Many believe that the essence of the growing Russian military intervention in Syria now aims eventually to establish a system’s efforts to preserve what Iran calls “useful Syria l”, which prevents its fall in any way, and includes the Syrian coast, Damascus and Homs. From here, Some explains that the the growing Russian presence in the coast region is an attempt by Moscow, to implement this project on one hand, and to balance the Iranian presence on the other hand, in an anticipation of probability of the success of the divisional project.
It seems that the Russians have begun to feel after a support the system for more than four years and the payment a large sums of money, they have lost much of their influence in Syria in favor of Iran which now controls all state facilities and even on the political decisions related to a political solution to serve their interests in the region. This means that Russia has lost its ability to impose a political settlement according to the Geneva statement based on the political transition without pillars of the regime .This Russian concern has prompted Moscow to think of a new mentality that is an expansion in Syria through invent the idea of forming an alliance to fight against the “Islamic State” (Daash) and eliminate it, but to start moving from the areas controlled by the system. And that is an attempt by Russia to give an international legitimacy to its intervention in Syria from the gate “fight against terrorism”. In the context of the rapid field developments , we wonder about the considerations of the Russian intervention in Syria and its future impact on the interests of Iran and its ally Hezbollah in Syria
The states which acted on the ground and believe since the early period that the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been ended were not the United States , Russia and «Friends of the Syrian people» as the United States and Russia have agreed since mid-2012 on the transition phase and the rule of the opposition and pro-government to maintain the state institutions to prevent a repeat of the experience of Iraq after the US occupation to it in 2003. They did not think seriously about what is behind the governmental institutions . Moscow was using the Syrian crisis to adjust its lose in the Middle East after Iraq and Libya, and to enhance its position on the ladder of international powers, while Washington does not want complete chaos in the rest of Syria and is pressing to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to give up key files, especially chemical arsenal, then later on , it has no objection to follow up the jihadists who are fighting «Hezbollah» on Syrian territory for another ten years, and the pressure on Iran in the nuclear negotiations, as long as the Syrian crisis is contained within the borders »
Iranian project was elsewhere. Tehran’s strategy also was in another track. After the outbreak of the «Arab Spring» and the arrival of winds to Damascus, Iran put all its security and military, political and economic capabilities to prevent the arrival of fields infection to Syria starting from « Alsaah square » in Homs in the center of the country, but they were aware that the system ended up structurally, and must be there a new system , new geography and a new social contract between the regime and geography and demography
The vision is clear and the tools were existed. All its allies in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon returned to the traditional post in the Iranian project. Engagement without gloves .Iran began to work quietly to establish the «shadow system» includes a lot of security, military, economic, social and political institutions. Perhaps one of the main tools are militias which are in afar distance from the authority of center as in the case of other countries. Copies of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards experience «Basij», and founded the «national defense forces» to be under the direct influence of Iran to be trained in Iran and provided with funding and the presence of guides in several regions of Syria. It is believed that the number of fighters of the (defense forces) is about a hundred thousand fighters
It is interesting that the majority of its members o includes marginalized Sunni and the unemployed who have converted in a short time, they are in the prime of life, to the owners of the power and authority and money by giving them high salaries, weapons and military uniforms. Their role is to adjust the local community and be a shock absorber in the face of opposition fighters and eyes to spy on remote communities.
Resorting to «national defense» was to compensate for the losses suffered by the regular army, as the sources speak for the deaths of more than a hundred thousand element and officer in accordance with Division of Administration an organization at the Ministry of Defense, in addition to a sharp decline in the number of recruits to a few thousand in every six months while the number was more than 60 thousand before 2011, and get big splits in the Sunni areas and the youth of the coast areas started to flee from the service to the country of emigration. All this has led to the shrinking in the number of regular army to about a hundred thousand recruit . It was met by imposing restrictions on the application of the reserves and prevent the travel of large segments of young people on the border gates and stop the maritime transport used by the people of the coast lines.
