Iran, Russia’s Role in Fall of Daesh ‘Instrumental’: Analyst
TEHRAN (Tasnim) – A Moscow-based political commentator said both Iran and Russia played an “instrumental” role in putting an end to the self-proclaimed caliphate of Daesh terrorists in Iraq and Syria.
“Both multipolar Great Powers were instrumental in defeating Daesh, with each one contributing in a different – albeit equally important – capacity. Iranian forces were invited into the Arab Republic since the early days of the anti-terrorist campaign, and they’ve played a crucial role in helping the Syrian Arab Army in all manner of operations. Moreover, Iran’s Lebanese ally Hezbollah was also invited into the country where they fought and were martyred alongside their Syrian and Iranian comrades. Russia, on the other hand, was a relative late-comer to the war in the conventional sense, seeing as how its involvement didn’t take place until over two years ago at the end of September 2015, but Moscow was able to devote air support to the battlespace in decisively turning the tide of the entire campaign,” Andrew Korybko, a political analyst at the Moscow-based Geopolitika.Ru think tank, told the Tasnim News Agency.
Following is the full text of the interview:
Tasnim: On Sunday, the Syrian army and its allies seized full control of Al-Bukamal, Daesh’s (ISIL) last significant stronghold in Syria. The army had declared victory over Daesh in Bukamal earlier this month but the terrorists then staged a counter-attack using sleeper cells hidden in the town, but it was retaken in another major offensive. What’s your take on this?
Korybko: The conventional phase of Syria’s War on Terror is fast winding down in that Daesh’s “army”-like capacities are almost fully destroyed, but the much more common unconventional phase of this terrorist conflict will probably resume and continue for the foreseeable future. What’s meant by that is that terrorism usually doesn’t take conventional forms like the one that Daesh did in utilizing military vehicles and formations, and attempting to construct a so-called “state” (“Caliphate”), but is rather more popularly known for resembling seemingly random acts of violence against civilians and possibly even an “insurgency”. Therefore, it can be ascertained that Daesh will disperse from its “state”-like conventional composition (which is ironically unconventional for any terrorist organization) to a more unconventional one, signifying that “sleeper cells” will become more prevalent in staging attacks “behind the lines” against both soft and hard targets.
Al-Bukamal is but the latest example of Daesh’s “decentralization” trend in “going back to its roots”, remembering that its form over the past couple of years was something very “revolutionary” in being the first time that a Mideast terrorist organization took on the visible contours of a “state”, though this in and of itself isn’t unprecedented per se because it had already happened in Somalia with the “Islamic Courts Union” and Mali with “Ansar Dine”. In any case, the continued security challenges that these two African states are still experiencing after the fall of their respective “caliphates” (even if they were never “formally” declared as such) provides a model for predicting the problems that Syria will in all likelihood experience after the defeat of Daesh, as terrorism’s more stereotypically unconventional form resurfaces and asymmetrical threats multiply as a result.
Tasnim: Major General Qassem Soleimani, who commands the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), on Tuesday declared the collapse of the Takfiri terror group in Iraq and Syria. What’s your prediction for the region in the post-Daesh era?
Korybko: As touched upon in the previous answer, Daesh and other terrorist groups like it will probably “decentralize” in posing more stereotypical threats, though their forthcoming attacks will probably be reported on by the West as representing an “insurgency” and not the terrorism that they truly are. The other foreseeable challenge is that the Kurdish issue will continue to simmer, despite Baghdad’s flawless Iranian-backed operation in liberating Kirkuk and Erbil’s subsequent recognition of the Supreme Court’s ruling that their unilateral secessionist vote was illegal. There are also unresolved issues relating to the Syrian Kurds as well, seeing as how they unilaterally proclaimed a so-called “federation” in the American-occupied portions of northeastern Syria presently under their control in spite of this contravening the constitutional unity of their state and de-facto amounting to an internal partition.
Altogether, the prevailing theme uniting the Daesh and Kurdish threats to Syria and Iraq’s territorial integrity and security is that each country will have to work very hard in (re)crafting an inclusive patriotism in their identity-diverse states in order to preserve national unity. Syrians used to be more united than Iraqis in that they almost always considered themselves as Syrians first and whatever their respective sub-national identity may be as second, but nearly 7 years of non-stop physical and especially information war has fractured part of this erstwhile unified identity into a constellation of sub-state “nationalisms” (e.g. Sunni, Shiite, Kurd, Alawite, Druze, Christian, etc.). Iraq is in a much worse position because it’s been victimized by this externally provoked fragmentation process for twice as long ever since 2003, but the point to emphasize is that neither state’s de-facto partition is inevitable.
