Moscow and Tehran are making capital from President Barack Obama's withdrawal of US forces from the Middle East and his maneuvers for avoiding military involvement in its trouble spots. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have sent their aides to closely coordinate Russian and Iranian diplomatic and military steps there to further three shared goals:
– To generate a military and political environment conducive to President Bashar Assad and his clique holding on to power in Damascus.
– To open up diplomatic and military opportunities for Iran to enhance its defenses against a potential combined US-Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities or a go-it-alone Israeli strike.
– To exploit Russian and Iranian advantages in certain Arab capitals to promote special interests in those countries.
These shared guidelines do not promise complete overlap and concord between Moscow and Tehran, say DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources or that either side is totally committed to serving its partner’s interests. They are bound rather by a tacit understanding that, as long as this cooperation serves them both, they will keep going forward together, but will part company if either side feels its interests are in jeopardy.
Russian and Iran feel free to help Assad after US withdrawal
The onset of 2013 finds Russia and Iran in harness in three main areas:
Moscow and Tehran are winding up preparations In Syria and Lebanon for backing up the Syrian president’s impending staged all-out offensive against rebel forces. Their working assumption is that in the absence of US or other Western military intervention, Washington will be content with roundly condemning the offensive without taking any practical steps to stop it.
Nothing more is expected from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, especially Qatar and UAE, whose support for the Syrian rebels has hit rock bottom.
Turkey is too preoccupied with a desperate effort to re-stabilize its position among Middle East Kurds by negotiating peace with the Kurdish community to devote any attention to the Syrian crisis.
Putin and Khamenei agree that a swift, hard chop is not the most effective tactic for bringing the Syrian rebels to defeat – and not just because it risks changing President Obama’s mind about non-intervention – most unlikely, in the view of most Washington insiders – but because hitting them in stages has a better chance of bringing the rebels round to realizing that their struggle is pointless.
This realization would bring them up against three alternative choices: Either strengthen their hold on narrow areas that are still defensible and accessible to a supply of weapons; engage Assad in negotiations that don’t necessitate their total capitulation; or withdraw their forces altogether from Syria – an option rebel commanders are already discussing – especially the brigades affiliated to Al Qaeda.
Moscow opens door to Cairo as venue for Iranian nuclear diplomacy
The last thing the Russians and Iranians want is for Al Qaeda to exit Syria.
Tehran fears that jihadis moving back to Iraq would probably join up with Sunni elements fighting the pro-Iranian regime in Baghdad of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Moscow is afraid that the terrorists will make straight for the restive Caucasus, with Ankara turning a blind eye as they pass through Turkey.
Whereas the Russian-Iranian partnership in support of Bashar Assad is quite open, their moves for penetrating Egypt are less obvious – especially on the part of Moscow which insists on secrecy.
Wednesday, January 23, Iran proposed Cairo as a venue for restarting talks with the US and other world powers over its controversial nuclear program. The Iranian foreign minister said Egypt welcomed the Tehran initiative and is consulting about it with the six-nation group of negotiators – the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.
Russia has put its back behind the effort to persuade Washington and the Europeans to make Cairo the next venue for the Iranian-Six Power nuclear dialogue.
Michael Mann, a spokesman for European Union foreign executive Catherine Ashton, who is organizing the meeting, reacted by saying "We proposed concrete dates and a venue in December. Since then, we have been very surprised to see Iran come back to us again and again with new pre-conditions on the modalities of the talks, for example by changing the venue and delaying their responses."
Obama wants to keep Iran and Russia at arm’s length from Cairo
The Obama administration is far from keen on involving Egypt in nuclear diplomacy with Iran. Indeed, Washington is highly reluctant to open the field up to the Muslim Brotherhood or give the Russian-Iranian initiative traction as the two powers boosting President Mohamed Mors’s standing as an international figure.
Our sources in Washington say that officials in the National Security Council suspect Iran of acting to screen a sly Russian bid to regain influence in Cairo, 41 years after the Soviet Union was pushed out in 1972.
3. The Red Sea.
Saudi surveillance and spy planes are reported by DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military and intelligence sources to have noticed in the last two weeks not only an increase in Iranian weapons shipments to the northern Yemeni Houthi Shiite rebels, but Iranian vessels transferring hundreds of Houthi fighters across the Red Sea from Yemen to special bases built by the Iranian Al Qods Brigades in Eritrea.
There, they receive special training before being shipped back to northern Yemen armed with brand new weapons systems, including anti-aircraft and anti-tank rockets.
The Iranian warships securing this movement of Yemeni rebels belong to the Iranian Navy’s 24th Fleet, was originally posted in the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea for the stated purpose of fighting piracy.
Iran sets up Yemeni rebel bases in Eritrea
This week, the Saudis notified Washington that the warships of the Russian anti-piracy fleet are providing the Iranian warships with the intelligence data for eluding US and Western intelligence and surveillance systems operating in the Red Sea region.
Western military sources in the Horn of Africa confirmed this week that former Yemeni military officers, who deserted the Yemeni Republican Guard, are engaged in training Houthi rebels in the Sa'ada governorate. Tribal sources added that Houthi rebels have set up three training camps in the Sa'ada and Amran governorates and taking arms deliveries from Iran and Lebanon through Eritrea.