Tehran Hosts Meeting With Syrian & Russian Defense Ministers


Facing a difficult military situation near Syria’s largest city Aleppo, Iran’s Defense Minister is meeting Syrian and Russian counterparts in Tehran on Thursday.  General Hossein Dehghan will host his allies, General Fahd Jassem al-Freij and Sergei Shoigu, State news agency IRNA said the topics were “anti-terrorism cooperation between Moscow, Damascus, and Tehran and the achievements of Russia’s nine-month air campaign against terrorists in Syria as well as the situation in Iraq”. By Scott Lucas – eaworldview -9 June 2016

Coordinated military intervention between Russia and Iran from last October has been vital in preventing the collapse of the Syrian military and the Assad regime.  However, after some gains against rebels in northwest Syria, the operations have run into trouble this spring. Despite thousands of Russian airstrikes and ground offensive which included Hezbollah and Iranian-led Iraqi and Afghan militias, the pro-Assad forces have been unable to cut off opposition-held areas of Aleppo.

Instead, rebels and the jihadists of Jabhat al-Nusra have counter-attacked south of the city, inflicting a series of defeats on Iranian units and the Iraqi and Afghan militia. The rebel bloc Jaish al-Fatah has recaptured two key towns — al-Eis and Khan Tuman — along the Aleppo-to-Damascus highway and expanded their gains to include fuel and weapons depots.

Hezbollah has withdrawn its forces to concentrate on operations in southern Syria, and the Syrian military is almost absent from the front, deploying instead for offensives against the Islamic State in Homs and Raqqa Province.

Speculation about today’s meeting is centring on whether Iran will significant increase its commitment of ground forces and whether Russia will support a campaign to retake Aleppo city.

Despite their alliance, Moscow and Tehran have differed over both military and political issues. Iranian outlets have criticized Russia for not providing air support during the defense of Khan Tuman in early May, in which scores of Iranian and Iranian-led troops were killed. The incident reinforced suspicion that, while Russia will bomb rebels throughout opposition territory, Moscow is not committed to retaking parts of Syria beyond a defense line from Latakia on the Mediterranean to Homs to Damascus.

Russia has also indicated that, while it wants preservation of the regime, it is not tied to President Assad’s long-term future. In contrast, Iran has said Assad’s stay in office is a “red line”, at least until nominal elections in 2021. www.mesop.de