With Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s retention of power seemingly a fait accompli, the Iranian presence in Syria is falling under increased scrutiny. Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu maintains that airstrikes in Syria are solely to attack Iranian positions (MEES, 11 May), and US President Donald Trump credits the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal with weakening Iran’s hand in Syria. Stifling Iran’s ability to freely operate in a post-war Syria, in other words, has replaced calls for Mr Assad to relinquish power.

Mr Assad himself remains deeply ambiguous on the matter. Speaking to Russian state news channel RT last month, he denied the presence of Iranian forces in Syria altogether—yet told Iran-funded Al-Alam this week that he’d be open to allowing Iran to establish bases on Syrian soil. Iranian support has proven crucial to Mr Assad’s hold on power, but Russia is still the kingmaker, making its calculus more complicated. (CONTINUED - 234 WORDS)