According to reports leaked to the press by American officials, the Islamic Republic of Iran has started to shrink the size of its military presence in Syria, as the casualty toll among them became too high, and in the aftermath of the injury [or even possible death] of the arch-terrorist Qasem Suleimani, the head of the Revolutionary Guards. According to Israeli military sources, Hezbollah, Iran's stooge, is intensifying construction of fortifications along the Lebanese-Israeli border, which is viewed by these sources as part of preparations for a new confrontation with Israel. In Moscow President Putin instructed the Russian Defense Ministry to tighten the coordination with the Israelis with regards to flights over Syria. The same Putin was pictured with tears in his eyes when speaking in a lighting of Hanukkah candles ceremony, referring to his good childhood experiences with Jews in St. Petersburg of old days.
Is there any possible connection between all these apparent unrelated pieces of news? Well, at first sight it does not make sense, but this is the Middle East in general, and Syria in particular; stranger things have happened already. It has been the constant position of this blog that Iran cannot possibly achieve its goal of establishing a Shi'ite crescent stretching from the Gulf to Lebanon, something which requires the maintenance of the Assad regime ALL over Syria. It has also been the position of this blog that Russia could -- SHOULD -- have a role in Syria. With that in mind, here is a possible explanation for what is unfolding now in the battered country. On the face of it, Iran and Russia share the same goal: saving President Assad.
This is, however, a superficial impression, as Iran wants Syria as a link in the Shi'ite connection, in order to further its overall influence in the Middle East, whereas Russia wants Assad in power for two other reasons: First, to use Syria as a message to the US that under Vladimir Putin, Russia is again a superpower, a force to reckon with, not a pushover watching how the US and its allies rearrange the Middle East as they wish; second, to preserve a Russian naval base in Syria, the only one they have in the Mediterranean. They need a presence in Syria, but they do not want it to be another Shi'ite stronghold, an Iranian colony. President Putin knows all too well the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism and jihadism, and he does not send Russian troops to Syria to do the job of the Iranians. He is not the old style Soviet anti-Israel leader of the past, so he has forged totally different relationship with Israel, and if and so long as the two countries have common interests in Syria, he will very well pursue them, regardless of the Iranian and Hezbollah interest.
Henceforth, the Israeli air force continues, according to unverified reports, to attack Hezbollah targets in Syria, and but for hot air rhetoric, there is not much that the Shi'ite terrorists and their Iranian masters can do. Complaining to Putin will not help them. He could not care less. Here is also the connection to the reports about the Hezbollah fortifications along the Israeli border. An Iranian gradual pull-out from Syria will also be followed by a similar move by Hezbollah, and I, for one, believe that they are afraid of an Israeli attack on them in the aftermath of their losses in Syria, so they are engaged in defensive preparations. Time will tell.
And with that said, what about the Syrians themselves? Both Assad and the opposition. The latter, about 20 plus of the opposition factions met in Riyadh and signed a joint manifesto, which does not exclude meeting and negotiations with the former, though the goal, as stated so clearly by the Saudi hosts, is to remove the Assad regime, and create a decentralized new Syria. This is a term which may be a euphemism for partition along sectarian lines under one, loose central authority. It will be another Syria, one which Russia could live with, but not so Iran. A real united Syria is a mirage, as this blog has consistently argued, and those who follow Vladimir Putin should know by now, that he is a realist and not a fantasy seeker from la la land. Time for the US and the Saudis to sound him out as to what can realistically be done in Syria, and in the process to make sure , that the Iranians are out.