Monday, 2 March 2015

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (AFP)

The Russo-Iranian struggle for Syria
 "Iran is trying to put forward a formula for Syria like the formula Syria put forward for Lebanon. It is trying to use the war on terror, the Arab-international campaign against the Islamic State (ISIS), and the nuclear talks to propose the following deal: the security of Israel and the Gulf in exchange for control of decision making in the Levant and Iraq. In other words, Iran would be allowed to direct political matters in a way that serves the interests of the West and the Gulf.This proposal does not worry the Obama administration; in fact, Washington is ready to negotiate. US support for the “moderate opposition” is part of its negotiation efforts—Washington is “wearing down” Tehran and bringing it to the debating table. However, Iran’s proposal does worry Vladimir Putin. Since the beginning of the crisis, Russia has been protecting the regime in the United Nations Security Council by using its right to veto with support from China. It has also been giving financial support to Syrian state institutions. Moscow sees its influence historically in the traditional institutions, especially the army and the security forces. Tehran sees its influence in non-governmental institutions. Russia believes in a “top-down” solution through its interpretation of the 2012 Geneva Communique and the idea of a transitional governing body. Iran believes in a “bottom-up” solution through UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura’s plan because it gives a larger role to local leaders and militias.As well as establishing the NDF, Iran has sought to increase the amount of Syrian real estate it purchases, enlarge Shiite shrines in Damascus and Homs, and facilitate the emergence of a new class of businessmen, who have benefitted from the commissions produced by the evasion of US and European sanctions, especially in the oil and energy sector, and provision of foodstuffs. In addition to this new class of businessmen, “warlords” have set their sights on the reconstruction plans for demolished areas of the capital. They hope to combine recent financial gains with demographic changes that have taken place in the “poverty belt” formed around Damascus after the middle of the 20th century—an area which has played a prominent role over the past four years, both in the peaceful and militarized phases of the uprising."

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