Israeli intelligence sources have told Kan News about a deterioration in the relations of Russia and the various Iranian contingencies operating in Syria, the news channel reported Monday night. According to these sources the activity of the Russian forces stationed in Syria has changed, and they have become more aggressive towards the Iranians. The report attributes the change to the arrival of new generals to lead the Russian army stationed in Syria.
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The Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta on Monday cited a Kremlin diplomatic source saying Russia and Iran are showing unanimity only on a strategic level, but the two countries’ positions differ on many issues.
“Iran’s activity near Banias may have a destabilizing effect not only for the region, but also for the [Russian] forces, which are trying to stabilize this region,” the diplomatic source said, referring to a naval base being built by Iran at Syria’s Banias port. The source added: “It’s important to have a closer look at what is going on around the port because in the future it may become Iran’s military base near the Mediterranean Sea.”
Nezavisimaya Gazeta, which was once owned by the late Jewish oligarch Boris Abramovich Berezovsky, a foe of President Vladimir Putin, also reported that Iran’s having its own access to the Mediterranean would deprive Russia of its economic monopoly along Syria’s coastal areas and would create “certain security risks.”
“The territorial proximity of Iranian facilities, regardless of their purpose, may not only technically complicate life for Russian servicemen, but also put them under surveillance,” the paper suggested on Monday, explaining that Iran has been able to maintain its influence in Damascus because it has granted Syria loans estimated at between $6 and $8 billion over the past eight years.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta also cited Frederic Hof, former special advisor for transition in Syria at the US State Department, who said Russia is concerned that Iran was seeking to install in Syria a force similar to Hezbollah, which would countermand Moscow’s efforts to restore a stable Syrian state.
Russian and Iranian businessmen also have conflicted interests in reconstruction projects in Syria, Hof pointed out.
Kan News also reported arrests of Syrian activists considered to be pro-Iranian, carried out by the Syrian defense establishment under Russian control as well as by Russian military police. Russia wants to maintain stability in Syria after the relative quiet in the fighting, and to lure-in investments in projects to rehabilitate the country. Iran is pulling in the opposite direction, and sees Syria as a potential base to promote its terrorist expansion in the region.
Israel has been collaborating with the Russian policy in Syria and has kept to a minimum its attacks on Iranian targets, Kan News said, implying a connection between Russia’s change in its approach to Iran and the tightening of US sanctions against Tehran.