On Thursday, Value Walk detailed the Iranian buildup, centered in Syria’s Latakia province. It noted that Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the chairman of the Iranian Committee of Foreign Policy and National Security publicly declared that the country’s troops were prepared to respond to a request for assistance from Syria. This represents a clear break with Iran’s previous approach to its intervention, which had been largely secretive, with Tehran acknowledging only the presence of IRGC advisers.
Value Walk acknowledged the longstanding Iranian role but downplayed the prospect for a major Iranian offensive in the short term. The article claimed that the new Russian airstrikes complicate the situation for troops on the ground. But this view may depend on underestimation of the level of coordination among Russian, Iranian, and Syrian forces. The air strikes themselves appear to be an outgrowth of general expansion in this coordination. They were immediately preceded by plans for broad-based intelligence sharing among the three powers and Iraq, where Iran is also playing a strong role in the sectarian warfare.
The Daily Beast reported upon the overall status of Iranian-Russian coordination on Thursday, confirming that those parties are more closely aligned than they have been throughout their mutual support of the Assad regime. It was reportedly IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani who played a leading role in convincing Russia to intervene. And those efforts were so successful that the Daily Beast is now reporting on the possibility of Russian troops on the ground, in addition to air support.
If these troops proved to be part of the same offensive as the newly deployed Iranian fighters, it would certainly diminish any lingering expectations that the air cover would complicate the situation on the ground. Explicit coordination would be a foregone conclusion.
Western analysts and policymakers are generally looking upon that coordination as grounds for skepticism about Russia’s claims that its military contributions are mainly targeting ISIL. Syrian rebels and their Western backers were quick to point out that the vast majority of the initial strikes were on those moderate groups and not on ISIL. Indeed, the Daily Beast notes that ISIL may have even taken advantage of the airstrikes in order to strengthen their positions in Aleppo, the very site of the prospective Iranian-led military offensive.
Iranian-Russian coordination may thus be strengthening both the Assad regime and ISIL, both of which outcomes cut against Western interests in the region. What’s more, that coordination points to general concerns about the possible ability of large-scale Asian and Middle Eastern alliances to contest US and European global power. These concerns have certainly been invigorated by instances of collaboration between Iran and Russia, but also by indications of an alliance between those two parties and China.
On Thursday, Reuters reported that Chinese Admiral Sun Jianguo had visited with Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehqan and had articulated his country’s continued interest in defense cooperation with the Islamic Republic. This cooperation has already begun, as evidenced by last year’s unprecedented joint Iranian-Chinese naval operations in the Persian Gulf. If it expands further in the wake of the latest meeting in Tehran, it stands to contribute to the strength of both Iranian and Russian military interests in the broader Middle East.
Naturally, staunch opponents of the Iranian regime are pushing for the West to confront the growth of Iranian influence that is evinced by its relations with Russia and China. The Obama administration has structured much of its foreign policy around attempts to extricate the US from dangerous entanglements in the Middle East, and this has arguably led it to legitimize Iran as an alternative force for stabilization of regional conflicts.
But the National Council of Resistance of Iran reiterated its claim on Thursday that the eviction of Iran from Syria is a prerequisite for any lasting solution to the current crisis. The NCRI specifically took issue with plans for the Munich Security Conference to be held in Tehran on Saturday, a move that could be seen as encouraging Iran to play an increasingly strong role in conflicts that affect the interests of Western nations.