With Fall of Aleppo, will a Russo-Iranian Middle East challenge Trump?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

On Thursday, the Syrian government announced that the last of those who wanted to be evacuated from the East Aleppo pocket had been bused out, and that the Bashar al-Assad regime had reestablished complete control over the entire city of Aleppo.

Bashar al-Assad in his remarks on this development acknowledged that it was a triumph for his Iranian and Russian allies. Iran recruited Lebanon’s Hizbullah party-militia as well as several Shiite militias from Iraq, and also sent in some displaced Afghans resident in Iran. Russia gave intensive air support to the regime.

The result is a huge victory for Iran and the Russian Federation over their foes, the Sunni and Wahhabi powers of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, and over Turkey.

Turkey was in the position of the employee who angrily responds to being fired by saying, “You can’t fire me; I quit!” Turkey met with Russia and Iran this week in Moscow, in an effort to find a resolution to the Syrian civil war, which has killed some 400,000 people and displaced 11 million. But since Turkey’s main interests these days are in shutting down support abroad for separatist Kurds (the PKK), and making sure that the YPG leftist Syrian Kurds don’t become independent or even somewhat more autonomous, Turkey allowed the East Aleppo pocket to be recovered by the regime without two much fuss. Only the local Sunni Arabs had fought almost to the end.

It now appears that the Syrian rebels have no ability to overthrow the capital of Damascus, and that Syria will remain in the control of the one-pary Baath state.

The victory of Bashar al-Assad suits Iraq, ruled by the Shiite Da’wa Party. Although Da’wa, which provides the prime minister (Haydar al-Abadi) might ordinarily despise the secular, socialist Baath Party, both of them are allied against Sunni fundamentalism.

That al-Assad will stay also pleases Lebanon’s president, Michel Aoun, a Christian political ally of Syria and of the Hizbullah party-militia.

The Houthi-Ali Abdullah Saleh alliance in north Yemen is also cheered. They are fighting against Saudi Arabia’s attempt to impose itself on Yemen, including on its Shiite Zaydis.

Even Egypt under Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, which had been allied after the 2013 coup with Saudi Arabia, has jumped ship and given its support to al-Assad. The Saudis, who had paid Egypt billions in aid, where furious at being thus jilted. Al-Sisi has also developed good relations with Putin, who won’t pressure him over his authoritarian governing style or those silly human rights. Egypt is a strongly Sunni country and not by any means part of the so-called Shiite crescent, but it is backing al-Assad (which shows again the uselessness of the idea of a Shiite crescent Syrian secular Baathists aren’t ‘Shiites!’

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The losers aside from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar include Israel and Jordan, both of them heartily anti-Iran.

The Russo-Iranian Middle East would have been a challenge to President Obama’s vision of the area, but it isn’t clear that it would bother Trump. Trump has argued in the past for turning Syria over to the Russians.

The big contradiction here is that Trump has nominated extreme anti-Iran conspiracy theorists to his administration. Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis, appointed to Sec. of Defense, has suggested that Iran created Daesh (ISIS, ISIL), which is sort of like alleging that the papacy was and continues to be behind the Lutheran church.

Likewise incoming National Security Adviser Mike Flynn is a big anti-Iran figure.

So while Trump himself has indicated an ability to live with a Russo-Iranian Middle East, his cabinet will be made extremely upset by it.

25 Responses

  1. What does Iran have to offer Russia compared to what the United States can bring to the table? Maybe the long range plan is to woo the Russians away from Iran. Or maybe the thought is that where the Russians go Iran will follow.

    • Iran has the ability to destabilize the gulf region. An unstable gulf means higher oil prices and may make Europe turn to Russia for it’s oil.
      With an obliviously insane President Trump and Americas two failed wars in the region and Americas support of anything Israel does,Russia has a good chance to become an even greater power in the region.

