Do Russian-US-Israeli understandings include freeing Syria from the grip of Iran?

For the Russians, Assad is a temporary figurehead for a transitional phase entirely managed according to their will.
Sunday 16/06/2019
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu during their meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, last April. (AP)
A new gamble. Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu during their meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, last April. (AP)

The Jerusalem meeting between the Russians, the Israelis and the Americans at the end of June aims to end Iran’s presence in Syria. In exchange for Washington’s and Tel Aviv’s demands on this matter, Moscow’s first condition will be the recognition of Russia’s mandate over Syria and its second is the normalisation of Arab and Western relations with the Syrian regime, with some conditions.

The Russians’ efforts to normalise Arab-Syrian relations do not imply their desire to restore Syrian President Bashar Assad’s legitimacy, as if nothing had happened in Syria since 2011.

For the Russians, Assad is a temporary figurehead for a transitional phase entirely managed according to their will. At the end of that period, the curtains will be forever drawn on the dark era of Assad father and son.

The political distance separating Russia and most of Damascus’s Arab adversaries is quite small but convincing the Arab regimes of normalising relations with Syria must first jump over the three “Noes” that the Arab countries are not willing to negotiate while US President Donald Trump remains in office.

For most Arab countries, the three Noes standing in the way of normalisation with Syria are: No normalisation without US approval; no normalisation without concrete steps towards a political solution to the Syrian crisis that has been going on for eight years; and no normalisation without the active participation of Moscow in the US-Arab war on Iranian regional encroachment.

Alliances in the Middle East are being reshaped on new bases. The region and the nature of its international relations are formulated according to enmity to or alliance with Iran.

It is true that the United States may renounce its war on Iran if Trump leaves the White House after the next US presidential elections but, until then, the regional situation is an opportunity for political investment in the region. Perhaps what has been stuck for many years could be undone in one year, especially regarding the Syrian crisis.

No one is relying on Assad to rein Iran in and expel it from Syria, nor is anyone counting on him to curb Turkish ambitions in northern Syria.

Unfortunately, everybody is relying on the Russian-American-Israeli understandings that could recover Damascus from the grip of Iran’s velayat-e faqih and delineate Syria’s borders with the Turks so that it goes back to being one country, at least geographically.

Curtailing the influence of Iran and Turkey in Syria does not mean it would be handed back to the Syrians as an independent, sovereign and constitutional state but it does mean that the rivalry and competition between the four occupiers — the Russians, the Turks, the Iranians and the Americans — would have pushed the political solution of the crisis a step forward. It may be a serious step in ending the suffering of Syrians, loyalists and oppsition alike.

The three Arab conditions for normalisation with the Assad regime should not remain rigid. Whoever thinks the Russians will boot the Iranians out of Syria is deluded. At best, the Russians will expel Iranian military arms and proxies from the country. The cultural, economic and political occupation by Iran that would remain would require great Arab pressure to be cleared from Syria.

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