The securing of Syria by the pro-Iran government thanks to its allies culminated a long sequence of hard-earned victories in the great game for Iran over its immensely powerful enemies, at whose helm sits Israel.
With the failure to turn Syria into another Libya and thus to cut off Iran from its vital Lebanese-Palestinian-Syrian resistance partners, Israel has followed an erratic and often reckless path as of then in attempting to turn Israel-GCC ties into a potent anti-Iran force. The lack of success of the Israeli-Saudi duo (or the Netanyahu-MBS duo) thus far, however, should not lull Iran into assuming a position of supreme strength in the region as there are processes in motion that could go against its interests in the near future.
The post-Syrian War scenario will involve Iran and its enemies confronting each other across new geographical theatres of conflict, utilizing different methods under the rubric of ‘Hybrid Warfare’ tactics and even potentially with different states and actors assuming the roles of ‘partners-in-crime’ and this thus provides an interesting opportunity for speculation.
The visit of the Saudi-reliant Sudanese president to Syria and the planned re-opening of the UAE embassy in Damascus signify recognition by the GCC of Syria’s victory against the Hybrid War they were complicit in. For Syria, this also means a scramble by foreign rival blocs and coalitions for influence in Syria just as has been witnessed in post-Daesh Iraq where the Saudis, Turks, Iranians, Americans and Russians compete for influence in the internal affairs of the country. The diplomatic and non-kinetic aspects of the post-Syrian War Great Game pertaining to Iran and its foes in the coming days provide perhaps the most interesting preview of possible scenarios.
Syria is headed by an ideologically driven government that forms part of the Iran-led Resistance Axis and emphasizes even today that during its reconstruction priority will be given to Iranian companies. Yet, the reality of the Syria-Arab League rapprochement is not something Damascus can avoid and rich Gulf state money may be needed by the proud yet war-weary nation as well as other goods, facilities and services in the Gulf states that are in shortage in Syria being opened to Syrian citizens. Capital from the GCC and not their hated Iranian rival with its heavily-sanctioned companies will ultimately likely prevail in winning more bids for reconstruction processes in Syria.
The added ‘bonus’ for Syrian-GCC relations is also the shared animosity toward the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Saudis despite having been on the same page as them while they waged a proxy war against Syria have always seen as a Turkish-Qatari rival project.
The economic nature of Iran-Syria relations may die down, although the military and defence ties with Iran solidified during war years will continue to strengthen. It is in Iran’s interest to thus ensure engagement in the defence sector persists and Iranian expertise in that aspect, exemplified by its ballistic missile programme and development of its own surface-to-air missile systems, is shared with Syria. Maintaining a close rapport with the most nationalistic factions of Syrian society, with Israel as the great foe, and the Hezbollah factor will be a vital centre of gravity for Iranian strategic depth in Syria considering the inability to compete with the economic might of Iran’s Arab rivals.
Israel-Saudi experiments didn’t work out so well, what about Israel-UAE versus Iran?
The UAE, to the notice of not too many people, has been upstaging the Saudis and enhancing its own power to influence regional affairs for some years now. The UAE is the major backer of South Yemeni separatists who has effectively taken over much of the important parts of Yemen the Saudi-led coalition occupies, including the vital capital of their intended independent state in Aden.
With the Saudis’ repeated attempts to take over the Red Sea ports held by Yemen’s Zaydi Ansarullah faction failing, the UAE is well-poised to extract the most usefulness out of Yemen via its ties with the powerful and less battle-weary South Yemenis. The UAE already occupies Socotra Island with its proximity to globally vital shipping routes and is better poised to take over or construct new, ports along the broad coast of Southern Yemen.
The UAE is granted even more importance by Saudi Arabia’s strategic failures in its position alongside the latter and other Arab League states as part of the team of Arab states Israel wants to ‘convince’ (or bribe) Palestinians to accept the lopsided ‘Middle East Peace Plan’ it wishes to be imposed on them. UAE-Israel ties, with their recent phase finding root in the drawing-board phase for the ‘Peace Plan’ (prepared entirely by the Zionists dominating the 2016 Trump campaign team and Netanyahu), pre-date the Syria-GCC rapprochement.
There thus exists a possibility of the prosperous UAE utilizing its soon-to-come economic influence over Syria to attempt to cultivate a section of Syrian society, plausibly businessmen and the wealthy, that is soft toward Israel due to Israel’s ‘normalization’ of ties with ‘the Arab world’. While the popular Syrian government, military and political status quo remain principled on opposition to Zionism, the misfortune that is an un-ambitious, materialistic money-minded upper-middle class deciding it’s not ‘profitable’ to continue opposing Israel as a core Syrian value may rise and clash with the Resistance culture prevailing there.
The legacy of the Hezbollah-Iran-Syria defence of the homeland against Zionist-supported war will remain a potent unifying factor, but competition from a new, more commercially-oriented ‘pan-Arabism’ viewing Resistance as ‘something of the past’ despite its magnified significance in real terms may nag at Iranian policymakers’ minds.
Bizarrely useful to Iran in keeping the anti-Zionist spirit alive in Syria, however, will be Israel’s seemingly inherent tendency to be perpetually hostile and not care even for brandishing a deception of openness to non-hostility.
Russian backing for the Israeli-GCC front against Iran
In this piece, I analyzed in details Russia’s pre and post-2015 intervention in Syria relations with Israel and demonstrated that the two count very much as strategic partners. This is exemplified by Russia facilitating Israeli strikes on Syrian and Iranian targets, doing Israel favours on its request that directly enable Israeli aggression against Russia’s counter-terrorist allied states such as securing withdrawal of Iranian-backed groups from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and building ‘demilitarization’ posts along it that do nothing about Israeli airstrikes by jets utilizing the airs above the territory).
Russia also implements its ‘contain Iran’ plans through other means, such as trying to convince the Iranians that the post-JCPOA USA would honour a potential deal whereby leaving Syria gets Iran ‘sanctions relief’. That major Russian companies close to the Russian Federation such as Rosneft and Lukoil have been withdrawing from Iranian projects as sanctions clamp harder makes it seem very much as if Russia’s backdoor mediation of this ‘withdrawal for sanctions relief’ deal was really just a sly attempt to get another Tel Aviv desire fulfilled with empty ‘concessions’ offered to Iran.
Coupled with Russia’s major outreach to the GCC, beginning roughly when it became clear Syria had prevailed over the anti-Assad Hybrid War, Israeli-GCC relations will have the blessings of Russia in large part and thus support in many of their endeavours. Russia could even potentially play a role in lending support to Israeli-GCC conceived ‘peace plans’ for the Middle East that leave behind even the ‘Two State Solution’ in how little they change any of the aggressive Zionist entity’s policies or behaviour.
Through planned S400 sales to Saudi Arabia as well as receiving business delegations from the country suddenly experiencing cold-shouldering by the West it has been so reliant on, Russia may become a vital support source for Saudi. Its Crown Prince’s over-ambitious ‘modernization’ plans – reportedly conceived by him in tandem with the same brains behind the in-progress ‘Middle East Peace Plan’ – which have experienced setbacks such as the failure to go ahead with the sale of Aramco to private hands may be given a measure of momentum by the Russians. Saudi’s historic reliance on Western weapons and military hardware may also gradually find a replacement by Russian suppliers in the future.
A struggle for influence yet remains
It is thus clear that Iran will have to strive hard to maintain its influence in Syria, which is a vital node of its transnational Resistance bloc which has formed an integral part of the region’s overall defence against Zionism and Takfirism in the past. Despite Iran’s progress in enhancing its regional influence since 1979, the path ahead may prove no less tricky than it has been in the past.