The
Winter of Iran’s Discontent: Russia’s Perspective

Alex
GORKA
The wave of
Iranian protests is not dying out. Angry people continue
to hit the streets and the feeling of discontent has not
evaporated. The slogans show they mean business. With little
information coming out, it’s impossible to make any
assessments. The protesters appear to have no leaders and it’s
hard to say if their actions are organized. Some people may welcome
the events, some adopt negative attitude and some may be reserved,
taking a wait-and-see
approach.

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Are the
protests incited from outside? On January 29, ambassadors from the
United Nations Security Council were
invited on a field trip to Washington to inspect remnants of
Iranian weapons allegedly illegally supplied to insurgents in Yemen.
The ambassadors visited
the White House where President Donald Trump told them about the need
to counter “Iran’s
destabilization activities in the Middle East.”

It’s
worth to note that the event took place on the eve of the renewal of
the protests in Iran on Jan. 30. Was it a coincidence? Everybody
has their own opinion but the last time the US
Ambassador
to the UN
Nikki Haley
presented
what she called “concrete evidence” of Iran’s
weapons
proliferation was
in mid-December, 2017. A wave of protests hit Iran in early January
2018. A few days later, the US introduced
new sanctions on Iran. It’s nothing more than an
observation but that’s the chain of events we have.

This is an
internal affair of Iran, of course, though sympathies may differ.
Unlike the US, the EU, Israel or Saudi Arabia, Russia has not taken
sides, calling on other actors not to meddle. It’s really
neutral. Iranian people are the ones to decide what’s better
for them. The only thing to do is to keep the fingers crossed hoping
there will be no bloodshed.

It’s
worth to consider nothing but
facts
in an unbiased way.
Some
consequences to impact the situation in the Middle East are
unavoidable. No matter how strong the Russia’s air force
presence in Syria is, it cannot keep the Assad’s government in
power without boots on the ground. Today, military cooperation
between Russia and Iran is crucial to keep the situation under
control and prevent the resumption of large-scale hostilities.

According
to scenario number one, the rebels win, the ayatollahs’ regime
in Tehran is toppled and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards formations
are rapidly withdrawn from Syria. Another scenario-the regime quells
the rebellion, with a smoldering large-scale conflict to last for a
long time. In both cases the outcome is the same – the
Revolutionary Guards will have to leave Syria, Iraq and Lebanon and
return home to protect the government. One should be realistic –
with Iran gone, Persian Gulf monarchies and their supporters will
come in. Russia enjoys good working relations with these countries to
make them part of the ongoing peace process.
In any of
these scenarios, Iranian ground forces will partially or fully
withdraw from Syria and someone will have to fill the void.

This turn
of events is quite unexpected as everyone believed the Iran’s
government was stable. But you never know. After all, nobody expected
the Iranians to oust the US-backed Shah
Reza Pahlavi in 1979.

So, it’s
highly probable that Russia will have to rush in more troops or, to
be exact, military police for peacekeeping missions into Syria for a
limited period of time. With peace process making progress, the
forces could be completely withdrawn to leave only the contingents
deployed at the two military bases. The action could be coordinated
with Syria, Turkey, Iran and other key players. The Russia’s
military police units monitoring de-escalation zones have
proven to be a very effective force.

It does not
necessarily mean intensification of combat actions. One of the ways
to mitigate the probable reduction of Iranian and pro-Iranian forces
is the intensification of diplomatic efforts, such as the Russia’s
“Syrian
People’s Congress”
currently held in
Sochi.
No doubt such activities will be
intensified. Moscow can lead an international coalition of pertinent
actors.

Iran’s
reduced presence in Syria will not automatically lead to resumption
of hostilities across the country. This scenario can be avoided. But
the increase of boots on the ground forces to carry out peacekeeping
missions will come to the fore. Nobody wants it, everyone tried to
avert it but one cannot ignore reality – it’s either more
ground forces to support the government of Assad or sliding back to
where we were before Russia lent a helping hand to Syrian President
Assad in September 2015.

Russia
promotes an all-inclusive dialogue in Syria. The fact that it is
friendly with everyone, except jihadi terrorists, makes Moscow the
key broker of a peace deal. It is in unique position to head the
process and achieve what nobody else can – a peace settlement
in Syria. It does not apply to Syria only but rather
the
entire Middle East.

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