RUSSIA MONITOR

Date: 24 April 2017

Doomed for Iran

The military involvement of the US in Syria after the chemical attack and the visibly growing Russian-US conflict strengthen the Teheran-Damascus-Moscow axis. In the current situation, the greatest beneficiaries are Iran and obviously Bashar al-Assad. It should be remembered that it was Teheran that persuaded Moscow to launch military intervention in Syria and that Russian military presence (in particular in the airspace) in this country lies in Teheran’s interest. Assad can’t win the war without it.

© SERGEI KARPUKHIN PAP EPA

After the conquest of Aleppo, the interests of Russia and Iran in Syria began to dissipate. Moscow has been seeking to retreat from the war while keeping its military bases and political influence. Recently, there have been a growing number of signals indicating that Moscow may come to an understanding with the US, also with the participation of Turkey. This would threaten the Assad’s regime and the Iranian influence in Syria. However, the chemical attack in the Idlib province on April 4 undermined the rapprochement between Russia and the US. Deliberate provocation on the part of Assad can’t be excluded. Once again it’s turned out that Moscow has no other allies in Syria than Iran, whereas the US attack has cemented the Moscow-Damascus-Teheran triangle. On April 9, President Hassan Rouhani called Putin. According to Kremlin’s reports, both leaders “condemned US aggression in Syria” and stated that actions against Syria violated international law. Rouhani also called Assad on the same day. As national Iranian TV has informed, Rouhani said that the “allegations that Syria launched the chemical attack were just a pretext to disrupt the Syrian peace process”. At the same time, defense ministers of Russia and Iran also held a phone conversation, same as Iranian security advisor Ali Shamkhani and his Syrian counterpart, Ali Mamlouk. The joint command operation center of Russian, Iranian and Shia militia in Syria also expressed its opinion, stating that the US airstrike crossed the “red line” and accusing the United States that they are planning to occupy northern Syria. On April 10, heads of Foreign Ministries of Russia and Iran spoke on the phone, and on April 14, together with the head of Assad’s diplomacy, they condemned the US airstrike.

The chemical attack in the Idlib province and the American response suit Iran also for another reason. The exacerbation of relations between Teheran and Trump’s administration has been accompanied by reconciliation between Russia and Israel. Iran may have been worried that Moscow, in a decisive moment, will sell it along with Assad in a frame of some bigger deal. The Ayatollahs and Assad might have been concerned that Putin, with Israel’s assistance, will reach an agreement with Trump over Syria. On March 9, Benjamin Netanyahu paid a visit to Moscow. At a meeting with Russian president, he accused Iran of spreading “Shia Islamic terrorism”. On March 17, ten days before Rouhani’s visit in Moscow, Israel launched an airstrike on Syria. The events that took place on April 4-7 changed the situation. Putin called Netanyahu and criticized Israel for expressing “one-hundred percent certainty” that chemical weapons had been used by the Syrian regime.

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