So long as their citizens feel and function as constituent members of society, then the centrifugal trend can be counteracted and stability enduringly resorted, but this requires an inclusive patriotism that builds upon each country’s identity diversity in (re)crafting a cohesive national narrative (“feeling” like a member of society) and providing realistic opportunities to the population (jobs so that one “functions” as a member of society). To reiterate, this is much easier for Syria to do than Iraq, partly for historical-“ideological” reasons because of the former’s more effective governance under its national version of the Baath Party, but this task must nevertheless be undertaken and regularly maintained by both states in order to defend against any emerging Hybrid War threats that may arise in the post-Daesh period.
Tasnim: The Secretary General of the Lebanese Hezbollah resistance movement said late on Monday that despite the US claims about fighting terrorism, it spared no effort to help Daesh forces in Bukamal. “The US helped Daesh as much as it could in Bukamal short of directly engaging forces that fought to liberate the town from Daesh,” the Hezbollah leader said. What are your thoughts on this?
Korybko: Secretary General Nasrallah is correct in his assessment, as always, because it’s become glaringly obvious that the US is now desperate enough to openly assist Daesh and other terrorist groups in Syria despite the self-inflicted damage that this wreaks to its own soft power. Washington invested untold sums of money into these organizations, and it doesn’t want to see them completely destroyed because that would represent a major strategic failure of its Mideast policy for dividing and ruling the region through “Blood Borders”. Since none of its proxies are capable of defeating the Syrian Arab Army and its allies, the US mission has now shifted to having them become deadly spoilers who prolong their inevitable defeat by making Damascus’ victory as costly as possible in terms of lives and treasure. Eventually, some of these terrorists will be evacuated from the battlefield – and already have in some cases – so that they can be redeployed elsewhere in the future, whether as “sleeper cells”, military and bomb-making trainers, online propagandists, or whatever other purpose their controllers decide for them.
Tasnim: Russian President Vladimir Putin will host his Iranian and Turkish counterparts Hassan Rouhani and Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Nov. 22 for summit talks on the ongoing conflict in Syria and other regional developments. It seems that all these have been arranged in advance and that an important decision is going to be taken by Russia, Iran, Turkey, Syria and Qatar. What do you think?
Korybko: The Tripartite Meeting between the leaders of each multipolar state that’s taking place after the defeat of Daesh represents a Mideast Concert of Great Powers modeled off of its 19th-century European predecessor that was formed following the fall of Napoleon. All three partner states will expectedly discuss the post-conflict futures of Syria and Iraq, and they’ll likely try to make some degree of political progress in advancing UNSC Res. 2254’s mandate for revising Syria’s constitution and holding new elections. Noticeably absent from the table, however, is Saudi Arabia, which played a leading role in destabilizing these two countries and without which it is impossible to sustain a stable solution to these two countries’ externally provoked crises.
That doesn’t mean that Saudi Arabia isn’t kept in the loop on the Tripartite’s developments, however, since the recent Russian-Saudi rapprochement suggests that Moscow is maintaining regular contact with Riyadh in order to hash out a behind-the-scenes deal for the Kingdom’s “face-saving” strategic withdrawal from this theater. Crown Prince and de-facto Saudi ruler Mohammed Bin Salman’s impulsive nature has seen him embroil his country in unnecessary conflicts all across its periphery, with Yemen being by far the deadliest, Qatar the most useless, and Lebanon the most recent. There is no way that Saudi Arabia can realistically afford to continue its destabilizing efforts in Syria and Iraq, especially amidst low oil prices and royalist coup drama at home, hence the window of opportunity that Russia has for tacitly incorporating Saudi Arabia into a grand political solution.
Bearing this backdrop in mind, the Concert of Mideast Great Powers that will take place when the Tripartite meets in Sochi will form the basis for deciding Syria and Iraq’s future post-conflict trajectories, but whatever plans they come up with will be incomplete without Saudi Arabia in some way or another implicitly agreeing to at the very least not obstruct their peacemaking designs, which is becoming all the more probable for the aforementioned reasons of the Kingdom’s many unnecessary strategic quagmires. It shouldn’t by any means be taken for granted that Riyadh will play even an indirectly constructive role in these affairs, but just that it nonetheless does have a role to play, and that there’s no better time than now for Russia to exercise creative diplomacy in getting Saudi Arabia to admit its de-facto defeat in Syria and Iraq.