  2. “Although Da’wa, which provides the prime minister (Haydar al-Abadi) might ordinarily despise the secular, socialist Baath Party, both of them are allied against Sunni fundamentalism.”

    Socialist Baath Party? Ooh! Rami Makhlouf better be careful that his cousin Bashar doesn’t expropriate him.

    • I’d guess 50% of the Syrian economy was in the public sector before the civil war and it is much higher now. Socialist India under Nehru had 25% of its economy in the public sector.

  3. I do not see the survival of Assad as bad as long as some end to most fighting occurs and ISIS and Sunni extremists are defeated. Shi’ites are not sending bombers abroad. The US should cooperate with Russia and Syria to aid in rebuilding and in repatriation of refugees.

  4. Despite the heart-rending pictures of families and children caught up in the fighting in Aleppo, I believe that the fall of the terrorists (or rebels) in Aleppo is a positive development that, if not to be celebrated, at least must be seen as the best of bad options. The Syrian civil war, helped by a massive influx of fighters and funds and weapons from outside, has lasted long enough and what most Syrian people want and deserve is a period of peace and stability. Wars, especially in built-up areas, are bloody and gruesome. The battle of Stalingrad was not pretty, nor was the “liberation” of Fallujah, nor will be the stalled liberation of Mosul. The lesson that we should learn from the calamity in Syria is that we should try to find peaceful solutions to national and international conflicts instead of invasion and regime change.

    I am not sure if the members of the incoming US Administration have learnt this lesson. John Bolton, a staunch enemy of Iran and friend of the Mojahedin terrorist group, believes that the only way to stop Iran’s bomb is to bomb Iran. Lt Gen. Michael Flynn believes that regime change in Tehran is the best way to stop Iran’s nuclear program, and that Iran was behind ISIS and Al Qaeda. Rep. Mike Pompeo, Trump’s pick for the CIA, says that Congress should kill the landmark nuclear deal with Iran, which first of all proved that Iran did not have a nuclear weapons program, and even its civilian nuclear program has been severely restricted for the next decade or more, and even later on as Iran agreed to join the Additional Protocol all its nuclear-related will come under strict IAEA inspection. link to youtu.be

    The problem with such officials is that their opposition to Iran is not based on any rational or even geopolitical arguments, but is simply an obsession and a phobia. There are many things wrong with Iran and with many states in the Middle East, but none of those problems can be resolved by military means and attempts at regime change. Indeed, given the chaos in the Middle East and the agreement between Iran and Turkey on Syria, which is a major step forward, the new US Administration should seek Iran’s help to create a regional security structure that will bring a period of stability to the Middle East, instead of constant violence and chaos.

    • the US invests heavily in maintaining turmoil in that region because some key players believe that is good for Israel.
      Has that changed ?

  5. All right, I disagree that Iran created Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) because Iran was fighting with Al-Assad regime against Daesh (ISIS, ISIL).

  6. If idiot savant President-elect doesn’t stir up enough trouble over there the hypernationalist megalomaniac in Ankara surely will.

    Çok yaşa Sultan Recep Tayyip!

  7. Three questions:

    1. Why has it taken so long to put together a successful coalition to stop all the killing?
    2. Would Syria be better off if the U.S. backed rebels had won? Which outcome would result in less carnage: Assad or US backed rebels?
    3. Assad is apparently guilty of war crimes, and I should despise him for it. Given that the war in Syria is largely caused by global warming, how should I feel about people who drive SUVs and leave a heavy carbon footprint? Who is responsible for more death and destruction?

    • There are no war crimes anymore. There are no human rights anymore. Name the power that would enforce anything? If not Russia or the USA, the surely not China, India, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Japan, or Iran.

      In the blink of an eye, it’s as if World War 2 never happened, as if nothing had been learned, as if there are now no constraints on any country’s military action except other countries’ military actions, with no one being sure who will be on whose side until the shooting starts.

