Russia at the horns of a dilemma: Further exhaustion or dump Bashar al-Assad

Ali Al-Amin

Published: Updated:

The recent strike by the three major powers against Syria was no more than a message to the Syrian regime over its use of chemical weapons in the city of Douma in Damascus’ suburbs. American, French and British missiles targeted military sites and research centers inside Syria. The US, France and Britain claimed these were locations linked to the manufacture, transportation and use of chemical weapons. No casualties of civilian and military personnel were reported, which confirms that the regime and its allies were expecting the strikes in these locations in advance.

It is also likely that the three countries did not want to cause casualties or destruction in areas that are vital for the regime and its allies but they had to act especially after the Russian veto at the UN Security Council against any attempt to draft a resolution has become a source of international embarrassment and defiance which it’s no longer possible to keep silent about or surrender to. The use of internationally banned weapons is spreading in the wake of the ineptitude of the Security Council to take decisions. Thus, London believes that the failure to take action against Syria earlier in this regard encouraged the Russian intelligence to use chemical weapons against one of its former agents in Britain.

Conveying a message

The ‘tripartite’ strike against Syria has other aims besides what was said about international calculations linked to the necessity of carrying out measures that prohibit the Syrian regime from using internationally-prohibited weapons against its people.

These aims, however, still do not qualify as being part of a well calibrated strategic plan for Syria where influence is for Russia and is shrouded by Iranian and Turkish influence. The strike however was not a merely limited strike. It’s actually a message, as formulated by the three international capitals. Since it is message, they expect a response, not from the Syrian regime whom they know well that it has lost the ability to make any decisions, but from Russia firstly and Iran secondly.

Addressing Iranian influence is the first objective of these countries, with increasingly clear discussions on removing Iran and its militias from Syria as an absolute precondition to reaching a solution to the crisis in the country.

Ali Al-Amin

The former and last leader of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev said the ‘tripartite’ strike is a preparation before the coming actual assault. Perhaps the last head of the Soviet empire is aware that the major movement of American ships towards the eastern Mediterranean in such an unprecedented manner since the Iraq war in 2003 can only be a prologue to a major military operation.

US strategic development

Meanwhile, Nikki Haley, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, confirmed that US troops in Syria would not leave the country. This stance, which was voiced after the ‘tripartite’ attack, reflects an American strategic development after US President Donald Trump declared two weeks ago that he will withdraw US troops from Syria. This position also comes amid the absence of any military response to the ‘tripartite’ assault in Syria as the Assad regime celebrated ‘thwarting’ it. This has been the regime’s usual response for years whether the strikes were made by Israel or the US. Even though there was no response against the attack, the US envoy to the Security Council has adumbrated a new package of sanctions against Russia, specifically against Russian companies that Washington believes are associated with providing Syria with technologies or materials related to chemical weapons.

The details of United States’ plan are still not clear. It is broadly based on forging an alliance with Britain and France as its main allies and enjoys an Arab cover in which Saudi Arabia is a main pillar. Meanwhile, Israel has announced that it provided intelligence about Syria to the US, Britain and France, which is another indication over the growing cooperation between these parties regarding Russia.

Addressing Iranian influence is the first objective of these countries, with increasingly clear discussions on removing Iran and its militias from Syria as an absolute precondition to reaching a solution to the crisis in the country. This stance will crystallize even more in the future, displaying in its core a shift in the American strategy towards the Syrian crisis which was founded by former US President Barack Obama by paving the way for Russian military intervention in the country in a step that aimed for Russia to commit to providing the conditions for a solution in Syria while taking into consideration the interests of major powers in the country and in line with the resolutions of the United Nations, particularly the Geneva conference on Syria.

Trust in Russian role shaken

The new development is that the American administration and the French and British governments’ trust in the Russian role has been shaken. This has called for a shift in their attitude regarding the Syrian crisis, which gives priority to besieging Iranian influence. Russia will thus either protect the Iranian role in Syria or take steps that would display its willingness to play a serious role in reducing or eliminating this influence. The carrot and stick policy is clearly on display in the US policy towards Russia – a policy in which the US administration and its allies seem stricter towards Iran. Meanwhile, they will observe Russia’s reactions and the most important test is the anticipated US move of cancelling the nuclear deal with Iran next month.

The US military power in the region is paving the way for a confrontation with Iran in an as yet unclear manner, but with the end of the war with ISIS in Iraq and Syria the chances of major confrontation are likely, with Iran being at the center of the crisis and the Arab geography being the theater of the war. From now on, economy and sanctions will not be the only weapons that Washington will use to fight the Iranian role in the region. In fact, the American missiles are on the ready after the decline of the display of Iranian rockets which have so far been Iran’s only matter of military pride.

In sum, Russia is facing difficult choices this time: either resume its exhaustion and worsening it in Syria along with facing new US sanctions or forge a new policy that would embarrass both the West and Arabs by changing the head of the Syrian regime.

This article is also available in Arabic.

Ali Al-Amin is a journalist based in Lebanon and is the Editor of news site Janoubia.com.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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