A report that hardly makes any sense.
The report says that Russia has “suddenly” agreed to consider Assad’s ouster. That is a strange thing to say, because the same source reported before that Putin had sent his defense minister to Tehran in order to convince the Iranians with abandoning Assad.
In fact, I remember that I read about 10 reports during the past years saying the same thing. I have been reading since 2011 that Russia suddenly abandoned Assad.
The truth is that Russia was never with Assad. Russia accepted Assad’s ouster from the very beginning of the crisis. The real question is not whether Russia accepts Assad’s ouster or not, but whether Russia will go into a confrontation with Iran over that issue. So far the Russians have avoided such a confrontation (despite immense pressure on them by the West, the Saudis, and the Turks), because if the Russians lose Iran, they lose their last standing ally in the Middle East.
The Iranians are very serious about defending Assad. They have made it clear that they will not allow Assad’s removal. For the Iranians, the removal of Assad from Damascus means the collapse of their ‘Axis of Resistance’ project. If Assad is gone, Iran will lose all of its influence in Syria, and next the Lebanese Hizbullah will be under unbearable pressure from all sides.
I personally do not see any real importance for the news by DEBKAfile. This is probably just one new political maneuver by the Russians. I doubt that the Russians will go into a serious confrontation with Assad and Iran.
Even if the Russians completely abandon Assad, Iran will not abandon him. Iran will do again what it did in 2012. It will withdraw all its troops from Aleppo and eastern Syria and it will concentrate them in the Damascus area. Iran will entrench itself around Damascus and it will fight there forever. If the Iranians feel that they are going to lose Damascus, they will open the front with Israel. They will not give up easily.
If the Russians stop supporting Assad and Iran in Aleppo, and if the Saudis and Turks continue supporting the jihadis in that area, it is possible that the jihadis will capture all of Aleppo city. However, such a scenario will not be bad for Assad and Iran. As I explained before, most of Aleppo’s inhabitants support Assad and do not accept the rule of jihadis. It is impossible for the jihadis to rule Aleppo. If the jihadis capture all of Aleppo, there will be much bloodshed and looting in the city as the jihadis will persecute the inhabitants and will try to exterminate the most loyal of Assad’s supporters (just like they did in Idlib and elsewhere). The city will become a bloodbath and it will remain for a long time in chaos (it is unlikely that the many different jihadi factions will agree on a way to rule the city, and if they do agree among themselves, it is unlikely that they will gain the support of the inhabitants).
Such a bad story will serve as a great example for the people of Damascus. It will make them even more supportive of Assad’s rule, and that is what Iran wants. Iran really does not need anything in Syria other than Damascus. Iran is attacking Aleppo only because it wants to keep Damascus, not because it wants Aleppo itself.
Supporting the jihadis in Aleppo and pushing them to take complete control of the city is one of the most stupid things that the Saudis and Turks will ever do. If the jihadis do take Aleppo, that will not only destroy the city for good, but it will also help Iran secure its control over Damascus for good.
There are several possible options to liberate Aleppo, and I have explained them before. They are in short:
1. Foreign intervention by regular armies (e.g. Turkish and Saudi).
2. Supporting the non-Islamist rebels (the Kurds and their allies).
3. Establishing a safe zone to the north of Aleppo and putting that zone under the control of a truly moderate Syrian government. That government can gain the support of most of Assad’s supporters, including those in Aleppo.
Those are the options that can really liberate Aleppo and Syria. Pushing the jihadis into Aleppo is just pure stupidity and a great help to Assad and Iran.