Kirill Semenov is an independent analyst with a long record of professional study of political and military issues in the Middle East, with a strong focus on the conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Libya.

The ongoing military assault in Idlib — spearheaded by the Syrian army and supported by Russia — may be the first significant military operation in which pro-Iranian militant groups have not taken part. The main attacking units of the government forces are pro-Russian structures within the Syrian army: the Tiger Forces division, led by Suheil al-Hassan, and Zayd Salih’s 5th Volunteer Assault Corps.

The absence of pro-Iranian troops in the fighting zone in Idlib entails a number of new speculations over the controversies between Russia and Iran in Syria.

Asharq al-Awsat, for instance, mentioned an alleged proposal that the United States and Israel could present to Russia and Syria. The proposal involves the lifting of sanctions and the recognition of Bashar al-Assad’s government in exchange for Iranian military forces leaving Syria. Nasr al-Hariri, the head of the Syrian High Negotiations Commission, told Asharq al-Awsat that, although Russia stood by Iran in backing the regime, Moscow realizes that its two partners — Iran and Assad — are burdens, particularly due to US sanctions. The only way to obtain security, stability and a political solution in Syria, he said, is through the withdrawal of Iranian military forces.

Russian officials dismissed these statements, as did the Syrians. Butrus al-Marjan, the chairman of the Syrian parliament’s International Committee, told Russian newspaper Izvestia that he would not refuse Iranian military support or demand Iranian withdrawal from Syria, even if the United States agreed to lift sanctions.

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