The Russian news agency RBTH (Russia Beyond the Headlines), which is funded by the Russian government, reports that Russia and Iran are upgrading their defense and military ties, and also that Iran is going to buy modern Russian military hardware. If that is true the Russian will have to promise the Iranians that they will not allow the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to fall, as the Turks and the Arabs of the Persian Gulf request. Remember that in the last decades Bashar al-Assad, and his father Hafez al-Assad, were the strongest Iranian allies in the Middle East.
I have said many times that the Russians would not really mind Assad to go, given that they do not really want the Iranians to reach the Mediterranean Sea and export oil and gas to Europe. Three things are in Russia’s mind in Syria. The first one is the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline, the second one is the Qatar-Turkey pipeline, and the third one is the Iran-Turkey pipeline.
Map 1 Russia in the Middle East
To stop the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline the Russians can either use their military presence at the Syrian coasts, or construct the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline themselves.
To stop the Iran-Turkey pipeline, the Russians can either help the Kurds of East Turkey (PKK) to revolt, or ask the Iranians to promise they will not sell Iranian gas to Turkey and Europe, and will instead sell to China, through the Iran-Pakistan-China corridor. Of course for the Iranians to reach China they will have to pass through the Muslim province of China i.e. Xin Jiang, and that might not be very easy given that the Turks and the Arabs are very strong there, since ISIS and Al-Qaeda have a strong presence.
To stop the Qatar-Turkey pipeline the Russians, together with the Iranians, must block the connection between Turkey and the Persian Gulf in Syria.
Map 2 Syria
What the Russia Beyond the Headlines reports about Russia and Iran might simply be Russian and Iranian maneuvers in order to put pressure on the Turks and the Arabs, and reach a better deal during the talks about a cease fire that are taking place right now. But it might actually be true, if Iran is willing to promise Russia that it will not try to “steal” Russia’s share in the Turkish and European markets.
Besides it will take many years before Iran manages to bring its production to a level that will be sufficient in order to export large quantities to both the European and Asian markets. For the time being Iran cannot even satisfy its domestic demand for natural gas. Therefore theoretically it is possible for Iran to promise Russia that it will only export to Asia and China through Pakistan. That is of course if Iran manages to pass through Xin Jiang.
An upgrade in the Iranian-Russian alliance affects everybody, but I think most of all it affects Israel. For the time being the Russians are cooperating with the Israelis in Syria, and the Russians do not intervene when the Israelis attack the Iranians in Syria (Golan Heights) and Lebanon (Hezbollah).
Map 3 Israel
A stronger Russian-Iranian alliance could mean that the Russians will use the very modern radars, aircrafts and anti-aircraft missile systems they have brought to Syria in order to attack the Israeli aircrafts in Syria in order to support Iran. That would mean a Russo-Israeli war, after the Russo-Turkish war broke out at the end of 2015.
If a Russo-Israeli war indeed brakes out, the Turks and the Israelis will face Russia and Iran as a common enemy. I do not know if that would be enough to force Turkey and Israel overcome their differences, but it would definitely help. But if the Turks insist that the Israelis lift Gaza’s naval blockade, and the Israelis accept, the Israel-Egyptian cooperation would be endangered, because the Egyptians do not even want to hear about that. Remember that the Egyptian socialists (Sisi) and the Turkish Islamists (Erdogan) are bitter enemies. Lifting the naval blockade of Gaza would also undermine Israel’s security.
The Turks are saying that they are close to an agreement with Israel. See Today Zaman “Turkey about to conclude deal with Israel on all issues”, February 2016. The Israelis do not confirm something like that yet. We will have to wait and see what happens.
“Russia, Iran step up defense, economic engagement”, February 2016
“Turkey about to conclude deal with Israel on ’all issues”, February 2016
“The Middle East’s Nightmare: Iran is Buying Russia’s Lethal Su-30”,February 2015
“Iran to get Russian S-300 air defense systems by March 2016”, February 2016