Russia's decision to send troops into Syria in defense of its ally, President Bashar al-Assad, is now at the center of a major diplomatic standoff between Moscow and the West. But the move by Russian President Vladimir Putin to send military support to combat ISIS insurgents is also a sign of concerns at the military "shortcomings" of the Hezbollah militia and Iran's revolutionary guards, which have been fighting alongside Assad since 2011.
As regional powers and the West mull over a possible political solution to nearly five years of civil war, Russia's "immediate" concern was said to be for "Tehran's evident military incapacity to protect" the Assad regime, writes Philippe Abi-Akl, a columnist in Lebanon's L'Orient Le Jour.
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Hezbollah flag in Lebanon. Photo: OpenDemocracy
According to Abi-Akl, Hezbollah — a militia that Iran created in Lebanon in the 1980s — and Iran's own revolutionary guards, had "failed" to beat Syrian rebels and secure key regime positions on the Golan Heights.
Western observers believe Russian entry was subject to "prior coordination between Moscow and Tehran," the columnist reports.
Russia's enhanced standing as a key mediator, if not the principal foreign actor, in the Syrian war, Abi-Akl has "blatantly eclipsed Iran's role." Beside winning the "trust" of the Syrian regime, he concludes, Russia had "deftly" managed to "weave" ties with Saudi Arabia and Egypt, two powers keen to see Iran as absent in Syria.