Iran and Russia Are Becoming Even Better Friends in Syria
But neither can end the war
Iran and Russia — an Islamic dictatorship and a nationalist one, respectively — are strengthening their mutual relationship in Syria. They’re awkward allies in a country that has often copied and hybridized Iranian and Russian ideals.
“Senior Russian and Iranian diplomats, generals and strategists have held a string of high-level talks in Moscow in recent months to discuss [Syrian president Bashar] Assad’s defense and the Kremlin’s military buildup in Syria,” the Wall Street Journal reported.
Russia has since deployed advanced Su-30SM fighter jets, plus Su-24M and Su-25 ground attackers to Syria. That’s on top of unmanned aerial vehicles according to The Washington Post. Dozens of diplomats in Europe, North America and Asia are waiting for what will happen next.
Iran and Russia have diverse, sometimes competing goals in the country.
Iran wants to ensure that it can threaten Israel from the Israeli–Syrian border on the Golan Heights and resupply Hezbollah’s bases in the Beqaa Valley and southern Lebanon through the Lebanese-Syrian border. Russia wants to support one of its last friends in the Arab world after losing pro-Russian governments in Iraq and Libya.
However, both countries hope to limit what they see as American expansionism in the Middle East. “Ironically,” Pavel Baev and Jeremy Shapiro wrote at the Brookings Institution, “this strategy is nearly a mirror image of the equally flawed American plan for Syria.”
The Russian government has no strong attachment to Syrian President Bashar Assad, but it fears that a collapse of his besieged regime would create yet more violent chaos in the terrorism-infested region. And, based on the example of Iraq, Moscow also puts little stock in the idea that a U.S.-engineered solution that excluded Assad could create stability in Syria or defeat ISIS and other radical Islamist groups.
American policy similarly holds that convincing Assad’s external supporters to abandon him requires changing the balance of power in the civil war sufficiently to make clear that the regime has no future. And so America and its partners have gradually increased their assistance to the Syrian opposition. But far from seeing the Assad regime as a “dead man walking,” the Russian and Iranian supporters of the regime have simply doubled down in an attempt to create their own facts on the ground.
Seventy-five American-trained Syrian rebels have entered Aleppo Governorate, causing American and Russian politicians to fear that a seeming proxy war could become an accidental but direct conflict. Iran, known for its more confrontational relationship with America in particular and the Western world in general, could threaten this balance of power.