How Syria Could Spark US-Rus­sia War

New York Post - - POST OPINION - RALPH PETERS Ralph Peters is Fox News’ strate­gic an­a­lyst.

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.

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