Iran Wants Clear Russian Answers for Wrecking Trump’s Mid East Plans
On Wednesday, May 24, a day after Air Force One lifted President Donald Trump and his party out of Israel and the Middle East, Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, landed in Moscow on an urgent mission on behalf of his master, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
He informed his Russian hosts that, in Tehran’s estimate, the United States and Iran are fast approaching a critical showdown over control of the Syrian-Iraqi border region, DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources report.
The Iranian evaluation is close to that of the US Pentagon.
All the parties concerned understand that the forces fielded in Syria’s most dynamic war arena today are not concerned with the war on terror or an effort to drive the Islamic State out of its Syrian capital, Raqqa, but fully engaged in the coming battle for a highly strategic border region in southeastern Syria.
Ali Shamkhani, an ex-admiral and former head of the Iranian Navy, takes no part in Tehran’s political infighting and is well accepted by all its factions, including the Revolutionary Guards. One of the supreme leader’s closest confidants, he is ironically the only member of Shiite’s top leadership who is of Arab descent and a Sunni Muslim. As an expert on the wars of recent years in Iraq and Syria, he is also well-liked by President Bashar Assad.
On his arrival in Moscow, the former admiral whipped out three questions for the Kremlin:
1. What military and intelligence back-up will Russia provide if American and pro-Iranian forces engage in battle?
The suspicion has grown in Tehran that US military activities along Syria’s borders with Iraq and Jordan in the last two weeks are but the opening shot for a more ambitious plan, which is to overrun Syria and upend the military gains made by the Assad regime with the aid of its foreign allies. Iran’s worries were aggravated by the two US air strikes last Friday and Tuesday, May 23, which targeted two Syrian and Iranian-directed convoys in southern Syria.
2. Will Moscow guarantee support for an open land bridge between Iran and Iraq to Syria in all possible circumstances? This would mean making sure that parts of the Syrian-Iraqi border are retained under Iranian or Russian control.
3. What response is the Kremlin preparing to counter the Sunni NATO-Israel alliance for which President Trump laid the foundations during his trips to Saudi Arabia and Israel this week?
The Kremlin undoubtedly informed Shamkhani that his questions require careful thought before they can be answered. They clearly confront President Vladimir Putin with three tough dilemmas:
a) It is hard to see him letting Russian elite troops engage in direct warfare armed combat with American special forces.
b) He is more likely to authorize a Russian military operation limited to targeting local US- or Jordanian-backed forces, such as the US-trained Free Syrian Army or the Maghaweer Al Thawra Army Commandos of the Revolution, another American-backed force which controls the desert hills between the Syrian-Iraqi Al-Tanf border crossing and rural Deir Ez-Zor.
c) He will have to decide where to draw the line on the Russian army’s support for the pro-Iranian Iraqi militias poised to take on the American and allied Western special forces operating in the region.
Until now, he only permitted Russian participation in joint operations against Syrian rebel groups inside Syria, provided they were at a distance from American-led forces. But now he must decide whether to take this further and deploy the Russian Air Force in support of his allies.
Putin’s decisions on these points will not only affect the outcome of the battle for the Syrian-Iraqi border, but also impinge strongly on Moscow’s policy positions with regard to Iran and the Middle East at large.