18.04.16 Syria Backstory with Russia/iran

April 16, 2018
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THE BACKSTORY

Syria: Iran & Russia

2 different nations with very similar interests.



What you need to know & why it matters.

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Back in 2017…

“The most important issue that the new U.S. administration will face in the Middle East will be the rise of the Iranian-led axis…the question is what to do about it.”



Payam Mohseni and Hussein Kalout, Foreign Policy, Jan 24, 2017

IRAN & SYRIA

“AXIS OF RESISTANCE”

  • Iran & Syria (along with Iran sponsored terror groups like Hezbollah) want to create a united front in the Middle East against “western aggression” by the U.S. & Israel.
  • Syria provides Iran something it doesn’t have: strategic access to Mediterranean Sea.

SYRIA & RUSSIA

  • Russia’s ONE naval base in Middle East is in Syria – in the port of Tartus. Gives Kremlin a crucial resupply station & presence in Middle East.A
  • Syria = customer of Russian arms.
  • Russia identifies with Syria repelling popular uprisings challenging status quo & Islamic terrorism (Russia confronts both domestically).

President Assad’s father learned how to fly fighter jets in Soviet Union.

At this point, dismantling the axis of resistance would be unfeasible. The clock cannot be turned back. There is a critical amount of social support behind the institutions and armed movements of the axis—many of its combatants are willing to fight and die for their cause. Without recognizing the changing facts on the ground and the means for credible engagement, applying greater pressure on Iran and the axis will yield marginal gains given they have thrived under decades of war or warlike conditions. This means that the United States must work pragmatically using the necessary tools of statecraft and diplomacy to negotiate and establish new rules to the geopolitical game and to manage the rise of the axis. This should involve demarcating the boundaries and zone of influence for the axis and engaging both state and nonstate actors.
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In this light, dismantling or renegotiating the nuclear deal will be impractical, particularly if it risks alienating the United States” international allies and the Iranians themselves. It would thus behoove Washington to retain allied cooperation in case it wishes to strike a larger bargain with Iran on a range of outstanding regional, military, and nuclear issues not dealt with in the nuclear agreement. Moreover, the United States has much to gain from axis players as well, such as cooperation over counterterrorism and providing stability in the Persian Gulf, Iraq, and the Gulf states—in addition to counterbalancing Russia. And engaging the axis, especially in Iraq and Iran, will allow the United States to balance growing Russian influence in the region.

As the sectarian dynamics in the Middle East may jeopardize any U.S. efforts for engagement and regional integration of the axis, and have only empowered Iran and its allies thus far, Washington must first focus on deescalating sectarianism and mitigating the rising tensions between Riyadh and Tehran. To do this, Washington must work with Egypt, which is also opposed to sectarianism, to rebalance the region, and to actively work to reduce tensions when flashpoints occur, such as with the execution of Sheikh Nimr. Moreover, throughout this process, Washington must take care not to be seen as taking sides. There is tremendous transnational Shiite support around Iran, and the United States must seem balanced, not taking actions that might be interpreted as heavy-handedly pro-Saudi by the larger Shiite communities in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen. Otherwise, this will only empower Iran and radicalize the Shiite world. In seeking to stabilize the Middle East, Washington must also remember that the Gulf states rely on external security umbrellas while the axis of resistance has managed to create its own indigenous regional security structure against all odds.

In tackling these challenges, the United States must recognize that the axis of resistance has transformed in fundamental ways. It has, in spite of all odds, strengthened in the midst of raging conflicts that have otherwise torn the Middle East apart. It has grown more muscular through its transnational alliance of irregular militias and international backing from Moscow and more vocal in its criticisms of Saudi Arabia and its promotion of Shiism. In return, it has received greater support and recognition from key regional players such as Egypt and Lebanon. If Washington is to truly move forward in the region, it must acknowledge these new realities and engage with Iran and its allies to influence the emergence of a new Middle East.

by Jenna Lee,

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