The era of foreign intervention in Syria is coming to an end – at least that’s what Russian President Vladimir Putin said when Bashar Assad, Syria’s president, visited Sochi last week. Granted, Putin’s statement was ambiguous – “in connection with the significant victories … of the Syrian army … foreign armed forces will be withdrawn from the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic” – but Russia’s Syria envoy clarified the next day that Putin was, in fact, calling on all militaries to vacate the country.
Israel has long been wary of Iran’s power projection in the Levant, particularly in Syria. Ties between Tehran and Damascus have been close since the 1979 revolution, but the relationship deepened after Syria’s civil war erupted in 2011. With the Assad regime’s survival at stake, Tehran doubled down on its support, providing critical military assistance—fighters and strategists—and economic aid estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Syria and Iran now have a partnership with existential stakes—for the Assad regime’s longevity and Iran’s enduring position in Syria, the most strategic property in the Levant. USIP’s Mona Yacoubian looks at Iran and Israel’s goals and concerns in Syria and the potential of their shadow war spilling over into a regional conflagration.
Every day Iran fails to strike back makes it look weaker.
Another war between Israel and Hezbollah may well be approaching. Iran, Hezbollah’s primary patron, continues to ship weapons to the Lebanese militia despite Israel’s insistence that doing so is something it cannot allow. Israel has conducted airstrikes on Iranian and Syrian targets in the past month accordingly, but to no avail. The more aggressively Israel behaves, the sooner a direct fight with Iran will come.
The Iran-Russia-Turkey nexus could be potent, but suffers from clashing strategic goals and internal contradictions
Western media are preoccupied by limited airstrikes from the United States, Britain and France in the Damascus area, in response to a chemical attack, as well as Russia’s “hybrid warfare” strategy against the West. Amidst many distractions, Vladimir Putin’s own fixation with his country’s emergence as a major player in the Middle East and its implications for regional stability do not receive ample attention. Russia is striving to increase its strategic visibility and sphere of influence in the Middle East, and US President Donald Trump, by pursuing his transactional foreign policy, is unwittingly presiding over the demise of traditional US strategic dominance in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world.
The possible creation of a new geopolitical reality in the Middle East may have snuck under the radar this holiday weekend. The continuing spectacle of the investigations into Russia’s possible involvement in the 2016 Election and the continued naming and shaming of corporate leaders and politicians involved in sexual harassment (as well as Thanksgiving), may have overshadowed the summit in Sochi between the Presidents of Russia, Turkey, and Iran, shortly after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visited President Putin in the same city (and thanked him for “saving Syria”).