Though Syria has largely been out of the headlines for over the past half-year, there's multiple indicators to suggest we could soon be headed for a major escalation over Idlib.
The last time a large Syrian-Russian joint force mustered to retake the al-Qaeda held province in the country's northwest, the United States threatened major military response (in Sept. 2018), also citing that even should so much as an accusation of chemical weapons usage surface, US strikes would ensue.
Over the past weeks both Syrian and Russian jets have conducted airstrikes over parts of Idlib in retaliation for stepped up HTS operations (Hayat Tahrir al-Sham/Syrian AQ/formerly Nusra) against government areas in a pattern of escalation that looks to continue. And now Russia’s Khmeimim airbase is facing more severe attacks via HTS rockets, mortars, and terror drones.
Russia's Ministry of Defense (MoD) confirmed two targeted attacks against its key air base in Syria on Monday, near Latakia, which reportedly involved 36 rockets. Russian officials said Khmeimim's air defense systems repelled the attacks, which they said also involved the coordination of drones.
RT News cited officials to describe "the militants used a drone to direct the fire from multiple launch rocket systems, but the attacks were repelled by Khmeimim’s air defense systems." Insurgents have long used drones to attempt to penetrate the air base's defenses. In response, Russia launched a series of air strikes across the Idlib 'de-escalation' zone, which is administered based on a joint agreement with Turkey.
Later in the day Beirut-based Al Masdar News confirmed citing Syrian military sources major Russian airstrikes in and around Idlib:
The Russian Air Force has unleashed a massive assault across northwestern Syria this morning, targeting several areas under the control of the militants in Hama, Aleppo, and Idlib.
According to a military source in the government stronghold of Mhardeh, the Russian Air Force began their aerial bombardment of northwestern Syria just minutes before the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) made their push in northern Hama.
Following a series of terror attacks and insurgent shelling on civilian areas of Hama and Aleppo, Syrian and Russian forces have cited the breach of ceasefire terms as justifying the new waves of air strikes.
Meanwhile, international media reports have again begun spotlighting the potential for mass humanitarian disaster and refugee displacement as Idlib again finds itself increasingly targeted by warplanes above — also given the mainstay of al-Qaeda's force in Syria is now lodged among some three million civilians in the area.
The Washington Post on Monday said that "a final showdown" is looming over Idlib, which could bring Syria straight back into the international spotlight once again, also as both the US and Israel ramp up efforts against "Iranian expansion" in the region, and as John Bolton announced the deployment of a US carrier strike group and bomber task force to the Middle East.