It did not take Iran too long to study the 12 American demands, the most important points of which regarding the protection of Israel’s security against the presence of Iranian forces on the Syrian-Jordanian and the Syrian-Israeli border and the development of Iran’s nuclear and missile programmes, before Iran gave a serious and immediate response. This response was the closest way to Israel’s heart, i.e. a “reassuring” message communicated by the Iranian Ambassador to Jordan, Mojtaba Ferdosipour, during an interview with Jordan’s Al-Ghad newspaper. He stated that the deployment of Iranian forces in Syria does not include the southern area, i.e. that the Iranian forces have not and will not approach the lines of contact with Israel, neither in the past nor in the future. This means the American demand regarding the halt of Iranian threats to its neighbours who are allies of the US and to stop threatening to erase Israel is actually being implemented by the “resistant and opposing” Iran.
It is no coincidence that the positive response from Iran to Israel coincided with Syrian statements saying that the Iranian and Hezbollah forces’ withdrawal is not up for discussion. This means that an agreement was passed under the table between two parties concerned with America’s demands (Iran and Hezbollah) and Israel that obligates the two parties to protect Israel’s borders rather than threaten them. Therefore, their presence in Syria comes in the context of the truce agreement in effect in Syria since the October 1973 war, guaranteed by Russia, who is an ally of both the Syrian and Israeli sides. This puts the option of implementing the rest of the 12 demands, most of which serve Israel’s interests, including the nuclear and missile programmes and the support of terrorist organisation, back on the table. Perhaps this is the reason for the coincidence of the two responses: the Syrian response to Russia’s demand to remove foreign forces from Syria and the Iranian response to the American demand to stop threatening Israel.
It seems that the Syrian regime chose the perfect moment to enter the international bargaining bazaar. On one hand, it enters it with Iran and Russia, in order to increase its share within the agreements reached between Russia and Turkey. On the other hand, with Israel and its ally, the US, announcing the legitimacy of Iran’s existence as being equal to Russia’s presence in Syria, merely days after Putin met Al-Assad in Sochi (17 May) and two days after the United States announced its strategy towards Iran, indicates that there are options on the table for the Syrian regime. Such options include preserving its functional role in adapting the process of causing confusion regarding the challenges in the region and changing the priorities from fighting Israel to fighting terrorism. This makes this role critical in the rapprochement process between Iran and its allies and Israel. At the same time, it represents a Russian interest in keeping the threat of war away from its areas of influence in Syria. It is also a message of appeasement for the US, which buys it some time to continue changing the reality on the ground in Syria, which it will not leave to the Astana agreements’ map, which gives Turkey its share in Idlib.
Therefore, it is not right to rush into predicting the reality of the future Russian-Iranian conflict in the region. It is also way too early to read the Syrian response as putting the Syrian-Russian relations in a state of impasse and confrontation, as much as we can read the statements made by Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Al-Miqdad as being Russian manipulations of the response to America’s 12 demands, which Moscow considered to be disrespectful of its influence in the region, and accordingly eliminating it from any future role in the bargaining process on the issue of the Iranian presence in Syria. This is what prepared Iran’s response, in Jordanian media, a response that carries within it a vision for the future of calm relations with Israel.
We can say that Israel has recently begun playing a controlling role in the region in particular, especially in the struggle over Syria. By means of focused and effective strikes on Iran’s centres of military influence in Syria, Israel is applying the pressure required to restrict Iran’s role and deter its tools from acting outside of the areas drawn for them. This means that any Iranian presence in Syria and Lebanon, after America’s demands, is approved by Israel and under American protection, and therefore the mask of resistance and opposition is removed. Its functional role will shift from the destructive sectarian role it played in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Syria, to the role of the policeman who protects Israel on the one hand and serves as the American baton in the region on the other.
Iran’s messages of reassurance to Israel in the form of moving away from its borders will be followed by numerous other messages, as it was preceded by the message of destroying the Yarmouk refugee camp in southern Damascus and turning it into ruins. They went even further by looting anything that can evoke the memories of the Palestinians, from the right of return to the geographical area that brings them together in the camp, the most important characteristic of which is their commitment to their identity and their invention of a miniature homeland where they paint the dream of their homeland Palestine. Iran has made several offerings, but it seems that the price for Israel’s approval is higher than expected, and we cannot predict how satisfied it will be with these reassurances until Israel either raises its level of preparedness as high as possible or is lulled into a sense of security and stability, guaranteed by Iran.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on 29 May 2018
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.