In addition, Iran has sought to expand their purchase of the real estate and expand the Shiite shrines in Damascus, Homs and facilitate the emergence of a new class of businessmen who have benefited from commissions resulting from the circumvention of US and European sanctions, especially in the areas of oil, energy and food sector. «Warlords» also put their eyes on the new plans for the reconstruction of the devastated areas in the capital, to mix financial gains with changes in the demography of the capital added to the « poverty belt» which affected Damascus in previous decades and played a key role in the four years both in the peaceful stage or the military ones .
What is new in Iran is that, it goes ahead to declare the military’s leadership on the ground. It was not a secret the role of the «Iran’s Revolutionary Guards» , the role of the Iraqi militias and the Asians and the role of «Hezbollah» in armed conflict since the end of 2012. But Tehran has decided to declare clearly its role in the battles starting in the countryside north of Aleppo, then in «battle of south» in the triangle , in Damascus and Daraa and Quneitra near the occupied Golan Heights from Israel and Jordan , the Gulf Gate.
Most people think that Iran is trying to inherit the Syrian regime in Syria, as it was happened in Lebanon. The assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and isolate Damascus, then the army and security forces moving out of Lebanon in 2005 . Things put an end to the the era of the Syrian presence in Lebanon. This presence was part of the «rules of the game» imposed since the beginning of the Lebanese civil war and up to the Taif Agreement. Syria’s entry was an American – Russian green light was given to President Hafez al – Assad in the second half of the seventies . Then it was moved to a second stage according to the Taif Agreement in regional understanding with Saudi Arabia taking advantage of the end of the Cold War. Assad also benefited from entering into the peace process and «Desert Storm» to eliminate the General Michel Aoun and Lebanese control over the decision for more than two decades. Also, the Syrian presence ensures an understanding about the «red lines» about the nature of weapons that can be deployed in southern Lebanon after Israel’s withdrawal.
Syria moved out of Lebanon. And it lost its leadership and partnership in the management of Lebanon . In the past two years, «Hezbollah» and Iran’s role had the largest share to save the system. Here , Iran is trying to put the equation in Syria similar to the formula put forward by Syria in Lebanon. Trying to benefit from the war on terror and to facilitate the international coalition – Arab task against «Daash» and nuclear negotiations, in order to offer the following deal: Israel and Gulf security in exchange for the control of the decision in the Levant and Iraq, so as to leave to Iran the policy management file, taking into account the interests of the West and the Gulf. Its leadership to the«South battle» had opened a negotiating file which was lost after the issuance of Resolution 1701 after the 2006 war. Exposing itself as a rational partner knows the rules of the game in the « useful Syria » instead of madness of the «Al-Nusra Front» and opposition factions and the guarantor of the disengagement agreement between Syria and Israel in 1974, and the return of the «international forces for the disengagement» (UNDOF). It also produced itself as a strong barrier to the advancement of «Daash» to Jordan, then to the Gulf.
This offer does not worry President Barack Obama’s administratio. Washington is ready to negotiate it. And support «the moderate opposition» within the Syrian efforts to negotiate with Iran over the «bleed» and brought it to the negotiating table .But the Iranian offer is more worrying for Vladimir Putin. Russia has been since the beginning of the crisis provide cover and protection for the system in the Security Council over the right of veto, backed by China. It also provides military and financial support to the Syrian state institutions. Moscow sees its influence historically in traditional institutions, especially the army and security. Tehran sees its influence in non-governmental institutions. Russia believes in resolving «from above to below based on the interpretation of «statement Geneva » and the transitional body .Iran believes in resolving «from the bottom to up» across the Gateway of the proposal of the UN envoy Staffan de Mistura, because it gives a greater role to local leaders and militias.
The following indicators of Moscow, indicate Russian concern of the Iranian intentions. Russia has sent more than a vague message, through the adoption of international resolutions, including abandoning 2118 chemical arsenal, and the decisions of humanitarian assistance, including «cross-border», then the decision of the Organization of the embargo of the chemical arms to submit the use of chlorine file to the Security Council, after its approval of the Geneva statement in 2012 and participation in the international conference at the beginning of last year. The difference in attitudes began gradually, neverthe less in the hidden way , between Tehran and Moscow, especially in the Yemeni file , where Russians support the resolution in 2216, which serves the Yemeni Saudi Arabia and its allies, and help to besieged rebels associated with Iran. There is no doubt, that there is a match between Russia and Iran in the target in the short term, which prevent the system from collapse and to prevent regime change, in order to keep Iran on the military supply to Hezbollah corridor, but in the long run there is a divergence in objectives and priorities between Tehran focus on the sectarian dimension and ideological and supporting militias and localities, in exchange for Moscow’s interests focus on political conflict and support the system and the institutions of government and National public solutions .
