In Girl World, one of the worst things that can happen is the feared 'reduction of influence'. Much the same in the world of the Diplopolititary too!
Reduce Iran’s influence in Syria?
This will be difficult and complicated, and implementing it is not helped by loose talk about the unrealistic objective of “pushing Iran out of Syria.” We need to recognize that neither we, nor the Russians, have the will or capacity to achieve that goal—as desirable as it might be—in current circumstances.
Iran has developed a formidable presence on the ground in Syria: the Iranians have penetrated the remaining governing institutions of Asad’s regime, and have embedded some 30,000 forces in the government-controlled areas of western Syria (some 5,000 IRGC, Basij, and Iranian Army elements; some 3,000 to 5,000 highly trained Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon; and some 20,000 Shiite militiamen recruited from Afghanistan and Pakistan). These forces are significantly larger than what is left of the Syrian army or the Russian forces now deployed there.
- The Iranian-Assad alliance,which was forged by Assad’s father in the 1980s. Since then, Assad’s son has become ever-more dependent on Tehran for his survival. Accordingly Assad will not dare demand Iran’s departure. Nor will Russia, since its primary interest is the survival of the regime.
- Iran’s “core interest” in retaining a foothold in Syria because it is the lynchpin of its wider hegemonic strategy. If it loses that foothold, it will seriously jeopardize Hezbollah’s control of Lebanon, the crown jewel of Iran’s regional strategy. That means Iran will mightily resist any effort to force it out of Syria and has considerable ability to do so.
The idea that Russia will force Iran out of Syria is therefore a dangerous fantasy. And the idea that we should pay for such a fantasy by removing the Ukraine sanctions on Russia would constitute strategic malfeasance, given the impact that would have on our allies in Europe, particularly in Eastern Europe.
We should therefore set more modest objectives. We should, for example, press Russia to deny Iran port facilities in Syria. An Iranian-controlled port would enable Iran more easily to ship weapons to Hezbollah, exacerbating the conflict between Iran and Israel—something Russia has an interest in avoiding. Similarly, we should support Israel’s insistence that Russia press Iran and Hezbollah not to send their forces south to the Golan Heights.
Finally, as in Yemen, we should do what we can to promote a political resolution of the Syrian civil war, one that leads eventually but inevitably to Assad’s departure. One requirement of the political settlement should be the departure of all foreign forces. That principle was incorporated into the Taif Agreement, which ended the Lebanese civil war and eventually resulted in the peaceful departure of Syrian forces from Lebanon. Syrians, who do not want Iranian-controlled Shiite militias dominating them in a post-conflict era, will welcome inclusion of that principle. And it will provide us with the legitimacy to demand their eventual departure.