The Russians Are Saving Assad From Iran
21 October 2015
By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
A disagreement between Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and his main ally,
the Iranian regime, has been on the cards for some time.
This mutually beneficial relationship has lasted for a long time, and it is
truly thanks to the Iranians that Assad and his regime have not entirely
The Iranians formed a massive army consisting of militias from different
countries to fight on behalf of the Syrian regime, which saw its own army
break down either due to defections or human losses.
During the past few weeks, we have noticed that Russian President Vladimir
Putin has begun to personally manage the issue of the Syria crisis in a very
careful and hands-on manner. Then photos by American intelligence revealed
Russian activity in Syria. The images showed that a runway and airstrip for
helicopters have been added to the main airport in the Syrian coastal city of
Latakia, with changes also having been made to aircraft shelters there. The
city's civilian airport has thus been transformed into a military base.
In addition to all this, the Russians are also using an airbase near
Damascus. Hundreds of prefabricated buildings arrived from Russia, most
likely to be used as homes for more than 2,000 Russian military personnel.
American suspicions increased after the Russians submitted hundreds of
requests, to several countries, to gain permission for their military jets to
cross the latter's airspace to reach Syria, and assemble there.
It was also confirmed that the Russians are developing the Syrian city of
Tartus to use as their naval military base, after the port had previously
been a mere ''gas station'' and maintenance facility for Russian ships.
So, what are Moscow's intentions? Is this a military move against NATO? Is
Moscow attempting to save Assad? Or is this all part of a plan to partition
Syria by transferring Assad and his regime to the coast and establishing an
Alawite state there?
In an article published on Wednesday in the Al-Hayat daily, Ibrahim Al-Hamidi
wrote a thorough analysis on the matter, but from a different perspective. He
said the plan by the Russians for military intervention does indeed aim to
save Assad—but not from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or the
armed Syrian opposition; instead the Russians are saving Assad from the his
main ally Iran.
Although Hamidi's point of view greatly disputes some of the givens
concerning the Iranian–Syrian relationship, his article is interesting and
important. Hamidi assumes that the Iranians want to move a weak Assad aside,
and that they are seeking political rapprochement with the United States,
which is currently engaged in an ongoing confrontation with the Russians over
the Ukrainian crisis.
Hamidi says there is a dispute between the Russians and the Iranians and that
Moscow opposes some of Tehran's Syrian projects, including their attempts to
achieve political and demographic change, something the Russian foreign
minister has termed ''social engineering.''
The Iranians have tried to swap the residents of two Shi'ite towns and
transfer them to Zabadani in Syria, emptying the latter of its Sunni
residents. However, I think the theory of Iranian domination is bogus if one
looks at things in terms of demographics. The Shi'ites in Syria are a very
small minority—just 5 percent—while the Sunnis account for around 80 percent
of the population (unlike the case in Iraq and Lebanon). This has been the
reason behind Iran's failure in Syria until today—the Iranian plan, which
pledged to restore the Assad regime to its former power pre-Syrian uprising,
has failed, despite the millions Tehran has spent on this.
Foreign powers came to Syria with plans that are difficult and perhaps
impossible to achieve, such as gathering enemies in one government. Another
plan, for example, would consider ISIS as the only enemy. A third plan
suggested dividing Syria and establishing an Alawite state—or one consisting
of minorities—along the Mediterranean coast.
Iran and Russia have for four years been attempting to implement one
plan—preserving Assad's rule. However, they are now realizing that this is an
impossible task, as Syria is no longer a united country with a sole army and
Enmity also increased against Assad because he is responsible for the murder
of around 250,000 of his own people. The easiest of plans would be to oust
him, but who would this favor? It will not be possible to task the armed
opposition with governing the country unless there is a regional
Arab–Iranian–Turkish consensus. The Syrian reality has become very difficult,
and it will become more complicated if it is indeed true that there is an
The Middle East will change after the nuclear agreement with Iran. Tehran may
swing politically towards the US in opposition to Russian policy.
Maybe this is why Putin wants to make a preemptive move in regard to this
change, by suggesting the solution itself: a political authority in Syria
that includes Assad and some opposition forces protected by Russian
forces—but without the commander of Iran's Quds Force Gen. Qassem Suleimani,
Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Hezbollah, and all the other
Shi'ite militias currently operating in Syria.
Al Rashed is the general manager of Al -Arabiya television. He is also the
former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al- Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly
magazine, Al Majalla. He is also a senior Columnist in the daily newspapers
of Al Madina and Al Bilad. He is a US post-graduate degree in mass
communications. He has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He
is currently based in Dubai.