In a rather surprising move, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin announced Monday that he would begin withdrawing troops from Syria the very next day.  Those of us watching the Middle East carefully were not only surprised by the move but also intensely curious about possible motivations and what the move will ultimately mean in the region, particularly with regard to Israel.

Tuesday, retired U. S. Army lieutenant colonel Ralph Peters offered a compelling analysis of Putin’s move and of what it means not only in the Middle East but, ultimately, for the United States.

Positing that Putin has quickly seen—Russia’s been in Syria only since September—that the power that will emerge in the region will be Iran’s, not Russia’s, Peters concludes that Putin’s decision was based in cold, hard reality.

In his article, “The Syrian War Just Taught Putin to Worry About Iran,” for the The New York Post, Peters writes:

Putin finally met the Middle East. And unlike President Obama, the Russian czar faced reality.

Allowing that Putin could re-engage in the future, and that his forces accomplished their primary goal of propping up the regime and giving it breathing space, the announcement still came as a cold-water shock to all — except the Iranians.

. . . .  Putin didn’t go into Syria because Assad was a pal. He sent in his air power and his commandos to expand Russia’s regional influence as American power ebbed. He thought he saw a not-to-be-missed strategic opportunity.

And he certainly expected Assad to be grateful for his salvation at Russian hands.

. . . . Putin recognized that his air campaign would ultimately benefit an emerging Persian/Iranian empire, rather than expanding Moscow’s influence.

While Putin went into the Middle East with one set of expectations, Peters argues, he quickly understood that the situation is not playing—and will not play—out as he’d hoped.  Unlike Obama, Putin saw the writing on the wall.

Peters continues:

Those of us who’ve warned of a burgeoning Iranian empire haven’t found much traction in Washington, where the current president clings to his appalling nuclear deal. And the Middle East still seems far away from the Potomac’s prospering shores. But it’s a very different deal for Putin.

Russia’s newest czar thought he was playing the Iranians, using them as leverage against US influence, selling them arms at a premium and using them as cannon fodder on the ground in Syria — while his combat aircraft soared invulnerably overhead.

But to paraphrase Shakespeare, Putin drank and only then saw the spider in the cup.

Contrary to his expectations of finding a pliable ally in Iran, he found the Iranians in control, glad to borrow his air force, arrogant and disdainful in Damascus (and Baghdad) and well on the path to dominating a vast stretch of strategically vital territory. And Iran has no interest in playing junior partner to anyone — least of all a traditional Christian enemy.

Watch Peters discuss the threat of Iran as the regional, and nuclear, power in the Middle East:

In the above interview, Peters speculates that Iran has been flexing its muscle not only with missiles test, specifically timed to coincide with Vice President Biden’s trip to the region, but also with the capture and humiliation of American sailors.  In response, Obama shrugged distractedly while John Kerry thanked Iran.

The long-range missile tests, though, served another purpose, one not directed at Obama and the United States.

Peters continues in his New York Post article:

Suddenly, Putin had a vision of a nuclear-armed, radical-Shia empire on Russia’s southern flank. Those Iranian missiles that can reach Israel? They can reach major Russian cities, too.

Putin’s initial bet on Shia Iran also backfired by turning the Islamic world’s Sunni majority against him — not least Saudi Arabia, which can continue to hold down the price of oil and gas, punishing Russia’s economy far more than it wounds American fracking efforts. And Sunni terrorists have taken a renewed interest in Russia.

Peters ends his piece with the acknowledgment that Putin is not particularly honest when it comes to such declarations of withdrawal:

Of course, Putin also promised to withdraw from eastern Ukraine. Didn’t happen. And his trumpeted withdrawal from Syria could be no more than a temporary gambit — his remarks footnoted that “some” Russian troops will remain at their Syrian naval base and air base.

But Putin, whose view of the world has been bounded by the Caucasus in the south and Europe to the West (with occasional nods to China in the east), may have discovered the frightful threat under his nose.

At the very least, he’s learned that there are no strategic bargains in the Middle East. That puts him one up on us.

Whatever Putin’s motivation for leaving Syria (if he does), one thing is clear:  Iran is poised to be, may already be, the primary power in the Middle East.  This is not good for Israel, and it is not good for the United States.


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