Russia and Iran move towards strategic cooperation in Syria, Libya, Yemen and Afghanistan

Moscow challenges Washington through its “soft diplomacy”

Published here:  ‪   via ‪@AlraiMediaGroup

Key words: Russia, Iran, Moscow, Tehran, Washington, Syria, Israel.

By Elijah J. Magnier – @EjmAlrai

The Russian bear has awakened from its deep sleep that began more than 25 years ago to defy the United States (so used to ruling the international arena unilaterally) through the Syrian window. President Vladimir Putin warmly welcomes his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rohani using Moscow’s “soft diplomacy” style in marked contrast to the US attitude of animosity towards Iran.

The new White House resident, Donald Trump, has declared his outspoken hostility to Iran since he came to power with the aim of suspending the nuclear deal, declaring an unprecedentedly enthusiastic and robust partnership with Iran’s enemies in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia) and calling for the “uprooting of Iranian terrorism in the region.”

Instead of the one-session, two-hours planned meeting, Putin and Rohani held two sessions for several hours, signing 14 agreements and protocols on investment, commerce, science and technology. Putin and Rohani also agreed on strategic objectives to fight terrorism and establish political cooperation over security in hot dossiers such as Syria, Yemen, Libya and Afghanistan.

Iran has opened its military airports for Russian jets as a stopover to assist targeting jihadi salafi militants and their allies in the Levant. The Syrian crisis is the source of unprecedented cooperation between the two countries, with unlimited military support (starting from jets, aircraft carriers, sophisticated weapons, men, money, oil, planning and Intelligence) and the creation of a joint military command between Iran and Russia. This strategic collaboration of course doesn’t exclude tactical differences in running the Syrian war- a war that was accepted by Iran and pushed forward by Russia. Moscow is aiming to offer an international peace keeping role with a military violent capability when the iron fist in the velvet glove is needed. The US-Israel perception of Iran and Tehran’s declared animosity towards Israel clearly presented no obstacle to Moscow, rather the reverse

In fact, Russia is not looking for a direct confrontation with the US despite the dominant (though largely implicit) antagonism between the two countries. At the same time, Moscow won’t endorse Washington’s policy in the Middle East and must have its own objectives and allies. Interestingly, Russia is not willing to support Iran’s rhetoric to “wipe Israel from the face of the Earth ” and certainly won’t take any part in the Iran-Israel conflict. Regardless, President Putin did not hesitate to warn Israel when its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thought he could send his jets deep inside Syria (Palmyra – T4) and not abide by Moscow’s red lines that, in fact, forbad Tel Aviv from targeting the Syrian Army and its allies while these are fighting Jihadists and their allies.

During Netanyahu’s visit to Moscow, Putin disregarded Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempt to reject Iran’s presence in Syria (and its allies, i.e. Hezbollah and Iraqi militants) and downplayed the Israeli prime minister’s demand for hostilities aimed at pushing Iran out of Syria. Moreover, Russia allowed Damascus to fire a strategic missile at Israel, an anti-air missile against a jet flying over Syria, and also downed a drone. All this constitutes soft diplomacy mixed with harsh military capabilities, an approach used by Moscow against Tel Aviv, the US and Turkey to make sure no country can spoil Russia’s plans in Syria: ,the aim is to stop the war, cease all hostilities and fight terrorism without sinking into Syria’s quagmire.

But this did not prevent the emergence of tactical differences on the ground in Syria between Iran and Moscow. The goal of Iran is to re-establish full control of the Syrian army over the entire territory, to stick with President Bashar al-Assad, and expel all foreign armies and foreign fighters from Bilad al-Sham after the elimination of the “Islamic State” (ISIS) and “Al Qaeda” (Hay’atTahrir al-Sham).

The Russian approach is more pragmatic: it consists in coexisting with the status quo, accepting the Turkish-US occupation of the northern Syrian territories (for the moment), stopping the war, and bringing all belligerents to the negotiating table with the government of Damascus. This has prompted Moscow to find a parallel line – not a replacement – for the Geneva peace process in Kazaktasan (Astana) to announce to the world its return to the international arena while holding an olive branch with one hand and putting forward its military apparatus with the other.

In modern history, the relationship between Moscow and Tehran has never in twenty years reached this level of strategic cooperation. Starting from a trade to strategic security cooperation, Moscow’s ally (Tehran) is involved today in the Asia-European axis, even if Russia in recent years voted 4 times for sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program in UN resolutions and in favour of resolution 1973, which allowed NATO to enter Libya leaving behind a failed state ruled by chaos and torn apart by terrorism.

Today, Putin does not want Russia to return to the dormant role it adopted decades ago. Russia took the Syrian war and used it as a bridge to move into the Middle East and back into the international arena. The West was headed (with Bilad al-Sham) towards creating another failed state (like Libya) and promoting a country ruled by terrorism.The West allowed, through Turkey, tens of thousands of foreign fighters to cross into Syria and receive the most advanced weapons.

Putin doesn’t seem to be involved in the hostility of US President Donald Trump towards Iran. Russia didn’t detect any outstanding cooperation between Moscow and Washington and no convergence or partnership at any level, not in Syria or anywhere else for today since Trump is in power. Instead of observing a progressive relationship, here is Trump sending hundreds of US forces to Syria with the intention of occupying the north-eastern territory and his military commander declaring themselves the protector of “Syrian Kurds, Arab and Turkmen that should decide their own fate, in Syria”.

Moreover US President Trump, under cover of his “anti-Iran” resentment, is aiming to fill up his treasury department with the Gulf countries’ money. These are happy to pay as long as Trump is not their enemy and as long as he is going to target Iran (no real step were taken against Iran’s interest so far).

Thus, the Iranian-Russian meeting and cooperation represents a clear challenge to Washington, especially that Putin wants to involve Tehran in the Caspian Sea, the Caucasus, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Yemen peace talks for which Putin is working.

So the common themes between the two countries go much further than Syria and the Middle East. It is therefore natural that Washington, Tel Aviv and the Middle Eastern countries feel disturbed and worried by this Russian-Iranian rapprochement, especially since this cooperation is taking an unprecedented and unforeseen strategic direction.

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