The Final Standoff to Seal the Fate of the Region

By Fahed Khitan

تم نشره في Wed 25 April / Apr 2018. 12:00 AM
  • Fahed Khitan

Once not so outspoken about it, now, some of the world’s top rivalling powers have become so shamelessly comfortable with Syria being the staging grounds for their final standoff with Iran, that they are making public statements about it.

Notably, this confrontation is crucial to these powers’ interests in the Middle East, as well as Iran’s, and is surely to seal the fate of the entire region.

In the Washington summit, a few days ago, it became clear that presidents Emanuel Macron and Donald Trump do not see eye to eye on the Iranian nuclear deal. Trump wants to scrap it and Macron wants to build on it, to further contain Iran’s influence and role in the region.

Both, however conflicted, seem to agree that the Syrian crisis is integral to the Western approach on the ongoing scuffle with Iran.

This is how the French convinced Trump to go back on his plans to fast-track the American withdrawal from Syria; by doubling down on the common grounds that unite the French with the Americans in regards to the Syria crisis and Iran.

During the joint press conference, Trump acknowledged this aspect of the struggle and vitality of dealing with it. The same goes for the Israelis, who also share Macron’s concerns and Trump’s views on the region.

When the P5+1 group finalised the nuclear deal with Iran, the Syrian crisis was not as complicated as it is today. Despite Iran’s presence in the Syria early on, neither the Obama administration nor any of the P5+1 member states set any conditions regarding Iran’s involvement in Syria.

However, as Russia and Iran consolidate their influence in Syria, and the Geneva Talks nowhere close to a political resolution, it would seem that the fear of Iran’s growing presence in the Levant is troubling both Washington and Tel Aviv.

Notably, some Arab countries also share the above fears and stances. Especially in light of the deteriorating relationship with Russia and the latter’s utter disregard for western warnings against Iran’s regional role.

 

Meanwhile, the dust in Syria doesn’t seem to be settling any time soon.

Nonetheless, the Iranians have successfully positioned themselves in the region, alongside Russia.

That said, the question today is: what limitations and boundaries apply to this influence?

Russia seems to be aware of Israel’s security needs.

Accordingly, the Russians have conceded to the Israeli “right” to carry out aerial incursions in Syria whenever an Iranian threat warrants it. In other words, an understanding of the Israeli need to “protect itself” is well understood by the Russians.

Days ago, an Israeli military official announced that the Israeli air forces has carried out more than 100 strikes in Syria in these past few years.

But this understanding is frail, make no mistake.

Moscow just announced its intentions to supply Syria with more S300 anti-air defences.

This threats the very basis of the consensus between the Russians and the Israelis.

Of course, Israel sees this as crossing the red line.

The Israeli authorities requested that Moscow upholds the Syrians to not use these missiles against their planes. Otherwise, the Israeli air force will target these defences upon installation.

Obviously, the diplomatic crisis between Russia and the West allows for neither to facilitate an encompassing consensus on how to approach the Syrian crisis. Especially in light of the failure to arrive at a fundamental solution to it.

France and Britain are persistent about maintaining the relationship with Trump’s administration, despite the complications.

In the meantime, the crisis itself tests the two parties’ abilities to build a common strategy that would ensure the continuity of the partnership.

Nevertheless, if Trump insists on withdrawing from the nuclear deal, it would be even more difficult for France and Britain to squeeze the Iranian hand in Syria. More so, they will not be find Moscow to be so flexible about it.

When push comes to shove, the worst case scenario is a final standoff that would seal the fate of the entire Middle East tinderbox.

Syria will remain the battlefield of choice for the rivalling forces, and Iran is the highlight.

Of course, Israel will find itself in the very heart of confrontation, and alongside it will be Washington!

This article is an edited translation of the Arabic version, published by AlGhad.

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