Since Friday, Syrian opposition fighters have been trying to control the Kassab border crossing with Turkey in the northern countryside of Latakia, hoping to grab it and turn it into a sea port sea to facilitate the passage of weapons and other military supplies.
They hope this passageway will compensate for the loss of most of the strategic Qalamoon and Yabrood areas, which deprived the opposition from a lifeline to Lebanon and the coast.
Syrian authorities say that those who attacked the Kassab marine crossing launched suddenly from Turkey, with cover from Turkish aircraft and using intensive artillery shelling. A Syrian plane that was shot down, they said was chasing militants and bombing their positions in the countryside of Latakia.
The armed groups are making progress in the countryside of Latakia, but the regime has gathered its troops to repel the assault. It remains unknown whether these enforcements include fighters from Hezbollah and al-Abbas pro-regime militias or not. The participation of these forces has played a crucial role in the battles of Qusair, Qalamoun and Yabrod because of their experience and expertise in guerrilla warfare.
The regime had not expected the opening the front at Kassab, believing Turkey would respect the undeclared agreement not to convert its lands to launching base for the armed opposition. But war depends on tricks, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan is part of a coalition that also includes Qatar and some extremist Islamist groups, a coalition that suffered a major setback in Yabroud and Qalamoun. Turkey decided to avenge these losses quickly in a soft and deadly area for the Syrian regime; the countryside of Latakia. Above all, it should be remembered that Turkey is a NATO member.
Transferring the battles to Latakia and its countryside is a serious challenge that would disrupt many accounts, and it may mix the cards on other fronts, altering other stable situations on the ground, especially that the move "north" that coincides with a careful intensification of the southern front from Daraa, where the Free Syrian Army took control of sites in the south and the city's central prison.
When Assad was weak, exposed to many internal and external strikes, to military, diplomatic and political defections, he managed to bring down a Turkish military plane. Then, Erdogan refused to be drawn to an immediate confrontation, as he believed that the fall of the regime was inevitable. How wrong his calculations were.
The Syrian regime is still exhausted, despite its recent victories, but is much stronger than two or three years ago. It is unlikely that it will be dragged into a direct war with its strong neighbor, Turkey; it would rather follow the policy of self-control just as Erdogan did. But this does not mean it will not use all its cards at a later stage.
There is no doubt that the armed groups that attacked Kassab, like the Nusra Front which announced the Battle of Anfal in Latakia, include ideological fighters willing to die for their cause. But the defenders of the Syrian northern coast are also defending their last resort, and with their backs to the wall, are well aware that their opponents would not deal with them with compassion and tolerance.
Erdogan will gain the sympathy of many Turks because he is fighting an enemy that penetrated the Turkish airspace and the Turkish Air Force tackled him bravely. Erdogan will turn attention, partially or fully, from his domestic crises and may unite the people in the face of an external enemy. But to get involved militarily in the crisis which even great America avoided might be a difficult and risky option. Erdogan is a man of enough wisdom and experience to avoid falling into this bloody swamp, and thus lose all the great political and economic achievements, which made him a subject of admiration inside and outside Turkey.
Translated and edited by The Syrian Observer