The concomitance between the urgent Iranian action in the region and the visit conducted by American Secretary of State John Kerry to Russia and Italy, clearly pointed to Tehran’s concerns over the war in Syria entering a difficult stage, especially after the Israeli air raids turned the page of the longstanding disengagement era. In reality, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi’s visit to Damascus while empty-handed following a failed mission in Amman, contrasted with the American-Russian relief over the outcome of the marathon talks held by Kerry in Kremlin. Indeed, the announcement of an agreement to hold an international conference for settling the crisis in Syria is bound to reflect on the brutal war and the fate of the armed opposition that is achieving progress along one front, and seeing its ammunition depleted on another.
And a few days before the one-year anniversary of the Geneva Declaration which fell in the hole of the American-Russian divergence over its interpretation (of the fate of President Bashar al-Assad), the obvious question is related to the following: How will Washington and Moscow pave the way before the international conference? And can the American pressures demanded by Kremlin convince the Syrian opposition forces and armed brigades to negotiate with the government in Damascus, at a time when it is obvious that the latter will not negotiate over the regime or its head?
On the other hand, could President Vladimir Putin head to the G8 summit on June 17, carrying to American President Barack Obama a “middle ground solution” based on the launching of the transitional phase in Syria with an invented formula differentiating between the government and the regime, and featuring Al-Assad’s stay in form until the end of his term while convincing him about a “safe exit” coinciding with presidential elections?
Following his tour in Red Square, Secretary of State Kerry chose to recognize in Kremlin the existence of “significant common interests with respect to Syria” for both the American and Russian sides, thus reassuring Putin that the end of the war will only be secured through dual sponsorship – whose lines are drawn by Washington and Moscow – and that the Libya experience will not be reiterated as promised by Obama and repeated by NATO on many occasions. And while the resident of the White House covered his red lines over the use of chemical weapons in gray through his warnings to the Syrian regime and his threat to resort to intervention, in fact, with its raids on positions inside Damascus, Israel carried out this intervention and confirmed that the only red line surrounded its interests and security. Obama for his part did not leave any room for doubts over giving Benjamin Netanyahu the green light to exercise self-defense, and deter what was referred to as being attempts to transfer sophisticated missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Was there a green light for Israel’s preemptive strikes deep within Syria, in exchange for a red light over the expansion of the settlements in the West Bank? Maybe this was the case. But what is important at the level of the Syrian war is the American-Russian-Israeli agreement over the fact that it has started to generate dangerous repercussions in Lebanon and affect Jordan’s stability, in parallel to the possibility of seeing it turning into a volcano in Iraq. The trio also expressed joint willingness not to see Al-Nusra Front and Al-Qaeda in the Golan, or the Muslim Brotherhood prevailing over any authority which might succeed to the current regime in Damascus.
Despite their diverging wagers in this war, Washington and Moscow are aware of the fact that the regime – which fears the sealing of a deal between the major players at the last moment – still holds the card of the Alawi entity and still enjoys the ability to disperse and exhaust the armed opposition as confirmed by its counterattack. Russia and America also know that the regional conflict will not allow the crushing of Al-Assad’s oppositionists. Hence, violence is being fueled by further extremism, at a time when Israel is still unable to become reassured about its security amidst a sea of drastic changes in its surrounding. Despite that, it would be naïve to predict the emergence of an American-Russian decision to prevent Syria’s division, as opposed to the consensus over the prevention of the extremists, or even the Islamists, from monopolizing the new authority if Al-Assad’s regime collapses.
Israel has ended the disengagement agreement in the Golan. And while some among the Al-Assad regime detractors perceive the American-Russian understanding as being yet another attempt to eliminate their dreams of bringing down the regime by force, in reality, the road towards the international conference will not only be affected by Kerry’s hopes and wishes, or by Putin’s desire to have new footholds in the region and settle its fate.
What is positive is that Moscow is not encouraging Al-Assad to stay in power. As for Iran’s rush to Jordan and the Syrian ally, it is probably a desperate attempt to seek a role in the international solution. Indeed, the financial aid ‘carrot’ to contain the flow of refugees which was carried by Ali Akbar Salehi to Amman, did not prevent his Jordanian counterpart Nasser Joudeh from politely condemning the Iranian rowdiness in Bahrain and the Gulf region. The first proposed a role at the level of the Syrian solution to avoid Tehran’s ousting from the regional influence game, but only reaped disappointment from his visit to Jordan.