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Strategic Surprise In West Asia

Moscow’s carefully planned military intervention in Syria has shocked Western policymakers. The impressions over the past year seemed to suggest a Russia that was preoccupied in securing its own periphery in the Ukrainian conflict. Domestic economic problems induced by targeted sanctions seemed to have further constrained Moscow’s hands as the Putin administration turned inward to address the crisis. While the Kremlin was licking its wounds, the Obama administration was moving cautiously but resolutely in striking a nuclear deal with Tehran that could re-orient Iran into assuming a less antagonistic role vis-à-vis the West. The geopolitical logic was brilliant. An Iran that re-defined its interests to focus on domestic growth and integration with the global economy might also be a more agreeable force in the region. The US timing to push for the July Iran nuclear agreement at Vienna was also interesting. After all, it was Iranian along with Hezbollah fighters that were serving as a force multiplier to Damascus during the last few years. A post-nuclear deal US-Iran rapprochement that loosened the bonds between Tehran and Damascus or distracted a crucial patron to Syria while Assad’s forces were entering a phase of serious vulnerability from the insurgency would have been a huge strategic gain for Washington. Indeed, while US intelligence assessments affirmed that Damascus had successfully resisted and even recovered territory from the rebels in 2014, this resurgence was cut short as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey raised the intensity of their proxy war in the spring of 2015. A July 2015 agreement between US and Turkey to coordinate anti-ISIS air operations and develop a “safe zone” on Syria’s northern border along Turkey suggested a robust emerging bridgehead for the anti-Assad insurgency. It was during this rapidly changing context that Moscow probably undertook a serious reassessment of its strategic interests in Syria. The ultimate choices were stark ???



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