By Arab News
By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed*
If Israel continues to bomb Iranian positions in Syria, Iran will eventually leave and end its quasi-occupation of this weak and ruined country. The Iranian forces and militias are not responding to the Israeli attacks, and their premier ally, Russia, has expressed objections only through media statements expressing its dissatisfaction. Moscow has said that it is a dangerous escalation by Israel against civilians in Damascus and its surroundings, and that Tel Aviv’s attacks almost caused the downing of an Iranian civilian airplane.
“We will go from preventive action to offensive action — the only measure that guarantees us the expulsion of Iran out of Syria,” said the new Israeli Defense Minister, Naftali Bennett. “We are warning them (the Iranians), we will turn Syria into an Iranian Vietnam, and you will continue to bleed until the last Iranian soldier leaves Syrian territory.”
What is going on is not a conventional war, but qualitative strikes and an ongoing manhunt.
Israel’s perceived escalation cannot be separated from US attacks in Syria and the re-arming of some Syrian resistance factions, especially with missiles that were behind the downing of two helicopters belonging to the Syrian regime.
The ongoing US-Israeli operations appear to be part of a joint action to pressure Iran out of Syria and push it back in Iraq. The assassination of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force and the head of Iranian military operations in Syria, was carried out in the same vein — kicking Iran out of Syria.
However, there are some mysteries surrounding this story, as we see no sign of the Damascus regime and we don’t know whether the multinational clashes on the northern border with Turkey have anything to do with it.
We do not see the Damascus regime being eager to defend its Iranian ally, nor is Russia, so an isolated Iran is left to fight alone. The fighting near Turkey’s border is part of the final phase for the Syrian situation on multiple topics, including the regime’s final solution, refugees, armed organizations, and expelling the Turks and Iranians. But the part that matters most to a number of countries in the region, as well as the US and Israel, is to get Iran out. Nevertheless, Iran will not leave Syria without further bleeding, and its exit will facilitate the process of finding a final solution to the Syrian crisis.
For Damascus and Russia, Iran’s role is over — it has financed the war and fought to protect the regime from total collapse, but now Iran has become a burden to its allies. The difference between the presence of Russia and Iran in Syria is that the former wants Damascus to be part of its presence in the region, while the latter has broader objectives, wanting to turn Syria into another Lebanon — a satellite state and a military platform against Israel — in addition to using it to secure its presence in Iraq within the regional influence conflict.
If Iran was expelled from Syria, it would be a most important political and military achievement, as its influence in both Iraq and Lebanon would also be weakened quickly. This is the strategic goal, but the task will not be easy.
- 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. Twitter: @aalrashed