Thursday, November 16, 2017

Where Iranian and Russian interests meet - Prof. Eyal Zisser

by Prof. Eyal Zisser

Tehran and Moscow have together emerged as the greatest victors in the Syrian civil war. Hopefully, Russia will eventually consider Jerusalem's legitimate concerns about the future of Syria.

The war in Syria is nearing its end. Syrian President Bashar Assad has already taken over most of the country's territory, even if control is not complete, with a drop in reported incidents of violence and death. This is cause for celebration, first of all in Moscow, the biggest victor of this war.

The greatest contributor to the Russian-Syrian-Iranian victory was actually Washington, first and foremost because of the Obama administration's failure and inaction, but also the Trump administration's. Both abandoned the rebels in the country to face their fate, despite the Americans' successful fight against Islamic State in eastern Syria. For it was not the Russians or Iranians, and certainly not Assad's Syrian army, that toppled Islamic State's caliphate, but the Americans and their allies in Syria, the Kurds, and in Iraq, the Shiites.

Instead of thanks, however, senior Russian officials, including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, now accuse Washington of collaborating with Islamic State. They even claim that the American presence in Syria is illegitimate and threatens the stability and peace in this country.

I wish there were truth to these claims. While the Americans' successful tactics brought about the downfall of Islamic State, the Russians dealt with flattening rebel towns and villages in western Syria. Washington has never had, not even today, a holistic strategy for the future of Syria. Meanwhile, Iran fills the vacuum left in the wake of Islamic State's downfall.

While there is no love lost between Moscow and Tehran, Iran is Russia's partner in securing Assad's rule, and more importantly in imposing Russian hegemony in the Levant. On the way, the Iranians are cashing in their chips and promoting their own interests by establishing an Iranian sphere of influence that stretches from Tehran to Baghdad, Damascus and all the way to Beirut.

The Russians will not let anyone, certainly not the Americans, share in the spoils now that the prey has fallen into their lap. U.S. President Donald Trump may have promised to make America great again, but as far as the Russians are concerned, Washington remains a punching bag they are happy to keep on hitting. The Russians are also not letting Israel disrupt their strategic partnership with Iran, which is necessary to establish Moscow's standing in the region. They listen to Israel and do not wish it harm, but Israeli worries about Iran appear to be exaggerated for Moscow.

Syria is more important to the Russians than to the Americans, and therefore it should be assumed that the disagreements between the two will eventually end in American concessions. Israel, on the other hand, is a tough nut to crack, and we must only hope that Moscow will be more willing in the future to consider Jerusalem's legitimate concerns over the future of Syria.

Prof. Eyal Zisser


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