The US decision to leave Syria, made by US President Donald Trump on December 19, has rocked the region and potentially provides Iran an avenue to influence the vacuum the US is leaving behind. Iran held talks with Syria about greater economic cooperation on December 30. In Iran analysts have sought to examine the sudden US decision.
We looked at some of the themes on social media and in media in Farsi in Iran to see how the US decision has been understood in the ten days after it was made. The following are the main points people have raised.
- Turkey’s moves relating to eastern Syria, after the announcement of Washington’s decision to withdraw, are ambitious. What is clear is that the United States does not want the Syrian regime with Iran and Russia to fill the vacuum caused by its withdrawal. That is why the US invited the Saudis and the UAE to play a role. This is despite the fact neither has much experience running a proxy war and both have their own issues with Turkey.
- There is evidences that the Damascus government is currently negotiating with the YPG to give the al-Arima area to the Syrian forces in Manbij, and the government will also create a protective shield against the Turkish army. The Syrian government will do this only with strong Russian support.
- In the case of eastern Syria, Moscow strongly demands a role in Deir Ezzor, where there are many oil wells for the reconstruction of Syria. Raqqa is still in ruins with many of its residents in IDP camps. Of course, Turkey and Russia still don’t have an agreement on this, especially around the Manbij. For this reason, the Turkish Foreign Minister and Defense Minister went to Moscow on Saturday to convince the Russians about an agreement. There will be a price to pay.
- Turkey will not have a problem with the presence of Iran in Syria, as long as Iran tolerates Turkey’s presence in the north
- The United States does not want Turkey to reach the point where it pushes NATO for a role. NATO could pressure Iran and Russia.
- Kurds now appear to have been a toy in this game as new tensions threaten to flare up. But apart from the tangible motives and goals of the withdrawal of troops and how much the quantity and quality of this withdrawal will be carried out, how can one gain from this clever action, between the main actors, Iran and Turkey? Along with Russia, they have the most ground-based power in Syria.
- In the process of putting pressure on Iran to implement Washington’s anti-Iran regime policy, the transfer of more of a role to Turkey in Syria is a prelude to the collapse of the relationship between Iran and Turkey both in Syria and in their interactions. Iran now needs to find a way to not allow this scenario, what will it do?
- The US came to Syria with several purposes. One was to fight ISIS, which the Americans have done. However they have increasingly slowed their progress against ISIS due to their lack of familiarity with regional forces and the various armed groups. They trusted in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar and pursued their goals and some actions, including distributing weapons to be used against ISIS forces, without considering the agenda of these other states. This led to consequences for the US role in Syria and the devastating potential affects for peace and stability that the US eventually judged were not in its interests.
- The US has now caused more disturbance in the region, as opposed to bringing stability. One of the mistakes of the Americans was that they tried to achieve to some extent through the fight against ISIS a displacement of different militant forces and territorial and geopolitical changes. More than 2,000 US troops were sent and bases were set up, including in northern and eastern Syria and in Al-Tanf in the south.
- The training and logistical sites were set up for the Kurdish and Arab forces. The US also worked with the Syrian opposition. It pursued numerous political and military goals, each of which was disrupted in the end
- It appears most likely that the withdrawal of US troops will reduce US costs. It will create a vacuum of effective forces, and Iran, Turkey and the Syrian regime as well as the armed opposition will seek to fill that vacuum
- In order to find a credible force in Syria, the United States carried out two actions that first trained the Syrian Kurds that then stretched outside that narrow mission. This created differences with Turkey.
- The last round of Geneva [on December 18] did not succeed in creating an agreement among the 150 names that were supposed to sit and negotiate on a constitutional committee. Instead they realized that this could not continue without problems and could be counterproductive to peace.
The comments reflect a range of opinions. Most important, they show concern that Turkey’s ambitions in eastern Syria could damage the relatively warm relations between Ankara and Tehran. For instance Iran’s president went to Ankara on December 20, the day after the US decision. Iran is positioning itself to weigh the relative cost of having Turkey play a role in northern Syria with Iran’s desire to play its own role in Syria and back the Syrian regime. The comments indicate the Tehran’s strategy will be complex and that Tehran will move slowly. The days after the US decision has shown this. Turkey sent a high level delegation to Moscow on December 29, but Iran has not been outspoken about what might come next in eastern Syria. Press TV even published, in English, an article suggesting that Iran and its supporters should “hold the cheers” to see what actually happens. This dovetails with the comments above.