No End of Worry: The Syrian Endgame

“Moscow is being drawn into new conflicts in the Near East” reads the title of an intriguing article by Vladimir Mukhin in tomorrow’s Nezavisimaya gazeta.

Just as the Americans are beginning to ramp up their military intervention in Afghanistan and to do so in closer coordination with Powers in the region, the Russians are grimly contemplating the troubling prospect that Syria after the civil war will give rise to additional sources of anxiety.

One needs to remember that the Russian embarcation in Syria was the result of a decision long delayed and much debated even on the eve of the intervention. Was there not a danger of another Afghanistan? How would the United States react? What would Turkey do? And what about Israel? As it turned out, and with the aid of the Iranians and indirectly the Turks, who hate the Kurds that wish to dismember Turkey, Assad’s régime has been granted another lease of life: at a price.

The Russians are helping themselves to one quarter of Syria’s oil and gas production to compensate for the costs of military support. So far so good. But the Iranians and their Lebanese friends in Hezbullah have every intention of making life difficult for Israel from missile-firing positions in south-western Syria once the conflict is over. And with the Kurds in Iraq going for statehood, the Turks are threatening military action to prevent Kurdestan from becoming a reality on their doorstep. Iran is none too happy either. American armaments convoys to the Kurds fighting to liberate Raqqa from Islamic fundamentalist ISIS have already upset President Erdoğan.

Thus in the last couple of days Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu rushed off to Moscow to warn the Russians not to let their allies threaten Israel from Syria on pain of pre-emptive military action. And US Secretary of Defense Mattis rushed off to Ankara to warn off the Turks from doing anything precipitate.

The entire region is a tangle of lethal complications.  Like it or not, the Russians are in the cross-hairs. Getting into Syria and helping Assad survive by bludgeoning his enemies to death was not that difficult. Getting out unscathed will be far more tricky.