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Putin an Iranian president Rouhani meet in Turkey. Photo: Mikhail Metzel\TASS via Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned last week that all foreign forces would ultimately have to leave Syria — and his foreign ministry hastened to clarify that this specifically included Iranian troops and their proxies in Hezbollah. Tehran promptly reminded the world that “no one can tell us to leave Syria.”

Why it matters: Russia and Iran have both backed Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad, and their support is a major reason he’s clung to power through seven years of war. But as the Syrian conflict grinds down, the post-war winds might begin to blow against Iran.

For one thing, clashes between Israel and Iranian forces located in Syria have grown recently, raising the prospect of a serious conflict between the Jewish state and the Islamic Republic.  

From Putin’s perspective, it would be a shame for ongoing Israel-Iran tensions to further destabilize a perfectly good Kremlin client state right in the heart of the Middle East.

From the perspective of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who met with Putin a couple weeks ago — a cold peace with a Russian-backed Assad is probably perfectly acceptable (Israel was entirely pragmatic in dealing with Assad’s father), provided that Iranian forces are squeezed out of Syria.

And as Damascus sees it, a stable border with Israel and the protection and support of a distant patron in Moscow may be preferable to the more destabilizing long-term presence of Iranian forces who, some analysts say, Syria’s own military brass doesn’t want around anyway.

The bottom line: The big loser here, of course, would be Iran, which has put thousands of its best troops — and Hezbollah proxies — on the line to save Bashar al-Assad’s neck. You can bet that Iranian hardliners — confronted with the collapse of the Iran deal and a more hostile US policy generally — won’t accept being pushed out of a Syrian peace easily. The bloody kaleidoscope of external influence in Syria’s civil war may be about to take a fresh turn.

Sign up for Signal, a twice-weekly newsletter from GZERO Media, a Eurasia Group company, and follow @saosasha on Twitter.

Go deeper

SoCalGas agrees to $1.8 billion settlement for 2015 gas blowout

An evacuee with a Save Porter Ranch sign outside Southern California Gas Company's Aliso Canyon gate in Porter Ranch in January 2016 as the gas leak continued. Photos: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Southern California Gas Company and its parent company announced Monday they've agreed to pay up to $1.8 billion in settlement claims over the 2015 Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility blowout.

Why it matters: Some 100,000 tons of methane, ethane and toxic chemicals poured into the air for 112 days, forcing over 8,000 families to evacuate from their Los Angeles-area homes and sickening thousands of others with headaches, nausea and nosebleeds, per the L.A. Times.

Updated 3 hours ago - World

North Korea fires short-range missile to sea, slams "hostile" U.S. policy

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Photo: API/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said Tuesday that North Korea's military had fired a short-range missile toward its eastern sea, per AP.

Why it matters: North Korea's ambassador to the United Nations defended the latest launch in remarks to the UN General Assembly, demanding the U.S. and South Korea end their "hostile policy" against the country.

Arizona Judge: Adding mask mandates ban to budget bill is unconstitutional

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) Photo: Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

An Arizona judge ruled Monday that the state's ban on mask mandates in schools, and other measures put into the state budget by Republicans, are unconstitutional, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The sweeping ruling voids a ban on vaccine requirements for public universities, community colleges and local governments, and strikes down some non-COVID-related measures like a ban on teaching critical race theory in classrooms and anti-fraud measures for ballots.