March 1, 2019
The first visit by Syria’s Bashar Assad to Tehran this week carried several messages to the American administration and Moscow, particularly that it came following US President Donald Trump’s decision to keep about 400 US troops in Syria and on the eve of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s visit to Moscow to settle the issue of the S-300 missile defense system supplied to Syria.
The visit also came amid escalatory activities to establish a constitutional committee for Syria and the retreat of talks about Arab normalization with Damascus.
First, the visit came during Russian reproach from Syria, as Moscow showed it was not satisfied with Assad’s criticisms of the Astana-Sochi path to form a constitutional committee.
Reports said Iranian President Hassan Rouhani informed Assad about results of the Russian-Turkish-Iranian summit, particularly items related to the unity of Syria and the withdrawal of illegitimate forces, except Russian troops and Iranian militias.
Second, Assad’s trip aimed to please Iran after Tehran slowed, three months ago, providing Damascus with oil derivatives and food products to exert pressure on the Syrian government to sign a long-term “economic cooperation” agreement, which was translated during the visit of Iranian First Vice-President Ishaq Jahangiri to Damascus last week to give Tehran the priority to rebuild the country.
Third, the visit was a message to the recent Arab attempts to normalize relations with the Syrian regime, with hopes to boost the Arab role in Damascus facing the Turkish and Iranian presence there.
Arab states currently froze any attempts to normalize relations with Syria and they delayed a decision allowing the return of Syria to the Arab League after their next summit scheduled in Tunis at the end of March.
Therefore, Assad’s presence in Tehran carried a message to the American administration and Arab countries showing that the leader would never break ties with Tehran.
Fourth, the visit carried messages to Trump’s decision to keep about 400 US troops in Syria. Observers expect that the next phase would witness Russian-Iranian coordination with Syrian tribes to weaken Washington’s allies in Syria.
Fifth, Assad and Iranian leaders tackled the safe zone. Iranian news outlets quoted Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as warning Washington against creating a buffer zone in Syria despite US talks with Turkey to activate the Adana Agreement allowing Ankara to penetrate 28 to 32 kilometers inside Syrian territories.
Sixth, Assad’s visit to Tehran discussed the northern triangle as Damascus plans to make a military operation in the countryside of Idlib and to “draw” Russia to accept such choice. However, Russia still respects an agreement with Turkey to de-escalate tension in the northern triangle.
Seventh, media sources said during his visit to Russia, Netanyahu brought updated maps of Iranian positions in Syria to show the Russians and that he asked for military coordination to settle the issue of the S-300 missile defense system to Syria.
The visit of Assad to Tehran aimed to form a counter-military coordination between Syria and Iran facing those Israeli-Russian talks, particularly after Iranian positions were targeted by several Israeli strikes, amid a Russian silence.