How Syria Could Spark US-Russia War
THE stakes in Syria just jumped mighty high. Syrian troops attacked the antiISIS fighters we back. We warned them to knock it off. In reply, a Syrian aircraft struck our allies. An American jet shot it down.
Now the Russian government says it will view as hostile any manned aircraft or drone flying west of the Euphrates River. That means us.
Were we to accept Russia’s ultimatum, we could not support our allies and we’d be shut out of the endgame battle with ISIS when, as Raqqa falls, the terrorists make a last stand at Deir ez-Zor (a city with a grim history: It was the end-station for Armenian genocide victims death-marched across the desert).
The technical wording of their threat allows the Russians a little bit of leeway, but what makes the pronouncement dangerous is that it’s public — making it hard for Vladimir Putin to back down. Of course, Putin’s a gambler, and a canny one. He may be bluffing. But we can’t count on it. We must assume his forces in Syria are already setting ambushes for our aviators.
Meanwhile, the Russian media, in a Big Lie mode excessive even by Moscow’s shameless standards, insist US troops on the ground are supporting ISIS, while the noble Syrian forces — alongside their selfless Russian and Iranian comrades — are the only ones fighting the terrorists.
In reality, Bashar al-Assad and his backers cynically dumped the burden of wrecking ISIS on us and our local allies to concentrate on slaughtering civilians, exterminating freedom fighters and torturing thousands of prisoners to death. Now that we’ve done the anti-ISIS heavy lifting, they want to exclude us from the endgame and crush our Kurdish and Arab allies.
Russian media have also been giving a platform to Putin’s generals and their alarming tone. It doesn’t sound like the Cold War I remember. It sounds worse. Having won again and again over the past decade, from Georgia to Crimea and now Syria, Russia’s officer corps appears to be itching for a bout for the world championship, convinced we don’t have the guts to stand up to them.
What’s wryly striking is that the Russians, who see themselves as master strate- gists, are blind to the way Iran has been manipulating them: Iran got us to fight ISIS and may get Putin to fight us. Guess who wins, either way?
This could spin out of control very, very fast. If it does, we have to win rapidly and decisively — and keep it within Syria.
The backstory: Recently, the focus of Iranian-backed Syrian ground operations shifted from heavily populated western and northern Syria to the east and southeast — above all, to the border with Iraq. On the Jordanian border, too, we’ve repeatedly had to strike Syrian troops and Iran-backed militias threatening enclaves and allies we protect.
Why are the Syrians suddenly confronting us? It’s Iran again.
The Iranians have deeper hooks in the Syrian conflict than any other foreign power. And they have a strategic design for regional hegemony. But Tehran’s vision of a new Persian empire depends on a land route from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, to Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea. The recent shift in the fighting is meant to secure that advantage for Iran.
Recent, but hardly new. Iran’s Syria gambit is about controlling the ancient caravan routes that have gulped the blood of armies — and supported empires — for millennia.
We’re latecomers, just passing through, preceded by Egyptians, Assyrians, Persians, Alexander the Great, Romans, Arabs suddenly aflame with Islam, Crusaders (who came up short at Damascus), Mongols, Seljuk and Ottoman Turks. Those caravan “superhighways” are as strategically vital now as ever they were.
Maybe we shouldn’t have skipped History 101?
What happens now? Our military is wargaming contingencies to ensure that, should the Russians fire on us, we’ll be prepared. We cannot let the Russians dictate where we fly and who we can protect. We’ve gone out of our way to avoid confrontations with Putin’s war criminals, but there’s a limit. And we may be about to reach it.
This situation could become President Trump’s own Cuban Missile Crisis: If the Russians pull the trigger, will our president stand up to Putin?
Putin may be betting that he won’t.