BEIRUT, LEBANON (7:10 A.M.) – The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and their allies are preparing to launch a limited offensive along the Hama-Idlib axis in the coming days, marking the first time this year that they have conducted any type of military offensive in this part of the country.
Despite some claims that the Syrian Army offensive will target the entire Idlib Governorate, a source from the military told Al-Masdar News this past week that the primary objective of this operation will be to expel all jihadist and rebel forces from the demilitarized zone area that stretches from the Al-Ghaab Plain to the Abu Dhuhour Crossing.
In particular, the Syrian Armed Forces will target the remaining areas under jihadist control in the Hama part of the Al-Ghaab Plain, the militant-held points near the government strongholds of Mhardeh and Al-Sqaylabiyeh, and the southern Idlib towns inside the demilitarized zone.
The Syrian military currently has no plans to expand past the demilitarized zone as this would require a much larger force and cooperation between Turkey and Russia.
Leading the Syrian Arab Army’s offensive will be the elite Tiger Forces, Republican Guard, and 4th Armored Division; these military units will operate at separate axes along the demilitarized zone.
The Tiger Forces will be led by their Taha and Tarmeeh groups, while the Republican Guard forces participating in this offensive will be the 104th, 105th, and 106th brigades.
The aforementioned units will also be joined by the 5th Corps, 11th Tank Division, National Defense Forces (NDF), and Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP).
On the rebel side, Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham, the Turkish-backed National Liberation Front, and the locally-based Jaysh Al-Izza forces will lead the defense against the Syrian military.
Jaysh Al-Izza has served on the front-lines of northern Hama for several years; their strongholds are Al-Latamnah and Kafr Zita.
Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham troops are scattered across the demilitarized zone; however, they will make up the bulk of the defenses near the Al-Ghaab Plain and Abu Dhuhour axes.
The National Liberation Front has redeployed units to this front to aid in the defense of the demilitarized zone.
The four main foreign entities that will influence the outcome of this operation will be Turkey, Iran, Russia, and Qatar.
Russia will provide the primary support to the Syrian military as they are currently entrenched with them at several axes in northwestern Syria.
Iran will mostly provide logistical support to the Syrian military, but unlike Russia, they do not have much of a presence in northwestern Syria.
On the opposition’s side, Qatar has been one of the largest financial backers of the rebel forces; they do not have any physical presence in Syria, but they do provide support to the opposition via Turkey.
Turkey is the major foreign entity entrenched with the rebel forces in northwestern Syria. The Turkish military currently has 12 observation posts that stretch between the Latakia, Idlib, Aleppo, and Hama governorates.
While Turkey, Iran, and Qatar are in a de facto alliance in the Middle East against Saudi Arabia and their allies, they support opposing forces inside of Syria.
For the Syrian Arab Army, this offensive will be successful if they can push the jihadist and rebel forces north of the demilitarized zone.
If they are successful, the jihadists and rebels will no longer be able to conduct raids near the government-held towns in the Hama and Idlib governorates.
For the opposition groups, if they are able to repel the Syrian offensive, they will score a major victory against the government forces for the first time in years.
A victory for the opposition groups would only embolden Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham, who is already considered one of the most powerful forces in northwestern Syria.