Russians won't be able to push Iran out of Syria, expert says

"I wouldn't trust the Russians as far as I could spit" says Philip Smyth.

January 29, 2019 16:18
3 minute read.
   Members of a Shia militia guard a house in Iraq. The new NDAA warned about the presence of Irania

Members of a Shia militia guard a house in Iraq. The new NDAA warned about the presence of Iranian-backed militias. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Iran isn’t going to leave Syria and Russia won’t be able to fully push them out of the conflict-ridden country, an expert on Shia militias told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

“It’s about building long-term capabilities,” said Philip Smyth, the Soref Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “The Israelis have been rather effective in countering certain things that have been brought in (from Iran to Syria) but this is a longer term process. The Syrian front has allowed them so much access, it’s a dream come true for Tehran.”

The Iranians know how to play the long term game and want to bring in the entire Iranian-Shia foreign legion to the region, he said, ahead of taking part in a panel at the 12th Institute for National Security Studies conference in Tel Aviv.

“The Iranians look at this as, ‘Okay, we had some setbacks but we aren’t ready at the moment to launch any offensive campaign,’ and I think the IDF realizes that too. Hezbollah is not really in a position either, but if you give them a few years to build up that capability, that’s when the actual issue comes up,” he added. “The Iranians are looking at this as a decades-long process, the war in Syria gave them a new opportunity... They are on the ground, they have force-presence there and they are building local, domestic Hezbollah segments. Over the long-term, even if they are not ideologically loyal to them, they are still taking a check from Tehran.”

Israeli officials have repeatedly voiced concerns over Iran’s presence in Syria and the smuggling of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah from Tehran to Lebanon via Syria, stressing that both are redlines for the Jewish state.

Last week, a long-range missile was fired toward the northern Golan Heights from the vicinity of the Syrian capital of Damascus by Iranian forces, within an area the military said that Israel had been promised by the Russians that the Iranians had left.
That, Smyth said, “was a signal that they (the Iranians) are willing to up the ante. It sends a signal that we can hit things within a certain range and we can do it if we want to.”

On Monday night, former Israel Air Force commander Amir Eshel said at the INSS conference that the only way to remove the Iranians from Syria wasn’t Israel’s military strength, but that of the Russians.

“It’s not military capability that is going to get the Iranians out of Syria,” he said. “There is no military capability of getting them out of Syria. The only one who can get Iran out of Syria is Russia.” But, he warned, that “there’s a very great chance that the Russians will do an about-face on us.”

Anna Borshchevskaya, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy, said during the panel discussion that while there are tactical disagreements between Tehran and Moscow, “it is wishful thinking to believe that Russia and Iran are going to separate. They have too many shared goals.”

According to Smyth, Moscow is not a party to trust as they are “playing their own game,” and have a strategic partnership with the Iranians.

The Russians, Smyth said, “are maintaining a more anti-Israel path, but what they are doing is trying to play middle ground. By allowing certain things, you appear more moderate, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you are taking a more moderate position.”

The Russians, he added, “are cooperating and operating with Iranian backed groups in Syria and Iraq... I wouldn’t trust the Russians as far as I can spit, and I can’t spit far.”

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