Yet, even were Russia to succeed in persuading Iran to withdraw forces under its control to 60 km from the ceasefire line in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, there is no guarantee that Russia would be able to enforce compliance with such an Iranian withdrawal.

Iranian presence: the latent threat

Since the Helsinki summit between Trump and Putin failed to bring about any substantial agreement on Syria, the current situation is likely to continue. Iran and Putin will accomplish their primary goal of saving Assad, with Iran able to maintain or even increase its PPC against the Israeli and U.S. security system.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands as they meet at the Moscow Kremlin on 11 July 2018 (photo: Imago/Itar-Tass)
Desperately hoping for Russian "gifts" that reduce Iranian PPC without leveraging Putin: the Israelis cannot credibly threaten what Putin most fears – effective Israeli strikes against Assadʹs limited military power – as long as Trump refuses to back Israel against Russian retaliation, writes Salacanin

According to Jeffrey, this signals how risky the situation is and how risky Trumpʹs indulgence of Putin is. He commented that, with a few historical exceptions (Bismarck and Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm after Koenigsgraetz), victorious powers donʹt settle for their gains but tend to become more aggressive. 

If Iran as a victorious power dramatically increases its PPC in Syria and either threatens to or actually uses them against Israel (or Turkey in Idlib), then those American allies, existentially threatened, might strike out at the Syrian regime. This would provoke a Russian response and force the U.S. to either support its allies or retreat ignominiously, echoing the Sarajevo 1914 scenario.

Under these circumstances, continues Jeffrey, Russia could be forced to avoid conflict (since Russian forces in Syria are vastly outgunned by any of other three – U.S., Israel, or Turkey) by leaning hard on Iran.

That would likely force Iran to pull out its PPC, but "burrow in" to the Syrian state and military, using Hezbollah-like militias, thus essentially challenging Russia to quietly maintain Tehranʹs options. Any further decisions by Iran would also depend on offers and incentives made by other key powers.

Bearing in mind the above, it is clear that if nothing is offered to Iran in return for its co-operation, then tension in the region is only likely to increase.

Stasa Salacanin

© Qantara.de 2018

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