Some regional and international forces have warned against a peace deal in Syria that would benefit Damascus’ allies, especially Iran.
Such warnings have been expressed in blunt terms by Israel, which believes that any project to end the war must not allow Iran to remain in Syria as a military force, something it considers a threat to its security.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spelled out this view in a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is considered the godfather of any solution to the Syrian crisis.
Netanyahu’s message to Putin was that “Israel has no objection to a new arrangement in Syria, but we strongly object to the possibility that in such an arrangement Iran and its proxies will remain with a military presence in Syria,” according to reports.
Threatening the regional balance
The military presence of Iran and its agents in Syria is a serious threat to other countries as well.
Allowing Iran and its Lebanese and Iraqi militias to remain in Syria would threaten the regional balance and would affect the security of Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and the Gulf states.
It is possible that Iran could come to an understanding with Israel to end the role of its agents who threaten Israel, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. But the threat such agents pose to other countries remains.
Why has Israel begun to raise its point of view on the Geneva negotiations, having kept silent on the issue for the past six years of conflict in Syria? It is perhaps due to the fact that a potential political solution has become clearer.
Netanyahu ‘strongly objects’ to any agreement that allows Tehran and its proxies to keep a military presence in the war-torn country.
Since the beginning of the Syria crisis, Israel has been against any change in Damascus because it coexisted with the regime for almost half a century. Despite some disagreement and hostility, Israel considers its neighbor Syria safer and more controlled than Egypt or Jordan, with which it has peace deals.
Yet the weakness of the Syrian regime’s military capabilities — which Iran wants to compensate with troops and militias of its own — has become an issue that changes the regional political and security equation.
Support from Russia
Can fighting in Syria end, and can peace be instated by regime forces supported by Russia? Russia is not only supplying Damascus with combat troops, but it has also provided the regime with police forces that organize traffic in the streets of some Syrian cities.
It is likely that the countries of the region — namely Israel, Jordan and the Gulf states — would not oppose a Russian role in bridging the security and military vacuum with its forces. This could include other international forces, but not Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps or other foreign militias.
But is Russia ready to carry out this enormous task, will the Syrian government be prepared to abandon its ally Iran, and will the Iranians be satisfied to leave Syria empty handed?
We should not forget that Iran, through Syria, has made the lives of Americans in Iraq hell through terror groups. It does the same thing against the Saudis in Yemen, and even against Israel through Hezbollah.
In my view, the success of a possible agreement in Syria is based on the interpretation of the role played by Iran and militias. The new US administration is in line with most of the countries in the region on the need to curb the spread of Iran’s power in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
All of this is strongly linked to any agreement to end the war in Syria.
• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya News Channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article was originally published.