The Khamenei regime and the Assad regime seek to fulfill two aims: keep the Damascus regime as it is and keep Iran’s military and intelligence presence and militias in Syria and negotiate over everything except that. The most recent US proposal though is the opposite: keeping the Assad regime is conditional on ending Iran’s presence in Syria while the rest is negotiable.
However, recent trips and statements lower expectations to Iran and its militias “making concessions” and abstaining from engaging in the Daraa battles, where the Syrian-Jordanian-Israeli triangle is, in exchange of having the Kurdish units QSD, that support the US, withdraw from Manbij, and this is Damascus’ and Turkey’s request.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem had said that America’s withdrawal from Manbij is essential before committing that Iran’s forces will not be present in Daraa.
The Iranians will do like Hafez al-Assad and later Bashar al-Assad did in Lebanon and transform the country into an arena for conflict with IsraelAbdulrahman al-Rashed
It’s not unlikely that Damascus, which is Iran’s mouthpiece, will later negotiate and accept America’s presence east of the Euphrates River in exchange of letting Iranian General Qassem Soleimani’s forces stay outside Daraa 20 kilometers away from Israel’s “borders.”
With this tactic, Syria is “legitimizing” Iran’s presence with international consent and it does not settle with considering it as its own sovereign decision. The occupying Iranian forces will thus be like the Syrian troops in Lebanon in the 1970’s which was an occupation legitimized by the Arab League and approved by the Lebanese government!
This is why there are fears that the negotiations will deviate from the original proposal which is that the Assad regime must choose between its presence and the Iranians’ presence. It’s not possible to have both. Some may ask who has the right to impose such conditions and why?
The Syrian regime’s situation does not allow it to dictate what it wants despite its recent victories which it achieved thanks to its allies’ forces and which turned into huge losses due to the Israeli strikes. Rejecting conditions means the international community does not want it to stay and this puts it in the danger zone again.
The Americans want to give it a chance to stay but in exchange of officially stating that it’s asking the Iranians to withdraw from Syria. Let’s keep in mind that one of the 12 American demands is that Iran must militarily withdraw from Syria.
However, their withdrawal will not be easy because it will end their long project, one of their prominent foreign policy projects, by imposing their domination over Syria and maximizing their influence to threaten the region from there.
Submitting to Iran
Setting this condition on their withdrawal also tests the sovereignty of the Damascus regime and tests whether it’s really capable of making its own decisions without submitting to Iran’s directions.
The Assad regime is between the hammer and the anvil. On one hand, the withdrawal of the Iranians, the Lebanese Hezbollah and the rest of the militias will weaken its power and it can collapse without them and on another hand, if these forces stay in Syria, it means it (the regime) will become a puppet in their hand.
The Assad regime is well-aware how the situation will later unfold in their presence. The Iranians will do like Hafez al-Assad and later Bashar al-Assad did in Lebanon and transform the country into an arena for the conflict with Israel.
Like Lebanon, Syria will be a country with no authority except through Tehran which will use Syria in its upcoming indirect battles against its rivals, the Americans, the Israelis and perhaps the Turks and others.
Regardless of the Iranian and Syrian regime’s goals, allowing Iran and its militias to be militarily present in Syria, even if in a small area, will cause tensions and future wars. Partial solutions like allowing Iran to be militarily present in specific areas often become permanent with time.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.
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