Since the Russian-Syrian alliance was forged in Syria several years ago, many have wondered what could bring together the former communist Russia and Shia Iran. The Russian government is nominally orthodox Christian, democratic and ostensibly capitalist, as well as a system based upon the farming of intelligence. Iran, meanwhile, is a theocracy unmatched in the world since the Middle Ages, when the clergy controlled everything. Nonetheless, the two governments came together, despite the cultural and religious differences between them, around the fact that they are classed as rogue governments by the West and are facing joint enemies, namely the US and its allies.
Birds of a feather flock together. The only two states that have allied with the most crooked regime in the region — that run by Syria's President, Bashar Al-Assad — are Russia and Iran. Russian and Iranian protection has been given to Assad, despite the fact that his regime has outdone the fascists in terms of the crimes it has committed. However, nothing is impossible in politics as long as there are mutual interests. The Iranians are known for being pragmatists and realists, despite the fact that they govern according to their religious beliefs.
Given the recent US-led missile attack on the Syrian regime's alleged chemical weapons facilities, and the Israeli attack on Iranian military personnel at the T-4 Airbase in Syria, many believe that Iran has its back against the wall in Syria and that the Israeli pressure to expel the Iranians from there will present Tehran's Russian allies with a real dilemma. Will the Russians be forced to please the Americans and Israelis and sever its ties with Iran in Syria? Those hopeful about this are thinking and hoping that the Russia-Iran alliance will collapse, as Iran has become a difficult player in Syria and Iraq, as well as Lebanon and Yemen. However, a Russia-Iran divorce is not as easy as Iran's enemies in the region think.
For those who do not know, the rapprochement between Moscow and Tehran is neither the result of the situation in Syria nor their common interests there and in Yemen. We must not forget that Russia regards Iran as a necessary tool in the so-called Eurasian project adopted by President Vladimir Putin. The Russians are trying to form an Asian-European alliance, as the name suggests, in order to confront Western projects and alliances. This strategic project cannot take shape without Iran's effective participation. The Russian-Iranian convergence, therefore, was a strategic necessity even before the two sides met in Syria.
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Even if the Russians and the Iranians did not have joint interests, neither party would be able to succeed in Syria on their own. Their mutual dependence is vital there, where they are both welcomed warmly by the regime. There is no doubt that Russia is fully aware that it cannot achieve military victory against the Syrian opposition forces solely by means of its air force, despite its relative strength; it needs a large number of troops on the ground. It is also known that Iran backs many militias in Syria to fight alongside the regime, as its own troops cannot do this on their own to any decisive degree. We also know that the Assad regime was on the verge of falling to opposition forces before the Russian military intervened. This was admitted by the Russian Foreign Minister himself.
Moreover, Iran failed to stop the advance of the Syrian opposition forces towards Damascus until the Russians came and their air force worked with Iranian ground troops to achieve a joint victory in Aleppo and the Damascus suburbs. We should also take into consideration the fact that the Russian-Turkish rapprochement played a pivotal role in swaying the balance of power in Russia's and Iran's favour, at the expense of the opposition forces.
Some believe that Russia can sell out Iran in favour of Israel since Moscow is closer to Tel Aviv than it is to Tehran. However, Iran's supporters believe the opposite; that Russia is using the Iranian militias in Syria as a bogeyman in order to scare the US and Israel. The closer that the Iranian militias get to the Israeli border with Syria, the more that Tel Aviv is forced to put pressure on the US to back off from Russia in the Ukraine, Syria and other areas. Analysts have noted that there is a very strong understanding between Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Russia's President Putin in this regard and other issues.
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We should not count on weakening the Iranian presence in the region, as Iran is a strategic necessity for the US and Israeli project. It is enough to know that the Sunni-Shia conflict sponsored by the evil forces in the region cannot flourish without Iranian influence, and that the systematic devastation and destruction that began in Iraq and spread to Lebanon, Yemen and Syria can only be achieved with the Iranians.
Translated from Al-Quds Al-Arabi, 21 April 2018
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.