It is clear that there is consensus among the parties to the Syrian conflict to end or reduce the growing role of Iran in Syria
Like every football championship around the world in which contenders compete for a title, many regional and international powers have entered the “Syrian playground” and the title in this case is called “leverage in Syria” the United States and the Russian Federation have been the main players, however, France, China, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Israel all compete for roles commensurate with the size of their influence within Syria.
It seems that the Russian Federation is settling things in its favor and is preparing for the future of Syria as a whole: from writing the constitution to solving the refugee issue, as well as the reconstruction of the country.
This competition is taking into account the concerns of Washington, Tel Aviv and Riyadh in terms of removing Iran from Syria, or reducing its role at the very least.
After 12 Russian Vetos, five of which were bilateral with China, The United States of America is now convinced that Putin will not give up on Syria; he will not accept that other powers circumvent his victory, either through humanitarian resolutions, as in Libya in 2011 or through claims of non-conventional weapons as had happened in Iraq in 2003.
Consequently, US President Donald Trump has announced the imminence of his troops’ withdrawal from Syria after accomplishing their mission of eliminating the militants of the “Islamic State”, and recently linked it to Iran’s exit from Syria.
The American announcement suggests a desire for a proposal from the players in the Syrian war, especially Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Ankara is the most enthusiastic supporter of nipping the Kurdish project in the bud, a project that was first declared as self-administration in early 2014 and later as a federal project for northern Syria in late 2016.
Turkey conducted two operations in Syria, the first under the name of the “Euphrates Shield” culminating in taking control of Jarablous, Azzaz and Bab, and followed by operation “olive branch” earlier this year. Through these operations, Turkey was able to control the Afrin region, ending the project of Northern Syria Federation which included, in addition to Afrin, the Euphrates region (Kobani and Tel Abyad) and Al-Jazeera region, forcing it to settle in the eastern Euphrates River (American influence area) as there was a Russian-American understanding that prevented Moscow’s allies from crossing to the eastern bank of the Euphrates River except in Boukamal and Mayadeen.
In addition to that there is the military and security presence of the Syrian government in Qamishli and Hasakah, in exchange for Russia’s approval for the US allies to control the city of Tabqa with its strategic dam and military airport, as well as the city of Manbij.
The Russian Federation is trying to maintain a good level of relations with Saudi Arabia because of its great economic and influential religious weight, bearing in mind that Muslims constitute the majority of 7 republics within the Russian Federation. Moscow’s support for Security Council resolutions in favor of Saudi-led Arab Coalition in Yemen, clearly demonstrates the strong relationship between them.
Saudi Arabia’s strong man, Mohammed bin Salman, has acknowledged that Syria is within Russian influence and that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime must be strong in countering Iran’s growing influence in Syria. He clearly stated: “I believe Bashar is staying for now. And Syria has been part of the Russian influence in the Middle East for a very long time (…) it would be better for Russia to have direct strength and to empower Bashar...these interests could reduce the Iranian influence significantly”.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is coordinating with the Russian President Vladimir Putin in the smallest details, acknowledging the Russian role in Syria and the survival of Assad. But he demands removing Iran from the equation of the Syrian solution, and his defense minister Avigdor Lieberman expressed this clearly when he sent a message to Assad from the occupied Syrian Golan Heights: “Get rid of the Iranians, get rid of Qassem Soleimani and the Al Quds force, they are not helping you, they are only harming...Get rid of the Iranians and we can, perhaps, change our mode of life here”.
Israel has accused Iran of firing rockets from Syria towards the occupied Golan Heights in a precedent of its kind, which has increased the determination of Tel Aviv to remove Tehran from areas adjacent to its border with Syria. This is what really happened when the Syrian army deployed along the border with the deployment of the Russian military police, and led to the removal of all the presence of militias close to Iran.
There were peer-to-peer relations between Syria and Tehran under former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad in a manner that does not contradict the Arab consensus where Syria was the most important side of the Arabic triangle alongside Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
It is different under Bashar al-Assad; starting with the Iraq war, as well as the international pressure that followed the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Al-Hariri in early 2005 and also the July 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah.
The situation differs significantly during the Syrian war, which broke out in 2011. It resulted in the same situation experienced by the two countries in facing the risk of disappearing in the midst of the so-called Arab Spring.
It is clear that there is consensus among the parties to the Syrian conflict to end or reduce the growing role of Iran in Syria, and the biggest burden, in this case, will be on the Syrian government, which must find a way out of this crisis, and find a formula to maintain its strategic ally without letting it have the power to upset others.
A return to the model of the Assad senior relationship with Tehran may be the best way to reach a political solution that is acceptable regionally and internationally.
Alan Hasan is a Syrian writer. From openDemocracy.