Russia Constrains Iran? – Perhaps

Russian President Putin meets with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Mohammed Khatami

In an astounding series of statements, Russia has made it clear that it expects all foreign forces to withdraw from Syria.

Alexander Lavrentiev, President Putin’s envoy to Syria, specified on May 18, 2018, that all “foreign forces” meant those forces belonging to Iran, Turkey, the United States, and Hizbullah.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov added this week that only Syrian troops should have a presence on the country’s southern border, close to Jordan and Israel. Previously, Russia had been a party to the establishment of a “de-escalation zone” in southwestern Syria along with the United States and Jordan. Now, Russian policy was becoming more ambitious. Lavrov added that a pullback of all non-Syrian forces from the de-escalation zone had to be fast.

The regime in Tehran got the message and issued a sharp rebuke of its Russian ally. The Iranians did not see their deployment in Syria as temporary. Five years ago, a leading religious figure associated with the Revolutionary Guards declared that Syria was the 35th province of Iran. Besides such ideological statements, on a practical level, Syria hosts the logistical network for Iranian resupply of its most critical Middle Eastern proxy force, Hizbullah, which has acquired significance beyond the struggle for Lebanon.

Over the years, Hizbullah has become involved in military operations in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and elsewhere. Without Syria, Iran’s ability to project power and influence in an assortment of Middle Eastern conflicts would be far more constrained. Syria has become ...

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