Victorious parties — the Assad government, Iran, and Russia — have acted arrogantly by snubbing the Geneva peace talks in the belief that only the Sochi negotiations will decide the fate of Syria, according to their interests.
Iran has increased its military presence, and by arming Hezbollah it appears Tehran is attempting to make sure the last few days of the conflict go in its favor, and impose its post-war influence.
This stubbornness has obviously stirred up the fight. There are battles today in Idlib, southern Aleppo, the suburbs of Damascus, and east of the Euphrates River in Deir Ezzor.
There was also the mysterious attack that destroyed Russian aircraft at the Hmeymim air base in Latakia.
The acting US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, David Satterfield, recently told the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the US government was opposed to Iran’s presence in Syria, and that this was a strategic issue.
This frank testimony is both important and dangerous. It also helps us to understand many recent events, including the Sochi conference’s inability to achieve any progress, the return of fighting, the UN representative retracting his support for a political solution, and the Israeli missile attack on an Iranian military position near Damascus.
If Washington really considers the presence of Iran and Hezbollah in Syria unacceptable and at the heart of its policy toward Syria, it is capable of changing the course of events and destroying all that the Syrian regime has achieved with the support of its allies.
Tehran is attempting to make sure the last few days of the conflict go in its favor, and impose its post-war influence.
Since Turkey’s relationship with the United States is currently frayed, some may think the US has lost its most important access to influence in Syria. This is partly true, but the US has enough allies to impose its conditions and diminish Iran’s influence there, or get in the way of its military settlement plan. The US still has Israel, the Syrian Democratic Forces, which include several of the Free Army factions east of the Euphrates, and the opposition in the south near the Syrian-Jordanian border. Besides, as long as Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are entrenched in Syria with their foreign militias, we are faced with a new round of the Syrian war, which will act like quicksand for the Iranian forces.
Speaking of Russia’s presence in Syria, Satterfield said the Russians would reconsider it once they realize that their involvement in this war does not serve their interests in the long run, and that their alliance with Iran won’t last.
The setback that has struck the negotiations to end the Syrian war is not surprising, because they ignored the most important aspects of tension — Iran’s military presence and its militias.
For Syrians, the presence of Iran’s forces and militias means recognizing the occupation and legitimizing it in the presence of a weak regime in Damascus. For the region’s countries, this means a serious change in the regional balance of power.
The Syrian, Iranian and Russian trio wanted to hastily cook up a peace deal in Sochi, taking advantage of their military progress and regional and American negligence. They could have achieved peace if the Iranian presence had not been so hard to ignore. Washington now believes tackling Iran’s presence in Syria is part of its strategy — a strategy that did not exist until a few months ago.
• 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.