Tehran sees all its Middle East gains in the years of the Obama administration going to pot, because President Vladimir Putin, influenced by the imminent change of presidents in the White House, has sharply changed course. President Tayyip Erdogan is now the favorite ally at Iran’s expense, whereas Tehran is being cut out of premier status in the affairs of Syria and Iraq.
Iran’s clerical rulers got an unpleasant jolt when on Monday, Jan. 9, they heard Erdogan stressing that he was hopeful of “better Turkey-US relations under the Trump administration.”
Speaking in Ankara at a meeting of his country’s ambassadors, he said: “I believe we will accelerate dialogue when Mr. Trump takes office. I believe we will reach a consensus with Mr. Trump, particularly on regional issues.”
But it is Putin’s worrisome pivot away from the recently solid Russian-Iranian-Syrian alliance that is causing sleepless nights in Tehran, as they watch a series of moves highlighted here by DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources:
- The Russian diplomats and military officers, who negotiated the Syrian rebels’ evacuation from Aleppo after its fall and the ceasefire that followed, were under orders from the Kremlin to shut the door to Iranian participants.
- The same directive went out from the Kremlin this week to the Russian Foreign Ministry staff who are preparing the Syrian peace conference scheduled to convene at Astana, Kazakhstan, on Jan 23. Tehran was once again pushed to the sidelines.
- Moscow turned down a request from Tehran to stage victory celebrations in Aleppo after the defeat of the Syrian rebels, and a grand military parade in Damascus of the victorious Russian, Syrian and Iranian combat units.
- Russian officers in Syria have asked their Iranian counterparts to pass on a request to their supreme commander, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, to stop having himself photographed on Syrian front lines and circulating the footage.
- Moscow has asked Tehran to remove from Aleppo the pro-Iranian Shiite militias, which fought with the Assad regime’s forces, including the Afghan and Pakistani forces.
- The Lebanese Hizballah forces which took part in the fighting for Aleppo were asked to leave the town and withdraw to their bases 10km away.
- Moscow acceded to the Turkish request to recognize the Syrian Sunni militias sponsored by Ankara, even though some are linked to the Islamic State and the Nusra Front. Russian forces promised to stop striking the powerful Islamist Ahrar al-Sham.
These organizations, like anti-Assad Free Syrian Army, are armed and trained – and some also fight – as proxies of the Turkish army of occupation in northern Syria.
- Our intelligence sources also reveal a secret agreement reached by Moscow and Ankara last week for giving Turkey a military foothold in Iraq as well as Syria. Up until now, this issue was under discussion with Washington and left up in the air. But since the Russians took over, it has been resolved through direct dialogue between Ankara and Moscow. Their officers sat down and pinpointed Turkish troop locations on maps. One is the Bashiqa camp near Mosul.
Saturday, Dec. 31, Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi claimed an agreement had been reached for Turkish forces to pull out of Bashiqa.
DEBKA Weekly’s sources confirm that they are still very much there, having acquired a Russian umbrella.
This step is perceived in Tehran as blatantly hostile to Iranian interests and aimed at preventing the Iraqi Shiite militias from setting foot in Mosul. Indeed, the view as seen from Tehran shows the Russians engaged in a multilayered drive to shut the door against Iranian access to Mosul as well as removing their footprint from Aleppo.