Die Gewinner: Iran und Russland
Thanks to Russia's military might, but also to the weakness of the rebel allies, the Russians have successfully quelled the revolt against Assad. U.S. President Donald Trump's decision last month to discontinue the assistance the CIA provided the Syrian rebels completed the picture. Trump claims, rightly, that the American administration had wasted the money, having seen no results. In many instances the aid reached the wrong hands, or even ended up with groups that would change alliances and join up with ISIS or the Nusra Front. But Trump's decision sent a clear message: Washington is turning its back on the Syrian rebels, a process of disengagement that will be completed when it is soon announced that the Islamic State has been defeated (even if the group stays active in the depth of the desert, threatening to break out again in the future).
So Russia is the big winner in the Syrian civil war. Its military forces are deployed throughout the country, even in the south, near the border with Israel and Jordan. Surprisingly, Russian soldiers are often welcomed by the residents of the very villages that, until recently, were being bombed to pieces by Russian planes. The locals in the Middle East value power, and know what they need to do to survive in the impossible reality of our region.
But the Russians wouldn't have gotten as far as they have without Iran, which is still a vital partner in Moscow's attempt to preserve the fragile calm in Syria. After all, it wasn't the Russian planes or the Russian military police units deployed in Syria that determined the outcome -- it was the Iranians and their allies, Shiite volunteers and Hezbollah fighters. Iran won't let its prey slip out of its hands any time soon, and it has the patience to wait until the time is right to cash its chips. In the meantime, Tehran is tightening its grip on the same areas that Russia has freed up for it. It's a profitable deal: rather than positions along the border with Israel, the Iranians will get a port on the Syrian coast and an entire military setup from Damascus to the Iraqi border.