Monday, June 18, 2018

When My Enemy's Enemy Disappears

Is the friendship between Iran and Russia going to return to the natural state of opposition?

Now that the tide in the Syrian civil war appears to have definitely turned in favor of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, one of the key factors that will shape Syria’s future is the precise nature and durability of the relationship between the two countries that saved Assad from collapse: Iran and Russia.

Tehran and Moscow worked together to bolster Assad, but the character of their ad hoc alliance has always remained a bit of a mystery. They each, for their own purposes, wanted the regime in Damascus to survive. Beyond that, it has never been clear just how committed Russian President Vladimir Putin has been to his links with the Islamic Republic.

Indeed, the Russians have stoked a little tension with Hezbollah, Iran's favorite Arab cannon fodder to fight Israel:

A Russian force deployment on the Syria-Lebanon border this week in a Hezbollah stronghold sparked protests by the Lebanese militant group, prompting the force to withdraw from its positions only a day later in a rare sign of tension between the allies.

Strategypage addresses the growing tension:

The alliance between Russia, Iran and Turkey is coming apart because all three nations have different goals even though the three have been cooperating with the Assad government since 2015 to end the civil war. But with the rebels no longer a major threat to the Assad government each of these three allies are more interested in their own objectives in Syria. For Russia it is to maintain its two bases their and that is only possible if the Assad government (which granted the use of an airbase and port facilities) survives. Iran is in Syria to keep the Assads in power so Iran can mass forces there to attack and destroy Israel. Turkey is mainly there to destroy Turkish and Syrian Kurdish separatist groups, as well as any Islamic terrorists that are seen as a threat to Turkey. To accomplish this Turkey wants to clear all Kurdish separatists and from the Syrian side of the border and turn that “security zone” over to the FSA (a Syrian rebel group that not works for the Turks).

Yes, long-term rivals and sometimes enemies Russia and Iran have lost a lot of their reason to cooperate closely in Syria. And you can add Russia and Turkey and Turkey and Iran, for that matter.

Heck, Assad has every reason to want Iran out of Syria now, well aware of what Iran could do to Syria given the Iranian record in Lebanon.

Will Turkey begin to remember the value of being an ally of America and friend of Israel? Or will Erdogan simply push away all potential allies in his dream of a new (non-territorial) Ottoman Empire?

But more immediately, how will the growing Russia-Iran split affect Israeli ambitions to take down Iran's Hezbollah ally in Lebanon (and now in Syria, too)?