Iran should prepare for new phase of Syrian crisis

Iranian Diplomacy- “The second summit of leaders of Iran, Turkey, and Russia came to an end but the Syrian crisis has not. It may even turn into a trap larger than Syria,” Senior analyst Sadegh Maleki writes in an op-ed for Iranian Diplomacy.

The Ankara summit closed with a statement that emphasized the territorial integrity, independence, solidarity, and a political solution to the crisis of Syria. Tehran will host the third summit. In spite of several Astana summits, the Sochi summit and the Ankara summit, the Syrian crisis is still there, with an uncertain future. The second trilateral summit among Iran, Turkey, and Russia was held in Ankara at a time Turkish flags are flying over Afrin and Erdogan has said the city will go under the governance of Hatay Province.

Objective for Sochi and Ankara summits included emphasis on continued cooperation of Iran, Turkey and Russia as the main guarantors of a political solution to the crisis and de-escalation zone, the need to preserve the territorial integrity of Syria, continued fight with terrorism, the establishment of security and stability, drafting the constitution and laying the foundation for the transition period. Although some of these objectives have been realized, considering some differences and more importantly Ankara’s violation of Damascus’ national sovereignty, the cooperation seems a tactical, rather than strategic, measure to achieve goals in the tense situation.

Talks are better than sulks, particularly during crises, providing that it is not to buy time or to renew forces but to achieve a solution to the crisis. If the Sochi and Ankara summits were aimed to end the crisis and realize the political solution in Syria, they should be seen as turning points.

The talks between the three countries, initiated by Moscow and then accepted by Ankara and accompanied by Tehran, has been relatively successful in détente; but rather than promise to end the crisis, they indicate the Syrian crisis will enter a new phase. From a certain angle, the talks have helped the main players to expand their influence and cement their position in strategic regions such as East Ghouta and Afrin. In the meantime, with Turkey’s intelligent initiative to hold the Ankara summit following the occupation of Afrin, the summit became a kind of implied endorsement of the violation of Syrian sovereignty by the other two players.

Iran’s connivance is not satisfactory but the result of the regional status quo and global pressures. Despite its self-defined mission of global scale, Iran is alone in Syria. Taking into account Moscow’s consideration and interests with all the players involved in Syria, even Russia will likely leave Iran alone in the end. It is true that with the Syrian crisis, Russia made a full comeback in the Middle East but that was not for Iran or even for Syria but out of greater regional and global calculations.

Beside accepting Russians as the main players in Syria, one should have a strategic understanding of the difference between Iran’s advisory presence in Syria and the Turkish occupation of Syrian soil and their impacts on the future equilibria in Syria.

The Ankara summit ended with emphasis on continued efforts to achieve a political solution, the fight with terrorism, and the Syrian territorial integrity while the Syria sides have different attitudes toward the Syrian government. In recent months, despite violation of the Syrian territorial integrity, Ankara still stresses its non-commitment to Bashar al-Asad’s continued rule.

Ruhani and Putin’s visit to attend the Ankara summit was also a bilateral visit, with a message deep inside, for Iran, Russia, the region, and the international system. Ankara turned the tids in a lost game through a sensible move and succeeded in resuming relations with Moscow to a level at which the Russian president opens a $20b project to build nuclear plants.

Updates like Saudis’ approval of Asasd’s continued government, Damascus’ likely return to the Arab Union, France’s willingness to become involved in the Syrian crisis, Trump’s maneuver on exiting Syria, and new conditions 1for the Kurds all indicate that the Syrian crisis is up for a particular stage of development, for the consequences of which Iran should prepare with foresight.

The second summit of leaders of Iran, Turkey, and Russia came to an end but the Syrian crisis has not. It may even turn into a trap larger than Syria. The crisis has not only drained the region of many potentials and led to a margin of safety for Israel, but also paved the ground for the region’s normalization of ties with Tel Aviv and targetting Iran. Iran should understand the difference among potentials of the states involved in the crisis, regional and global deals, and its own position. Tehran must have several alternative strategies rather than a single one and realize that the world of politics has no moral code, but only interests. With limited potential and without a strategic partner in the world, Iran’s calculations should be quite precise. A crisis is easy to get involved in but difficult to come out.