  8. Erdogan is stuck between a rock and a hard place. If turkey wants to be part of a solution they will have to talk with Assad, not Iran or Russia.

    • I might be mistaken, but I think Erdogan is going to have to talk to Russia and (maybe) Iran first in order to be able to talk to Assad.

      • And why is that? Assad must go, we went in to Syria to topple Assad and none recognition of Assad and his government are Erdogan follies not Russians. It is his crow to eat and all the vodka and saffron in the world is not going to change that.

  9. Whatever the rhetoric, Iran is historically, culturally, linguistically more inclined towards the West, but the West has persistently derailed that inclination since the mid-fifties. Reading the head shaking outbursts of huffing and puffing following Obama’s abstention from the recent UN vote on Israeli settlements it is not hard to see they share the same blind irrationality. Iran cannot, any more than Syria, avoid its geographical location and common sense would have it wooed rather than driven from the door. The worthy achievements of the nuclear deal could have led to a new beginning, instead it may be less a question of a Russo-Iranian challenge to Trump than Trump challenging Iran, something neither Russia nor China would be likely to take lying down.

  10. “So while Trump himself has indicated an ability to live with a Russo-Iranian Middle East, his cabinet will be made extremely upset by it”

    The conclusion is too simplistic. Israel developing ‘bunker-busting’ weapons (to blow up Fordo nuclear complex in Iran, there is no other reason for Israel to possess these offensive weapons) plays in this business and Trump not only solidly backs Netanyahu but has promised to ‘tear up’ the nuclear deal with Iran. What we’re looking at is a Trump with a schizophrenic message; essentially Trump believes he can patch things up with Russia and in the same moment put the screws to Iran. It won’t fly with Putin, and I expect any thaw with Russia will not be long lived.

    The likely coming Trump camp ploy is classic Kissinger, offer geopolitical concession (delayed back-stab, actually) to Russia with relaxing the NATO build-up elsewhere and peel off and isolate Iran (with the ayatollahs marked for extinction as a political force in the region.) It won’t fly, Putin is no Yeltsen (who once arrived in the USA so drunk, he never got off his plane and flew back to Russia) and will clearly decide the USA bargaining tender is worthless currency (cannot be trusted.)

    Behind all of the ‘make nice’ sounds coming from Putin, the background noise from his ministries has been consistently ‘we’ll wait and see.’

      • Sure, Fordo is ‘sort of’ on ice for the moment (now a nuclear research center for ‘peaceful’ purposes with inspector access) but that doesn’t deter Bibi for one minute. When/if Trump does what Netanyahu wants (and Trump has said he will do) and tears up the agreement, then what? Netanyahu has maintained all along the facilities remain a threat and they are Iran’s best protected. With Russia’s late delivery of the S-300 SAM system, Iran made a point of deploying those protective missiles at Fordo. Why do you suppose is that? The Ayatollahs have maintained all along, no deal, no compliance.

    • Israel has not developed any non-nuclear “bunker busting” bombs because it does not have the lift capability to deliver them to Iran.

      In fact, Israel has no capacity to attack Iran using conventional weapons in any significant way and if it tried, it could lose as much as half its air force. Iran has a very deadly multi-layer air defense system that can even take out USA B-52 and B-2 and USA cruise missiles, so knocking Israelis aircraft from the sky would be easy.

      Why do you think Israel has never tried to attack Iran? The reason is the IDF leadership sat Bibi down and whacked him up side the head with actual FACTS and told him to shut his mouth. This is why Bibi wants the USA to attack Iran, so it is the USA losing lots of aircraft and military.

      BTW – ALL the USA/Iran war simulations done by the USA so far, show the USA losing badly. A USA war with Iran would bankrupt the USA and get tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of Americans killed.

      Although the USA politicians are full of delusional hubris, the USA military leadership appears to understand just how dangerous to the USA picking a fight with Iran could be.

