As the final stages of releasing Mosul and Raghah seem closer than ever resulting in the collapse of the ISIS headquarters, each of the players in Iraq and especially Syria (in which the players have more conflicts of interests) try to establish their influence zone, control as well as defining their next stages' policies.
This stage is of particular importance as the chances of confrontation among the players have increased.
The US viewpoint
Tactic, not strategy;
The collapse of Mosul and Raghah for the US is a tactic not a strategy. As a matter of fact, the US is preparing for a long-term conflict in Syria whose addressee is not only the Isis.
This confrontation can be direct or indirect with the main focus on what they name as 'Iran's Threat'.
Iran as a tantamount or prior threat compared to the Isis:
Mark Pompeo, CIA chief calls Iran a longer-standing threat than the Isis and Denis Rice, US former ambassador and special Middle East coordinator, considers Iran even a prior threat to the Isis. Rice believes the US will not be able to defeat the Isis or stymie its revival unless it controls Iran first.
Lack of challenge in the controlled areas, intolerance towards Iran's corridor:
American political experts and elites have posed serious criticism to Trump's policies in the Middle East.
They highlight the absence of a comprehensive strategy in particular. Nevertheless, they unanimously agree the necessity not to let Tehran-Beirut corridor take shape. (Even if Iran has not actually determined such an objective, the impression that the US and Israel have is so.)
Denis Rice points out to four components in
his proposed strategy for Trump:
1- Not challenging the areas controlled by Iran and Russia;
2- Not tolerating Iran's corridor;
3- Giving roles to Saudi Arabia and the UAE after the Isis collapses; (in reconstruction, reign and human resource)
4- Satisfying Turkey on the issue of Kurds;
Based on this, the probable point of conflict among forces sponsored by Iran, the US and Israel will be the Iranian corridor.
The possibility of war or a series of pre-emptive operations:
Israel's desired scenario in Syria is the continuation of war for any reason, the presence of the Isis or any other source that causes conflicts. These, Israel believes, will result in a war of attrition which will in turn deplete Muslim countries' economic and military potentials, especially Iran and Hezbollah. But what is happening in reality is the deterioration of the Isis in Mosul and Raghah, expansion of Iran's clout in the region, lengthening Iran's road control to the Mediterranean Sea as well as Iranian and Hezbollah Shia soldiers becoming more experienced. The translation of all this for Israel is the change of a 'significant threat' to an 'existential threat'. Thus, it is, likely that Israel implements a series of pre-emptive operations to stop this transformation of threat against itself.
Points about Iran's playing role
- The cost of ambiguity
The common point among all players in Syria is the lack of a specific strategy and the definition of a particular endgame. What is important is that a player like the US may be able to tolerate such an ambiguity and its economic, military and political costs and move forward in vagueness but the question is whether Iran can do the same.
On the threshold of the Isis complete deterioration, all the players are after more spoils or even extending their initial objectives. Some analysts have compared the status quo to the final days of WW II when rival forces were trying to determine their boundaries and influence zone in the Syrian Heartland. Iran's policies in Iraq and Syria require clarification, particularly in the latter; clarification in answer to questions like what its objectives are, what it will tolerate or not, the endgame and the exit plan.
Developments have sped up in Syria and Iraq and the Isis is reaching its final days (in geographical territories and not in ideology). If Iran's goals were once pushing the Isis back and its ultimate destruction, now it is time to redefine them.
- The possibility of disrupting regional equations:
It is likely that the collapse of Raghah and the current position of players, especially the Iran's zone of influence, are not the desired scenario of the US and Israel and consequently they may try to rearrange things around. This can entail attacks on the Syrian government or conflicts with Iran-sponsored forces.