While Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu carried to Russian President Vladimir Putin in their meeting in Sochi his opposition to Iran’s continued consolidation in Syria, to shore up its sphere of influence from the Gulf to the Mediterranean, the Associated Press revealed that thousands of pro-Iranian fighters continue to advance in the Syrian desert, establishing for Tehran for the first time the precursors of its coveted corridor to the Mediterranean via Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. Netanyahu is not ignorant of the silent US-Russian consent to Tehran reaping the fruits of its investments in Syria since it intervened there six years ago, by consolidating its geographical control of the corridor dubbed the “grand prize.” Netanyahu has vowed that Israel is ready to act unilaterally to prevent Iran from making permanent its expanded military presence in Syria. But realistically, he is aligning his country to engage in future deals on Syria, especially in the context of the grand bargain between the US and Russia, and the Iranian dimension in the Arab geography and the regional balance of power. The benefits reaped by those who invested in the Syrian war, such as Iran, will include profits from lucrative reconstruction. However, Tehran has more extensive investments in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, with the primary aim of guaranteeing a major role for it in the future of the Middle East and in the emerging regional equations and alliances. Israel for its part is fully confident that US-Russian accords will always take into account Israeli interests, including guaranteeing its military edge and its security. But what prompted Netanyahu to meet Putin for the second time this year was his understanding that the Russian leader now holds the keys of the Middle East, with Washington’s consent. The Iranian expansion concerns Israel, but there is no panic. Netanyahu is reconfiguring his country’s position to be present in the deals, bargains and settlements being made in the Arab geography, from Iraq to Syria and Lebanon. Turkey and Iran are doing the same, but the difference is that they are operating on the ground to ensure they are part of the triangle of guarantors sponsoring de-escalation alongside the key Russian player, all with an American green light. Meanwhile, the majority of Arab countries are all but absent from these arrangements, albeit they are moving to have a presence in Iraq after a long absence. The Gulf countries are preoccupied with the Yemen war and the Qatar crisis. Jordan has no standalone role in Syria at this stage, after the Gulf roles in Syria receded. Egypt is playing a Russian-ordained role in Syria, through its influence with some opposition figures.
It is Russia that is leading on the ground, politically and strategically, with signs of American consent to its role. Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov is well versed in matching diplomatic tone to developments on the ground. He is a pragmatist who using his personal “charm” to influence the psychology of both friends and foes in negotiations and deal making. Today, Lavrov finds himself dealing with an issue he is loath to, that of the Syrian opposition. He is holding contacts with Saudi Arabia and Egypt to push forward efforts to form a unified opposition delegation from the so-called Cairo and Moscow opposition platforms, and the Higher Negotiations Council. The failure of the meeting of the Syrian opposition platforms in Riyadh this week is mainly due to their differences over the fate of Bashar Assad in the political process that follows the conclusion of the war.
Dergham is a columnist, senior diplomatic correspondent, and New York bureau chief for the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper since 1989. She is the founder and executive chairman of Beirut Institute. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and an honorary fellow at the Foreign Policy Association and has served on the International Media Council of the World Economic Forum.
Source : Arab News