From here came the Russian military intervention in Syria in an attempt to restore prestige to the Syrian army and the dismantling of militias loyal to Iran, while Tehran is trying to prevent this from happening or at least postponed. What supports this analysis is a declaration from the base of the Russian military headquarters in Latakia, west of Syria , plan to resolve the «national defense forces» that Iran contributed to its foundation before the beginning of 2013 seeking to support the regular forces in fighting the opposition fighters in different areas, but the implementation of resolution may face challenges, due to the Great influence enjoyed by these militias and annexation of tens of thousands of fighters. This was confirmed by Qassem Soleimani, when he said that the Americans and the Russians in control of the Syrian airspace and we are in control of the land area.
Chief of Staff of the Syrian army Gen. Ali Ayoub said in a statement from the headquarters of the operating room of the Syrian Russian- in Humaimam air base in Latakia, the formation of «human forces equipped with weapons and ammunition which the forth corps was the most important ones , who took over the beginning of the process of the ground offensive backed by intensive raids of the Russian aviation in a rural Hama and Idlib in the center of the west and north of the country. It was reported that «Legion IV – storming» will be the heir of the National Defence Forces.
The talk about dismantling «defense forces» plan was coincided with exposure of the truce between the city of Zabadani near Damascus and the towns of virulence agreement and Kefraya Shi’ite in the countryside of Idlib to a big challenge after the start of Russian raids on several areas was among the villages in the countryside of Idlib was supposed to include «stop the bombing» under agreement done by Iran in negotiations with «Ahrar al-Sham Islamic» in Turkey. An Islamic official said : «Ahrar al-Sham is committed to it and the agreement signed with Iran . Russia violated the agreement several times and bombed the countryside of Idlib», in addition to the shelling of Hama. It froze the exchange and transfer of civilians and combatants , the sunees, from Zabadani to the countryside of Idlib in exchange for the transfer of ten thousand civilians of the infected Shiite countryside of Idlib through the point was agreed to place in Hama. The question in this context raised is how did Iran and its ally Hezbollah receive the Russian military intervention in Syria?
Iran seems to be surprised about the Russian military intervention in Syria, Iran showed mixed signals between welcoming this intervention which believes that would save the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from falling, and the inability to hide the concern of the expansion of Russia’s role in Syria on the account to its influence , since it had sought to expand it for along time through the decades . The a confusion and contradiction was clearly appeared on the militias backed by Iran whether was Hezbollah or those that mobilized fighters from Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
This contradiction and confusion will be increased, especially with Moscow’s desire to be transformed into an international player, influential in the region, and its a gesture to intervene in Iraq, which the Iranians thought Iraq became its property after they succeeded in disrupting the United States through its militias there and push it to withdraw from Iraq at the end of 2011. Moscow does not hide its desire , which has long been praised by the Iranians, its friendship, to control the playland, which Tehran has become moving alone, ie Iraq, as well as Syria, which is the work of the Iranians in their power to exert control and appended to the draft Shiite Crescent. The Iranian leadership expected that the Russian intervention is to support the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and limited to providing Syria with the sophisticated weapons, or to send experts to train Syrian troops on these weapons and special training on aircraft Syrian regime to maintain its military superiority. It is clear that Tehran wanted to use Moscow to defend its interests in Syria, but the scene is moving towards a complete reversal, as Russia began to put her hand on the Iranians in Syria gains, waiting to expand in the direction of Iraq.
The experts and analysts said that the new Russian orientation was not a surprise, it is a reaction to the hidden Iranian game aimed to invest at Russia weight, and a private especially a possession a private paper, veto, to impose its conditions on the Western countries that were negotiating on the nuclear file. It seems that the Russians have understood lately, after the signing of the nuclear agreement that opened wide doors to investment by Western firms in Iran, which is preparing to hold a conference on oil during the next February in London, which means that Iran has rewarded Russia to what it is called Sanmar reward. But what is disturbing Tehran that the military decision in Syria is no longer, however, in the hands of Iranian military or Hezbollah leaders as had prevailed during the past years, where it was handed Assad initiative to Iran for the management of the battle after a big splits in the ranks of the army, and in the light of doubts about the loyalty of the Syrian military leaders .