      • “Israel has not developed any non-nuclear “bunker busting” bombs because it does not have the lift capability to deliver them to Iran”

        Have a read @

        israelnationalnews *dot* com/News/News.aspx/153745

        “Israel has developed and tested its own bunker buster bomb, that has been described as “a very credible military option,” to use against Iran”

        The article is from 2012. Not surprising with the USA dragging its feet delivering the GU 28 to Israel (some sources claim in fact the USA has delivered bunker busters but the Israelis have to work out Saudi cooperation to make the necessary sorties… Bibi is certainly crazy enough)

        • Non nuclear “bunker busters” have to rely on kinetic energy and very large explosive packages to make any meaningful dent in hundreds of feet of earth. The bombs have to have VERY LARGE mass (weight for non-scientific folk) and thousands of pounds of shaped High Explosives. This means only a very large, high-lift aircraft like a USA B-52 can carry a “bunker buster.”

          Israel does NOT have any large aircraft other than some aging re-fuelers and some medium cargo aircraft. None of the fighter aircraft can carry a “bunker buster.”

          Note that ALL of the Israeli aircraft have very little hope of surviving long enough to get to Iran since Iran has Russian S-300 and their own clones of the Russian S-400 (even more deadly). In addition, Iran has two other layers of anti-aircraft defenses. Attacking Iran by air is a very dangerous “adventure” that the IDF and USAF leadership fear.

          The article is just more technology BS from the popular press where writers do NOT have even a high school understanding of physics and vastly over-hype the stuff they write. As a technologist that has helped invent some of the stuff they write about, I am well aware just how BAD most writers are when it comes to technology.

          Sure, Israel can attack Iran, BUT they will lose a lot of aircraft and pilots in the process.

          Israel (like the USA) has wasted lots of money on high-tech toys, whereas Iran has carefully studied both countries and developed defensive technology that will make all those high-tech war toys fail. Given how cheap very advanced technology is today, it does not cost very much to make weapons that will defeat the USA/Israel.

          BTW – Although the Saudis might want to help Israel, they are well aware just how vulnerable they are to counter attacks from Iran. Iran has the capability to easily destroy ALL of Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure, stopping most oil exports from KSA. Oil infrastructure is ALL hand built by experts that are in very short supply and there is no infrastructure just sitting around as back-up. If Israel attacks and Iran retaliates against KSA, KSA will be out of business for at least 6 months if not many years.

        • For spy guy, the F-15 can deliver a 5,000 lb GBU 28 bomb. The Iranian air force is not yet where it’d like to be, but sure, the Russian S-300 system is a real beast. But where you fail is over-estimating the common sense of morons like Netanyahu and his newest bosom buddy, Trump, surrounded with Iran haters full of hubris in his so-called ‘national security’ team. Will leave it here.

  11. I think with all the foundations of the old international order shaking, and right-wing ethnonationalist strongmen rising everywhere, there is about to be a major betrayal in alignments. These strongmen are increasingly the CEOs of corporations in practice. They can be bought.

    And when I look around, I see the Palestinians are the ones who have the least money. For example, if Putin puts his business first, he will value his deals with rich countries over those with poor countries. If he and the Saudis – who have announced that they are remaking themselves as a neoliberal corporate state – can miraculously reach a stable oil production quota, both might betray any ties to the Palestinians (Russia as a state wooing the Arab republics, Saudi Arabia as the defender of Islam). Then Israel gets the green light from them (and the US of course) to eradicate the West Bank and Gaza, and the fatcats live happily ever after. Iran is hardly in a position to stand against a betrayal of that scope, and Iranians are tired of fighting other peoples’ battles. Israel and Russia might be good partners in corruption and bigotry, sharing many citizens with ties to both lands.

    I don’t think it would actually be as simple as that, but it’s an example of the kind of thinking we’re about to see. You think this is shocking, wait’ll you see Europe get torn apart and returned to its normal state of warfare.

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