Since the failure of its strategy to overthrow Assad between 2011 and 2016, Turkey has become a more significant player in the Syrian civil war. First, bringing a fragmented FSA under its command, reorganising these forces into a centralised SNA and partnering with the NLF enabled Turkey to exercise greater control over two key sets of Syrian armed groups in Idlib, Afrin and the Azaz-Jarabulus corridor. This enabled Turkey to establish two semi-autonomous protectorates west of the Euphrates and to expand its influence in Idlib province. Secondly, these arrangements have secured the commitment of a range of Syrian armed groups to operate as irregular forces in Turkey’s recent military operation against the PYD-led Syrian Kurds east of the Euphrates. Thirdly, the Turkish-supported ‘alliance-of-convenience’ of HTS-NLF-SNA in Idlib lost ground after the recent Syrian regime/Russian offensive that captured Khan Sheikhoun and it remains susceptible to internal (Tanzim Hurras al-Din) and external (Russian-regime offensives) disruption.[65]

In sum, Turkey’s vision of resurrecting the ‘revolutionary’ cause in the Syrian civil war for its own benefit, has been effectively executed through growing institutionalised control over, and partnership with, a wide range of SNA and NLF groups.[66] Turkish influence in Idlib remains limited, however, by HTS’s historical affinity with Al-Qaeda, the group’s independence and Abu Muhammed al-Jolani’s personality. Nevertheless, this brief suggests that Turkey’s proxy warfare strategy has effectively merged and centralised many Syrian opposition groups under its own vision of nationalist Islamist governance that will ensure long-term Turkish influence in northern Syria, which is currently being expanded east of the Euphrates river.

Note that this is in part due to the absence of Iran-affiliated militias on the battlefield. Such forces have consistently been behind, or in front of, successful Syrian regime offensives, such as the battles for Aleppo and Qusair. Iran’s disengagement, which might be the result of its desire to avoid conflict with Turkey while its standoff with the US deepens, also enabled Syrian armed opposition groups in Idlib to regroup and recover from the August 2019 regime offensive that captured Khan Sheikhoun.
This vision can be traced back to the AKP’s own ideological development over the past few years.