Iran’s Syrian Win Strengthens Its Position at Nuclear Talks

On Wednesday, March 14, Russia’s Kommersant daily ran an exclusive report purporting that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had on Monday, March 12 asked Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to convey to Tehran a warning that the coming talks with the big powers was its “last chance” for a diplomatic resolution of the controversy over its nuclear program. After that, the way was clear to a military strike.
She is said by the paper to have approached Lavrov for this service in the absence of US diplomatic ties with Iran.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in Washington say that whatever passed between the American and Russian officials it was not quite as presented by Kommersant – or its Russian sources. They were clearly intent on underlining for Tehran that Moscow remains its only viable bridge to Washington as well as the conservative Arab world, and they should build on their fruitful cooperation for saving Bashar Assad, for more shared successes in the region at America’s expense.
The message going out to Washington from this report was that backing the winning horse in Damascus had substantially empowered the Russian-Tehran partnership as well as the pro-Iranian bloc embracing Assad’s Syria, the Lebanese Hizballah and the radical Palestinians of the Gaza Strip.
Not too long ago, Western officials, media and think tanks were eulogizing Assad as well as the Syrian-Iranian strategic bond, predicting Tehran would soon find itself fatally cut off from direct access to its surrogates in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, especially the Palestinian Jihad Islami. (See the next article on the consequences of this week’s Gaza showdown.)
Assad’s survival now calls for some radical rethinking.

Russian-Iranian military, intelligence, weapons, financial aid poured in

It was accomplished thanks to massive Russian and Iranian backing. In the diplomatic arena, Russia grappled successfully with the US, Europe and the conservative Arab world to fend off military intervention that might have tipped the scales against the Syria ruler.
Both Russia and Iran were deeply involved in fieldwork for helping Assad win his bloody, no-holds-barred battle to suppress civilian and armed resistance.
Iran sent him thousands of military, intelligence and security strategists and riot dispersal experts for guidance in cracking down on the restive cities; cyber warfare whiz kids enhanced the work of Syrian security and intelligence services.
Equally important, Tehran infused more than two billion dollars into the Syrian treasury emptied by Western sanctions, and a steady supply of weapons, ammunition and crowd dispersal gear.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence and Iranian sources add that the Islamic Republic took upon itself the management of Syria’s military as well as its economy. Although enduring hard times itself, Tehran never once in the year-long conflict failed to respond at once to a financial Mayday call from Damascus.
Iranian financial and banking agents acted for Syria in overseas transactions. Tehran arranged for Syrian oil to reach buyers, putting to work the sanctions-busting measures it had developed to overcome the sanctions imposed on Iran itself by the US, Europe and Arab countries.

High-level Iranian-Russian coordination

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei put two top officials in charge of the Save Assad mission and the cementing of Iranian-Syrian ties: Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi and Al-Qods Brigades’ commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
The pair operated in close sync both with the Syrian leadership and their Russian colleagues, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Foreign Intelligence Service chief Mikhail Fradkov and Mikhail Margelov, the Kremlin’s ambassador-at-large in Arabia, whose formal title is Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Federation Council of the Russian Federation.
The Russian-Iranian rescue plan for Assad and its success produced five strategic consequences:
1. Syria was saved from US and European intervention. While the Russians handled the diplomatic and intelligence side of the project, the Iranians were on the front line in Syria against US, French and British covert operations.
Iranian agents and special operations units disabled the Western logistical intelligence network in beleaguered Homs and helped Syrian intelligence block Syrian rebel arms smuggling routes incoming from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
So while the Obama administration was working through Moscow to bring Iran to the negotiating table with the Six Powers on its nuclear program, Russian and Iranian clandestine agencies were busy working together in Syria to undercut US and Western positions.

A stronger hand at the nuclear negotiating table

2. After proving its mettle in Syria, Iran comes to the negotiating table much strengthened, a far cry from the enfeebled and dysfunctional state which the Obama administration had hoped to achieve by the pressures of stiff economic sanctions.
3. Not only has the West been driven out of positions of influence in Syria, but Assad’s foes in the region, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, in particular, have taken a knock. Iran pulled off its tit-for-tat for last year’s Saudi-GCC military operation stemming Iranian influence in Bahrain by thwarting their anti-Assad operations in Damascus – except that Syria’s importance and centrality to the next Middle East developments far outweigh Bahrain’s.
4. Iran has massively boosted its leverage in Baghdad. If anyone in Washington or Riyadh had counted on Assad’s downfall counter-balancing Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s pro-Iranian policy and persuading him to lean more on Turkey, this hope is now buried.
5. The Assad regime’s assured survival for the near future lifts Hassan Nasrallah and his Hizballah out of the uncertainty bedeviling him in the past year.
Far from abandoning the Iranian and Syrian ships and going over to pro-Western Arab patrons and bankrollers as reported prematurely in the West and Israel, the Palestinian Hamas was in no hurry to change horses. Its leaders’ decision to stick with Tehran was clinched by the success of Iran’s allies in their clashes with Israeli forces this week. (More about this in a separate article.)

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