In parallel, the Kremlin to open the door to new relations with the Gulf states compete for Iran, especially with Saudi officials, who repeated their visits to Moscow, promising the birth of a strategic partnership at the expense of Tehran. To encircle the Russian desire to monopolize the “victory” Assad stays in place, and the defeated opposition groups, Iran is moving to play all its cards in Syria to look like a partner in this “victory”.
While \the Secretary General of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah was welcoming the Russian intervention in Syria, hoping to succeed in what the party and its allies had failed to get rid of the Syrian armed opposition, which has succeeded in confusing the Syrian regime, the close circles of the party made no secret of its concern about its fighters in Syria, and in particular the fate of the party in the light of the new equation, ie after Syria became a place of military competition between Russia and the United States, France and Britain.
The focus of Hezbollah elements task was to divide the new roles which was to protect Damascus and linked it to the Al Zabadani and the road connecting to Lebanon, leaving the task of protecting the Alawites areas of the coast to the Russian forces. Hezbollah elements were facing of logistical difficulties in fighting and movement in the far front inside Syria. Party and Iran accounts were evaporated , in relation to the establishment of a sectarian state of full allegiance to the authority in Iran.
What the party fears was that Russia might accept a political solution based on the first conditions to bring out foreign fighters from Syria, and then create an atmosphere of national reconciliation among the various teams of Syrian crisis . These fears comes from a statement by Russian President Vladimir Putin in which he said “Russia does not distinguish between Shiite and Sunni groups “, which means that Moscow did not act in support of Hezbollah and Iran’s agenda to enable certain community of the rule of Syria, and this signal is very important as Russia interference, in their accounts , not to provoke the feelings of its citizens, Sunni Muslims, if declared that it stands clearly as well as Shiite militias . It is also don’t rush in to a private war against the Sunnis taking into consideration that it opened the doors to establish special economic and military ties with the Sunni states in the region such as Saudi Arabia.
And it can be said that the Russian military intervention in Syria had showed confusion and contradiction clearly on Iranian-backed militias to either Hezbollah or those that mobilized fighters from Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Although the majority of the militias is Syrian began to station in the capital Damascus and its environs and gradually started to withdraw from the coast region of Syria where Moscow put its power , and established a main operations room from which the Russian forces can move through . the fear of the possibility of Russia to carry out an international agreement with Western countries and Arab to reach a political solution that does not include the preservation of Iran’s influence in Syria which had become prevalent among the Lebanese party which has lost hundreds of its fighters in Syria since the outbreak of the civil war four years ago.
The proof of that, Russian President Vladimir Putin was keen to show Russian strategy in Syria during a meeting with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Prince Mohammed bin Salman Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia in the resort of Sochi, as an acceptable option in the region which is better than the Iran’s acquisition of the region, especially the Riyadh and Abu Dhabi were considered of the most important campaign leaders towards the Iranian expansion in the region and are fighting a war in Yemen as a main confront . The meeting between Putin and Gulf leaders, which took place several days ago, is the highest contact between the Russian leader and the leaders of Gulf Arab nations since Russia began a campaign of air strikes in support of Assad .Whereas, the UAE and Saudi Arabia represent the crucial axis that leads to confront the expansion of Iranian influence in the region, which is the axes Putin has an ambition to get its support the later on within his attempts of liquidation of Iranian influence in Syria.
From what is mentioned above , we conclude , we do not justify the Iranian interference and the Russian ones in Syria, whatever the reasons and motives of this intervention , but this does not mean to say that Russia has entered the battle with a clear strategy, it does not rule out escalation, but it work on a settlement for the sharing of power and interests with the United States of America. He will not fight but to defend its security and interests. Have no interest in breaking the rules and conditions of competition and conflict developed by the United States of America.
Muammar Faisal Kholi
Rawabet Center for Research and Strategic Studies