.

Current “Battle”

The map of military control in northwestern Syria has not changed since the Moscow agreement on March 5, 2020, between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which stipulates:

– A cease-fire along the confrontation line between the regime and the opposition.

– Establishing a security corridor six kilometers north of the main international highway in Idlib (M4) and six kilometers south of it, which connects the cities controlled by the Syrian regime in Aleppo and Latakia.

– Deployment of joint Russian-Turkish patrols along the “M4” road, starting from March 15 of the same year.

The agreement stopped the incursion, but it did not stop the escalation and attacking, as the opposition-held areas in northwestern Syria are subjected to almost daily bombardment and raids by Russian air forces at an unstable pace, in conjunction with Russian drones flying over the area daily.

In 2022, the Syria Civil Defense (SCD) agency documented the killing of 165 people, including 55 children and 14 women.

The “Inghimasi” attacks carried out by fighters in various brigades under the HTS banner were active, led by “elite” forces trained in these attacks, such as the “Special Forces,” “Red Bands Brigades,” “Khaled Ibn al-Walid Brigades” and “Unit 82”, and topped the digital accounts of the HTS and its pro-media, and won praise from its senior Shariah scholars and officials.

The “Inghimasi” attacks” begin by infiltrating or circumventing the points of the regime forces, clashing with their members and killing them, and confiscating their weapons as a booty.

Some of them included the bombing of the entire military point building after the end of the operation.

 

 

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