What are Russia and Iran Really Doing in Syria?


Published June 21, 2012 on the Absurd Report

As the situation in Syria continues to deteriorate, as Kofi Annan’s “peace plan” becomes more and more of a running joke, as Russia is accused by our own Secretary of State of shipping attack helicopters to the regime of Bashar al-Assad, and as the eyes of the world focus on the ongoing humanitarian crisis it might seem a small thing to ask “Why?”

Not “Why are the rebels in Syria fighting at all?” Based on the behavior of Assad, which can be likened to the regime of Saddam Hussein, the answer to that question would appear pretty self-evident.

No, the right questions should be more along the lines of “Why is Russia supporting Assad? What are they getting out of it?” Gaining port facilities in the Mediterranean for their naval forces seems to be the answer. Affirming support for the Assad regime would help solidify the agreement between Russia and Syria which would offer Russia a long desired port facility for a part of its fleet based in the Mediterranean Sea. Which, all things considered, would make providing a few helicopters a rather small price to pay for something that the Russians have wanted for decades, if not centuries.

Russia is almost land-locked; a salt water port that is not subject to the freezing temperatures of Russia’s Siberian territories has long been a Russian goal, going back to the time of the Czars.

Evidence suggests, though, that there is another player working in concert with the Russians for their own reasons.

Syria has long been essentially a client/vassal state of Iran. Iran and Russia have cooperated closely on the Iranian nuclear weapons program, with Russia even building a nuclear reactor for the Iranians. There have been reports of Iranian Revolutionary Guards troops on the ground in Syria aiding the Assad regime in its attacks on the rebels and any civilians who are unlucky enough to be within the range of Assad’s bombs, missiles and artillery shells.

But why would Iran and Russia work together at all? During the Iranian revolution, the United States was invariably called the “Great Satan”. Often forgotten is that fact that in nearly the same breath, the mullahs referred to (what was then) the Soviet Union, as the “Lesser Satan”.

Don’t see a whole lot of love there, now do you?

Russia is not wildly fond of Muslims of any flavor. Their misadventures in Afghanistan are well known, and the treatment of their own Chechen minorities hasn’t been the model of diversity so encouraged by European and American Progressives. Of course Russia also has something of a history in the way it has treated Jews, whether internally, or in supplying weapons to Arab states for their drive to destroy Israel. So it seems that they have an overall relationship problem with everyone in the Middle East.

Not a lot of love going in that direction, either.

Not that anyone should expect that. After all, Henry Kissinger summed up reality rather neatly when he said, “Nations don’t have friends, they have interests.”

Russia has an interest in a warm water port.

Syria, or more accurately Bashar al-Assad, has an interest in retaining power.

But what about Iran? What is their national interest in keeping the turmoil in Syria from being resolved? They are supplying arms to the Syrian military, as well as manpower in the form of Revolutionary Guards. With economic sanctions being imposed by the United States and Europe, the strain on the Iranian economy can only be made worse by funding such an undertaking. Could Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, be such a religious fanatic that this answers some need for jihad – against anyone?

Or could it be more geopolitically motivated?

If Iran and Russia are working in concert to ultimately divide the spoils of the Middle East between them, similar to what Hitler and Stalin planned to do with Eastern Europe when they signed their non-aggression pact, then both nations could satisfy the need they have to feel dominant in their hegemonic spheres of influence.

The idea that Russia and Iran have some sort of secret non-aggression pact flies in the face of the fact that Russians have long memories, and they know how the last non-aggression pact they signed worked out for them with Hitler. But a partnership of convenience might be a reasonable assumption, with Russia acting as a stalking horse for Iran.

Russia gets its much desired warm water port, and Iran gets a major distraction. Not that Iran itself would be distracted, but rather the Syrian calamity would certainly act as a distraction from Iran’s own activities, be they related to nuclear weapons or the development of their plans for a Middle East hegemony over Arab nations with Sunni majorities. And Russian activity helps Iran avoid even more international scrutiny. Iran can always point the finger at Russia for supplying more lethal equipment for Assad’s forces while professing disinterest in the situation.

For Iran, it appears that the uproar in Syria might be nothing more than using the old magician’s trick of doing something obvious with his left had while actually doing something completely different, and hidden, with his right.

Perhaps there is another explanation for the actions of these seemingly unallied nations to act in concert to maintain the upheaval in Syria. Perhaps. All we can do is hope that our State and Defense Departments are metaphorically watching both of Iran’s hands while they are on the stage. Surprises are fine when you’re being entertained by a magician. When you’re dealing with a nation that is trying desperately to break into the nuclear arms club, surprises aren’t so much fun.

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About Jim Yardley

Retired after 30 years as a financial controller for a variety of manufacturing firms, a two-tour Vietnam veteran, and independent voter.
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