Aron Lund writes: When the Russian Air Force intervened in Syria on September 30, 2015, it changed the tide of battle. After a year of painful defeats in places such as Idlib, Jisr al-Shughour, Palmyra, and the Hawran region, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government managed to regain its balance. By the end of the year, Assad’s forces were again moving forward in the northern Latakia region, east of Aleppo, and on several other fronts. In February 2016, his army cut a key rebel supply route between Aleppo and the Turkish border, and, in late March, Assad’s Russian-backed troops retook Palmyra from the self-proclaimed Islamic State. They are now moving on the Ghouta enclave east of Damascus, exploiting weeks of disastrous infighting among the local rebels.
Assad’s advances have slowed down recently, partly due to a brittle cessation of hostilities agreement monitored by the United States and Russia. The government even lost some ground in the Aleppo, Latakia, and eastern Homs regions. More significantly, the Syrian economy is in disastrous shape, and this might undermine Assad’s military progress. But there is no question that Assad’s position has greatly improved due to the Russian intervention, or that Moscow’s influence over the conduct of the war in Syria has grown significantly.
That is the conventional narrative, at least. However, it is missing something.
What happened in autumn 2015 was not just that Russia began operating in Syrian airspace. The reason the Russian intervention was so successful was that it was also accompanied by Iranian intervention on the ground. Let’s take a closer look at how that happened. [Continue reading…]