Don’t Bet on Russia to Restrain Iran in Syria

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 30 May 2018

Russian president Vladimir Putin and Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamene’i meeting in Tehran, Iran, 1 Nov. 2017 // Picture via Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader

There have been renewed claims that Russia and Iran, while both supporting Bashar Assad’s regime, have such differences in vision and interest in Syria that there is a schism Western policymakers can take advantage of.

The basic notion is to work with Moscow, which has a less maximalist position, to limit the influence of Iran, a more disruptive power that could draw in worried regional countries to a wider war. This idea is not new and remains illusory. Russia is powerless—even if it were willing—to restrain Iran, the dominant force driving the regime coalition’s war.

When Assad met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in May, Putin said: “We presume that … with the significant victories … of the Syrian Army in the fight against terrorism, [and] the onset of … the political process in its more active phase, foreign armed forces will be withdrawn from the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic.”

A few days later, Iran Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi, was quoted as saying: “No one can force Iran to do anything. Iran’s presence is based on the Syrian government’s invitation … As long as the Syrian government wants, Iran will continue to assist the country.”

Many concluded that a significant breach had occurred and Putin was hinting at, perhaps even promising to compel, an Iranian withdrawal of its ground forces from Syria. This was built on three recent interrelated data points.

First, Turkey, whose operations in northern Syria were coordinated with Russia, to a degree that, some said, Assad and Iran found uncomfortable. Second, Israel, which has struck repeatedly at the Iranian infrastructure in Syria and launched its largest attack to date just a day after Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met Putin on May 9. Third, Daraa, where, after clearing Damascus, a pro-Assad coalition offensive is in the offing and some detect tensions in the Russian and Iranian approach.

Closely examined, none of these points add up to a serious divergence between Iran and Russia.

Read the rest at The Arab Weekly

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