by Prof. Eyal Zisser
Russia's success stemmed from a cynical alliance of interests with Iran and Turkey, three countries barely able to conceal their distrust and even hostility toward the others.
In the past week, Russian President Vladimir Putin has twice reiterated his declaration of victory in Syria. He did so while meeting Syrian President Bashar Assad on Monday, and on Wednesday during his meeting with the presidents of Iran and Turkey.
Putin, however, knows very well that winning the battle is one thing and that establishing peace and restoring stability to a war-torn country is something else entirely. Victory on this front requires more than bombers and cruise missiles, not to mention Iranian fighters. To succeed in the war's aftermath, Putin will need Turkey's goodwill and a certain degree of cooperation from rebel groups, those which somehow survived the Iranian-Russian onslaught.
The job is particularly complex, not just because of the plethora of players active in the Syrian arena – among them Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and, of course, Israel – but mainly due to the fact that Russia's success stemmed from a cynical alliance of interests with Iran and Turkey, three countries barely able to conceal their distrust and even hostility toward the others. It seems the only thing these three allies, or at the very least their leaders, have in common is their unbridled hatred for the United States, against which, even more than against Islamic State, they joined hands in Syria.
Putin, therefore, wants to strike while the iron is still hot – while the sides can still be swayed by his military achievements on the battlefield – and concoct a deal to end the war. To be sure, as long as the coals continue to burn in Syria, Russia's ultimate victory in that country is unassured.
Within the parameters of Putin's deal, each side is supposed to give their fair share. The rebels will have to accept that Assad will remain in power; because Putin does not have the intention, the will or the ability for that matter, to replace him. Assad, for his part, will have to come to terms with the continued existence of rebel-controlled enclaves and recognize them as partners in managing the everyday affairs of the local populations there.
Israel, too, is being asked not to interfere and even accept Iran's continued presence in Syria. In return, the Russians have agreed to keep the Iranians away from Israel's border on the Golan Heights; and it is safe to assume they will still turn a blind eye to Israel's ongoing activity against national security threats on its northern front. It was to this end that Putin spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday, as the Russian president considers Israel a partner whose agreement, even if provided under a modicum of protest, is essential to the Russian plan.
Only the Americans are on the outside looking in. Washington has a military presence in Syria and its agreement will be needed for any peace deal. The problem is the lack of clear policy behind this military presence. It is pointless, therefore, to talk to the Americans. Putin will hope to sell his postwar plan to U.S. President Donald Trump when they find the time to speak by phone – if the American president can pay attention long enough.
Prof. Eyal Zisser
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