The events in Syria have taken a new turning point after the Israeli-Iranian military combat in southern Syria, which is expected to draw a new map, considered the most prominent since the break out of the Syrian revolution, for the strikes that targeted dozens of sites in the south and near the capital Damascus have never been witnessed for 48 years; the Iranian reaction, similarly, is regarded as the largest of its kind, as it focused on deep positions within the occupied Golan.
Threats and promises, by both Iranian and Israeli officials, varied with the expansion of the Iranian intervention in Syria, fleshing up the expectations that await the eruption of a confrontation between the two sides in Syria after the most violent attack, on the 10th of May, for Israel never stopped attacking in the past month; however, the former attacks were discreet and with a lesser degree of military acuteness.
Regardless of the military strik’s seize and repercussions, it is the political context that is worth examining, for the meeting that brought together the Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the corner stone for the Syrian-based Iranian fate in the upcoming phase, especially with the almost finalized process of “drawing the borders” between the Syrian regime and the opposition, which is the threshold to Syria’s next day.
With the manifold political analysis that followed the military confrontation and the process that concentrated on scaling the Israeli-Iranian tension, Iran can be said to have reached an unenviable position, imposed by Russia’s intention to have monopoly over Syria, an intention that is paralleled with Israel’s desire to gain the phase of power sharing.
Russia’s and Iran’s interests in Syria have intersected for the past a few years, for the on-ground supporter is the Syrian regime and its president, Bashar al-Assad, and the enemy is the opposition factions; the two sides formed an alliance that run the military operations on the ground and had the greatest role in retaining huge geographical spaced into the grip of the Syrian regime. The dual presence was not limited to battles alone, for it was there in the political field as well.
After seven years, nonetheless, the landscape has changed, for Russia has been neutral concerning the Israeli strikes against Iranian sites in Syria and announced that it would not interfere for any of the involved sides, an attitude that Israeli media considered “a green light” given to Israel in Netanyahu’s latest visit, as to neutralize the Iranian influence in Syria depending on the Southern Syria gate, through which Iran is placing a pressure via varied militias under the “Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.”
This point of view is supported by Netanyahu’s statement, at the end of his meeting with Putin, that Russia would not interfere to prevent the Israeli strikes in Syria.
The confrontation was only expected in the shadow of the growing Iranian influence and Israel’s fears about Iran’s formation of an armed front at the occupied Golan borders, similar to that of “Hezbollah” in Lebanon.
Adan Abu Amer, a Palestinian analyst specialized in the Israeli affairs, said that Israel’s estimates about the Iranian presence necessitated a massive attack.
In a previous interview with Enab Baladi, Abu Amer stressed that there is a Russian-Israeli understanding about the Israeli military attacks, considering that the Russians are dissatisfied with the Iranian presence in Syria, especially that Putin is the primary decision maker in Syria.
Late in 2017, Iran proposed itself as a prominent power in Southern Syria, ignoring the agreements of the other States (Russia, America, Jordan and Israel).
A previous report by the Israeli “Middle East Media Research Institute” (MEMRI), in mid-2017, stated that “Iran has turned into the first essential challenge that faces Russia in Syria, shrinking the realization of the Russian interests there.”
“MEMRI” pointed out that Russia treats Iran as “a fickle country, which behavior cannot be expected in advance, expecting the success of the mechanism followed by the US President Donald Trump in confronting Iran.
Adding that the Russians are, currently, seeking to gradually eliminate the Iranian role in Syria, pointing out that “the Iranians are confident that the Russians are concerned to leave them to achieve other interests.”
A Threatened Bond between Allies
It is decided that the Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif is to visit Moscow, on Monday 14 May, to meet the Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, a marginal meeting following the strike that can be translated as steps undertaken by Iran to preserve its relationship with the Russian alley, despite the neutrality it stated.
The Iranian movement will be governed by the international pressure imposed on Tehran, especially after US’ withdrawal from the nuclear deal and the ensuing Russian-Israeli harmony, arriving at the military strikes.
The pressure is indicated by the Iranian President’s Hassan Rouhani statement that “we do not need new tensions in the area” and that Iran “has always sought to decrease the tensions in the area.” The statement was preceded by Au El-Fadl Hassan Piggy, the deputy secretary of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), statement that negated Iran’s involvement in launching the rockets at the Israeli army’s positions in the occupied Golan.
The analyst Abu Amer considered that, following Trump’s decision, Iran is in need for European and international support, which it will lose incase of further military strikes on its part in the upcoming days. This will force Iran to resort to its militias in southern Syria, including “Hezbollah,” to strike without adopting the attacks.
Throughout the Syrian conflict, the bond between Russia and Iran could be described as a “circumstantial alliance,” which is formed for a specific duration to achieve mutual interests. However, 2018 has its own different military and political logic, thus, arrangements, guiding Russia towards Tel Aviv to start working on the former understandings concerning allowing the later an influence in southern Syria, providing that the Iranian authority that is burdening the division map is curbed.
Tel Aviv continued threatening the Syrian regime and its Iranian alley since the latest strikes, to top the threats with the Israeli Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman new warning messages, through which he demanded that the head of the Syrian Regime Bashar al-Assad shall send the leader of “Quds Force,” under the Iranian “Revolutionary Guard,” Qasem Soleimani out of Syria.
Israel Broadcasting Authority has quoted Lieberman, while on a tour in the occupied Golan Heights, as saying “we call on president Bashar al-Assad to get rid of the Iranian forces, especially of Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force, the branch of its Revolutionary Guards,” warning that “they are not helping you, they are only harming”.
Pressures Inside the Iranian Establishment
Why did Iran target the Israeli sites at such a timing? What pushed it to undertake such an exceptional step, in contrast to the latest attacks that targeted it, especially its positions at the “T4” air base in rural Homs? Theses are questions proposed by media outlets concerning the latest developments.
The Iranian rockets were launched by an Iranian decision, according to the Palestinian analyst, who linked them to a “lukewarm” reaction to former strikes, pointing out to internal pressures within the official Iranian establishment, between the “presidency” and the “Revolutionary Guard.”
The second, the “revolutionary Guard,” wants to strike for Iran’s image have lately been shaky and the Iranians started to follow a similar attitude to that of the Syrian regime, which “reserves the right to reply.”
In return, there are Iranian calculations in the area that view the strikes as an armed confrontation, amidst Tehran’s fear of USA’s participation besides Israel, which will turn the whole situation against it.
In the past two years, USA has declared its presence in Syria after the termination of the “Islamic State” (ISIS) seeking to encircle the Iranian presence and that it sees Syria’s future without Assad; Rex W. Tillerson, the former Secretary of State, confirmed this in January 2018.
The US increasing role in Syria is, currently, posing a threat to the Iranian project, for US is undertaking certain procedures which signs started to appear early in January, beginning with meeting leaders of the “Free Army” to consider the possibility of activating the funding once more to fight “terrorism” and the Iranian militias.
Israel believes that the current phase in Syria will not be repeated as to impose a new reality, for according to the analyst, Israel does not want to be at a distance from the Syrian happenings, including the arrangements of the next day after Assad’s stay and the war’s end.
The US-offered funding and the blind eye that Russia is turning provide Israel with a sufficient margin to play a role in Syria, which attacks might continue in the future in return for a reaction from “behind the curtain” on Iran’s part, which will utilize its militias that spread in southern Syria.
According to Israeli estimates, its southern fronts might witness military skirmishes, and it has become clear that the Israeli army has the final word in the area, in relation to which the analyst pointed that despite all the previous happenings, no one knows the development in relation to Israel and Iran, in the shadow of the American administration, which steps cannot be predicted.