Iranʹs dilemma
Securing a slice of post-war Syria

Contrary to international hopes for a peaceful solution following the fall of Islamic State, Syria has become a military polygon for global and regional powers, increasing the risk of inter-state war. This is especially true in southern Syria, where Assad troops and forces controlled by Iran operate in close proximity to Israeli lines. By Stasa Salacanin

While Iran tries to cement its presence in Syria, having invested significant resources to save the Assad regime and achieve its strategic goals in the region, Israel, various Gulf countries and the U.S. are trying to neutralise Iranian influence. Meanwhile, Russia, the most powerful player in Syria, has stepped in with a diplomatic compromise to prevent things from spiralling out of control. There have also been signs that Russia is trying to limit Iranʹs military activity in Syria.

According to the Washington Post, an agreement has been reached between Russia and Israel to keep Iran away from the Golan Heights, in exchange for allowing the Syrian regime to regain control over the opposition-held territories in the southwest of the country. Consequently, the Iranians have become increasingly wary of Russian policy in Syria and elsewhere and many Iranian analysts have even accused Russia of betraying Iran.

Until last year, Israel had not interfered much in the Syrian civil war, more or less tolerating the presence of Iran in the war-torn country. Iranʹs primary objective was defence of the Assad regime. It has become increasingly clear however that Iran is seeking to establish a permanent military presence in Syria through paramilitary forces loyal to Tehran, similar to those of Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israel perceives this development as a direct threat to its interests and security.

Israeli rockets over Damascus target Iranian positions (photo: picture-alliance/AP Photo/Syrian Central Military Media)
Quelling a perceived threat: accusing Iranian forces in Syria of firing 20 rockets at Israeli front-line military positions in the Golan Heights, Israel launched a large-scale rocket attack on several Iranian infrastructure targets in Syria in May. According to Israel's Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, rockets struck "nearly all the Iranian infrastructure in Syria." Targets reportedly included weapons storage facilities, logistics sites and intelligence centres used by Iranian forces in Syria

Syrian game of chess

Since the United Statesʹ withdrawal from the JCPOA, Iran has been under additional pressure from the Trump administration. It is believed that Iran will have to make some concessions to Moscow, further strengthening Russiaʹs position in Syria, bringing the latter even closer to the West and Gulf countries, notably Saudi Arabia and UAE. In recent years, Russia and the Saudis have forged close ties. Riyadh will seek to take to take advantage of this rapprochement and its extensive investments in Russia as leverage against Tehran by consolidating its economic relations with Moscow.

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