Tasnim: By the fall of Daesh, it is easy to realize that how the Russian-Iranian-Syrian-Iraqi alliance managed to achieve great progress in its operations against the terror group in the region. What's your take on the role of Iran and Russia in the fall of the terrorist organization?
Korybko: Both multipolar Great Powers were instrumental in defeating Daesh, with each one contributing in a different – albeit equally important – capacity. Iranian forces were invited into the Arab Republic since the early days of the anti-terrorist campaign, and they’ve played a crucial role in helping the Syrian Arab Army in all manner of operations. Moreover, Iran’s Lebanese ally Hezbollah was also invited into the country where they fought and were martyred alongside their Syrian and Iranian comrades. Russia, on the other hand, was a relative late-comer to the war in the conventional sense, seeing as how its involvement didn’t take place until over two years ago at the end of September 2015, but Moscow was able to devote air support to the battlespace in decisively turning the tide of the entire campaign. Iran, for regional political reasons related to “Israel”, was unable to deploy such units to Syria because of the risk that it would become a convenient pretext for Tel Aviv to initiate a more robust conventional war on the country, up to and including an actual on-the-ground invasion or Libyan-like strikes against the Syrian Arab Army.
Russia, however, is on excellent terms with “Israel”, and even agreed to an overflight mechanism just prior to its anti-terrorist intervention with Syria in order to avoid unintended conflicts over the country’s airspace. It's here where one needs to point out the fact that Russia has never stopped “Israel’s” occasional – and as of this year, ever-frequent – bombing raids on Syria, though the reason for this is complex. Firstly, Russia’s military mandate in Syria is limited to a strictly anti-terrorist capacity in combating ground units that threaten the country’s security and territorial integrity, not in protecting the Syrian Arab Army from “Israeli” airstrikes. Moreover, and to segue into the second explanation, Russia appears to be shrewdly experimenting with a Neo-Realist “balancing” strategy in the Mideast whereby its leveraging its preeminent military position in Syria in order to become the indispensable diplomatic power in the region. To explain, Russia envisions its 21st-century grand strategy as becoming the supreme “balancing” force in the Eurasian supercontinent, to which end it must absolutely have the best possible relations with all actors, including “Israel” and Saudi Arabia.
In the context of its reluctance to stop “Israel” from bombing Syria on Tel Aviv’s anti-Iranian grounds in always blaming Hezbollah or the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, Russia seems to be subtly signaling that it intends to moderately “balance” Iranian and “Israeli” post-Daesh influences in the Arab Republic, all with the grand strategic design of preventing an uncontrollable proxy conflict between them from erupting in the war-torn state. It’s not my intent to endorse this policy, but just to explain how I understand it in my own personal and private capacity given the empirical evidence that’s publicly available, though it’s very important to qualify that Russia does indeed appear to have its own red lines when it comes to this delicate arrangement, specifically in the sense that it would not tolerate an all-out Libyan-like “Israeli” regime change bombing campaign against President Assad nor a conventional anti-Iranian/-Hezbollah invasion modelled off of the embarrassingly failed 2006 one against Southern Lebanon. Be that as it may, Russia’s embrace of “realpolitik” could be confusing for some observers to comprehend, but it’s not “anti-Iranian” in a dogmatic sense, nor is it aimed “against” anyone for that matter.
Being the only Eurasian actor even remotely capable of having any chance whatsoever at “balancing” the supercontinent’s affairs in “stably” countering the US’ destructive divide-and-rule stratagem in the Eastern Hemisphere, it’s inevitable that some of Russia’s moves could be perceived as being to the “zero-sum” detriment of one player or another, though one would do well to understand Moscow’s “bigger picture” intentions in managing what it believes to be the only realistic “win-win” solution to any given problem in order to promote the emergence of a Multipolar World Order. As such, there are certain policies that Russia has undertaken towards Iran which could be construed as “anti-Israeli”, particularly the historic energy deal that came out of President Putin’s latest visit to the Islamic Republic earlier this month, but that would be an inaccurate way of assessing events because the either-or “zero-sum” perspective common among supporters and sympathizers of the declining unipolar world order is irrelevant in understanding Russia’s global paradigm-changing “balancing” ambitions for this century.
DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution.