Saturday, September 19, 2015

De-Isolating Syria and Russia

"Until recently, the Iranians had much a bigger involvement on the ground than the Russians. So I think the increase in [Russian] arms supplies is probably an attempt to balance the situation on the ground."
"The Russians see it as important that the country remain with its current borders ... [but] I think the Iranians will be satisfied with control over certain areas of the country with pro-Iranian groupings that would ensure their access to Lebanon and Hezbollah."
"That’s the difference, [that inspires Moscow and Tehran] and that difference is clearly understood in Moscow."
Nikolay Kozhanov, visiting fellow, Russian-Eurasia program, Chatham House, London

"Both Iran and Russia want to preserve the political system in Syria, to keep Assad in power."
"Assad’s defeat would have a serious impact on Iran and wouldn’t suit [the interests of] Moscow, either."
Rajab Safarov, director, Center for Studying Modern Iran, Moscow

"Some observers are reading the Russian intervention as an attempt to pre-empt the total 'Iranization' of the Syrian state, as much as it is an attempt to rescue the regime."
Faysal Itani, resident fellow, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, Atlantic Council

"I believe Iran and Russia are getting closer in the course of the Syrian crisis, although they have had different approaches in dealing with the situation."
"In fact, it’s Russia that currently needs a powerful regional partner to shape its new political-security doctrine in the region."
"I think Russia is careful to not upset Iran in the new circumstances, especially in a time that there is an ongoing thaw between Iran and the West."
Kayhan Barzegar, director, Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies, Tehran
This Sept. 15, 2015 satellite image with annotations provided by GeoNorth, AllSource Analysis, Airbus shows Russian tanks and armed personnel carriers at an air base in Latakia province, Syria.

It worked once, why not again? Russian President Vladimir Putin, appealing to President Barack Obama's Nobel side, convinced him to overlook Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's monumental assaults on his own civilians with the use of chemical weapons. And so, President Obama's infamous 'red-line' simply got washed away in the flood of blood that the regime was enabled to get on with in the creation of an estimated 250,000 deaths and countless injuries of Syrians unfortunate enough to be of the Sunni persuasion of Islam.

It couldn't have been more timely; at a junction in history where Vladimir Putin has skilfully managed to make himself diplomatically persona non grata, when he has managed to incite the West to the imposition of financial sanctions that have beggared Russian economic prospects with the tumbled price of oil and of the ruble's descent, why not another lesson delivered gratis to Mr. Obama's willing ear? After all, the U.S.-led coalition's airstrikes have been revealed as toothless, and Moscow would be proposing a solution to ISIL.

Offering to meet and to conduct military-to-military talks on Syria. The revelation of a Syrian peace plan. Meant for delivery at the United Nations, but generously given as a preemptive scoop to President Obama, if he's willing. And if he's willing to cooperate with Russia, and by default of course, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the tagalong Syrian regime whose unsavoury penchant for bloody violence has created the worst mass asylum disorder in 70 years, business could be done.

With the deplorable Syrian regime, to keep it intact, to restore to its dominion the one-third and growing geography which Islamic State has taken by bloody conquest. Trouble is, as bloody as ISIL has been, it has been responsible for taking only one-third as many lives as has Bashar al-Assad in his ongoing deadly assaults on Syrians. Talk about making a deal with the devil; in this case, it's the devil three times over.

But Mr. Obama and his Secretary of State have declared themselves willing, if not eager. The alternative, after all, is rather awkward; with U.S. coalition aircraft in the air over Syria and Iraq and Moscow moving to a new under-construction permanent air base, the chances of unfortunate collisions or misunderstandings might conceivably create the kind of venomous atmosphere where disaster might erupt that either side would regret, embroiling more of the world than merely the Middle East.

For Russia, an agreement and conciliation with the West could produce huge benefits; primarily acceptance as a defender of a nation imperilled by a terrorist Islamist jihad attracting Muslims from all over the world. Which should earn Russia a wholesale relaxation of sanctions; after all, if Iran could manage that just by smiling and skilfully evading intrusions they aren't prepared to entertain, surely Russia could manage to extract similar concessions? In the process Moscow would wield the influence abroad it yearns to recapture.

For Iran, a Syria restored in its geographic reach completes the Shiite axis of resistance against Sunni domination, and opposition to Israel and Western regional interference, while offering Iran closer links with its protege Hezbollah. President Assad is indebted to Iran for the billions of investment in its broken economy and its dispatch of thousands of Shiite militias against the rebel forces attempting to unseat him. In the process, much to Assad's assumed discomfiture, has come the ascendancy of Iranian military commanders taking precedence over Syrian Army generals in defence of the regime.

It seems that Iran has taken the initiative to settle Shiites inclusive of families of foreign fighters adjacent to and within Damascus, thus ensuring that Syrian Sunnis will not easily return to homes now in the possession of others. Shiite mosques are proliferating even while the sale of Shiite books, pamphlets and motifs are overtaking Sunni areas of Damascus. Iran has put together a parallel security structure comprised of local militias and foreign Shiite forces from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

If Syria survives it will barely resemble what it once was.

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