Is Iran the real winner in US-Russia spat?

Al Monitor| Ali Hashem: It was just after sunrise on April 7 when the news of an American missile attack on Syria reached Tehran. At first, information about what precisely transpired was limited, yet the attack was received in the Iranian capital as a message from Washington to all parties fighting along the forces of Syria’s defiant President Bashar al-Assad that the grace period given to all involved in the war-torn country by the United States had come to an end. In fact, the Syrian crisis seemed for a few months to have had some rules of engagement when it comes to major incidents like the one that occurred at the Shayrat air base near Palmyra, but this time the whole scene was a shock, given US President Donald Trump’s previous statements with regard to Syria and the region in general. As such, those in Tehran who spoke to Al-Monitor see the missile attack as closer to political maneuvering than a complete change in strategy.

“The American attack — though a military action — was a political move,” a military source in the Syria allies joint command center — which brings together Russia, Iran and Hezbollah — told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. He said, “The US military informed the Russians before the strike. This gave them the chance to alert the Syrians, so both sides were able to evacuate the base before the attack. It was clear that there was no intention to kill but to send a message to the Russians.”

Moscow was highly intimidated by the strike, mainly given that it was aiming to forge strategic cooperation with Washington to secure a solution to the six-year crisis. Once again, Russia was left with no serious partner in Syria but Iran, since the latest action by the United States was seen as hostile by Moscow, and the swinging strategy adopted by Turkey, which seems to be leaning toward Washington after the strike. On April 9, Russian, Syrian and Iranian officials held high-level consultations over the phone. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called his Syrian counterpart, while Russian President Vladimir Putin called Rouhani. Meanwhile, the Russian and Iranian defense ministers spoke over the phone too, while Iranian national security adviser Ali Shamkhani and his Syrian counterpart, Ali Mamlouk, agreed to coordinate actions during a phone conversation.

In Syria, military commanders met and issued a harsh statement vowing to “respond with force to any aggressor or any breach of red lines from whoever — and America knows our ability to respond well.” The joint command center stressed that the presence of US troops in northern Syria was “illegal,” and that Washington had a long-term plan to occupy the area, saying that they will not allow a unipolar world with the United States as the dominant power to continue to impose its will across the globe.

“The Iranians are convinced that the United States knew the chemical attack had nothing to do with the Syrian government or the armed forces,” Tehran University professor Mohammad Marandi told Al-Monitor. “That is why they didn’t want an impartial inquiry and so they attacked the Syrian air force base without fear of chemicals leaking.” He added, “Trump is under enormous pressure at home because of his many setbacks and a hostile media. Therefore, he carried out this attack because this makes both the [US] establishment and the media content and it distracts attention away from his problems.”

 

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