Thursday, September 22, 2016

Iran announces "surge" in Syria

Recent reports indicates that Iran has massively increased its footprint in Syria. This has significant implications for the stability of the Assad regime and for the prospects of "Sunni gas".

As most of you are aware ISIL's ability to make war has been severely restricted. Between Russian airstrikes on their oil infrastructure and US airstrikes on their remaining military battalions, the fall of ISIL control in many areas including the Al-Raqqah is imminent.

This is as good a time as any to get in on the action. That is what is largely driving Iranian enthusiasm. Chicago rules say you should always kick a man when he is down.

The troop surge planned by the Iranians will not support the Assad regime as much as it will constrain it to do Iran's bidding. We have seen this kind of thing in Lebanon with Hezbollah. Hezbollah leaders openly speak about Iran pursuing its own interests even if they come at Hezbollah's expense.

From the Iranian perspective - Assad is an accident of history - perhaps a useful one but not an essential one. I feel the deployment of more IRGC assets and Iranian irregulars on the ground in Syria speaks to Iran's estimate that the Assad regime will not sustain beyond a point here. The Iranian's recognize that the Assad regime is exhausted and like ISIL it will not sustain a real beating for much longer.

I sense that the objective for Iran here is not so much to facilitate the proposed "Shia Gas" routes, but rather to frustrate "Sunni Gas" initiatives backed by KSA and Qatar. The Russians want this too (as does anyone who dislikes the current low oil prices). This becomes a natural zone of convergence for many groups and the Iranians are capitalizing on that.

It is difficult to say how long this surge will last. From current trends in Iranian media channels, there is broad public support for checking ISIL but it is not clear the average Iranian backs getting into a pipeline war with KSA+Qatar.

The imminent fall of ISIS offers Iran a massive opportunity to gather support from its people and put more feet on the ground in Syria.

America for its part is ambivalent to the root of the Syrian conflict. If Saudi+Qatar  succeed in getting "Sunni Gas" through to Europe, then the US could benefit from resulting reduction in ONG prices. If the "Sunni Gas" initiative fails, the price of ONG would rise (as KSA would not be able to sustain its production at low prices)  but then US based fracking firms would go back into business and the US would make money from exports.

This kind of ambivalence is what allows certain presidential candidates to get away with making utterly nonsensical comments about US intervention in Syria. In a sense it is completely irrelevant what they say - because no one is actually going to do anything  significant.

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