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REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

United States “Within an Inch” of Military Conflict With Russia

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By Shehab Al-Makahleh •

In the immediate aftermath of the US strike on the Syrian Shayrat airbase Russian President Putin called the attack a violation of the international law, which was shortly followed by the Russian Defense Ministry announcing suspension of the memorandum on air safety in Syria reached with the US last year. Russian Prime Minister Medvedev then stated that the “US missile strikes on Syria came ‘within an inch’ of military clashing with Russia.” As the stakes over Syria are rising, the two key questions demand attention. Firstly, why now, and secondly, what can be expected from the US in the coming weeks, and what’s Russia’s probable response, in case of US’ increased involvement in the Syrian war?

That Donald Trump has managed to take the world by surprise with this sudden and unexpected attack on Syria is beyond doubt. What has shocked and disappointed most of his followers and supporters both outside and within the US is the fact that the attack looks like President Trump has too fast succumbed to the military industry complex and neocon establishment’s pressure. Contrary to his own criticism of Obama in 2013 calling for non intervention in Syria, and vows to stay out of the wars and be the ultimate peace deal maker in the Middle East, the spur of the moment decision to attack Syria raises concerns about more of the same dangerous impromtu decisions in the future.

What further raises concerns about the possible serious escalation of the conflict in Syria and wider Middle East, to the scale of a full-fledged war involving multiple states and their armies, including the US, Isreal, Russia, Iran, and others is the fact that even the Red Cross has confirmed that, from the perspective of the international law “the U.S. attack on Syrian military infrastructure – amounts to an international armed conflict.” The ICRC spokeswoman Iolanda Jaquemet told Reuters in Geneva that, “Any military operation by a state on the territory of another without the consent of the other amounts to an international armed conflict”.

So, what this effectively means is that the international conflict is already ongoing, and is slated to get worse.

Before going further, few things need to be analyzed – firstly, the factors that have most likely led to Trump’s decision to attack; and secondly, possible different scenario from what may be concluded from the mainstream media celebrating the attack, not to mention Syrian ‘rebels’ and the opposition, and several other key political figures from Europe and the Middle East clearly calling for more bloodshed in Syria.

Until this morning, the US political and media establishment were acting in unison in their attacks on the new American president. Remembering the presidential campaign we should recall that throughout the campaign Trump was the least likely presidential candidate, even within his own party. This fact alone tells a lot about the rift between the president and the military industrial complex, fronted by Pentagon—whose very existence depends on making and using weapons, in few words—on waging wars.

This morning things have taken a U-turn, just like Trump yesterday, when he announced the forthcoming attack on Syria. The three most crucial supporters of the attack from within the US coming from the camp directly opposed to Trump and his electoral policy promises of less wars, more jobs and global collaboration, are worth naming: Hillary Clinton, Senator John McCain, and Senator Lindsey Graham. Ms. Clinton as his presidential opponent, the one who lost election to him, and with former president Obama’s help continued undermining Trump’s presidency. Senator John McCain as the man most vocal in calling for intervention in Syria, and not less importantly, the one with alleged and proven links to the so-called rebels, some of whom are nothing less than Al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists. Senator Graham as the right hand of John McCain in his opposition to President Trump.

These three are just the names and faces of the key lobbies that have invested too much into the Syrian and Iraqi wars, to let go easily, the lobbies that are also known as the Deep State. It has been known that since his election, the Deep State has been waging war on Trump and his administration.

So what happened to make Trump do exactly what the Deep State wanted him to do, despite its attacking him as Kremlin’s puppet, a Manchurian candidate, and the like? Does the attack on Syria now mean that he is no longer Kremlin’s agent, or does it mean that he has been instructed by Russia’s top-KGB agent turned President to use the art of war and defeat the enemy by using their own weight to crush them underneath? That there’s more than meets the eye to the US attack on Syria, is beyond obvious.

If Trump’s attack on Syria was truly a response to the ‘false flag’ chemical attack reported by the terrorist factions that are rapidly loosing both ground in Syria and Iraq (as well as Libya), then he is following the blueprint set by three of his predecessors (if not more), in Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Libya, as noted by analysts and pundits—because this is what Deep State wanted. That means that soon a greater war will engulf the region, because neither US nor Russia will step down or give up on their stated objectives. And that means that soon, his enemies at home will be his best friends.

Alternatively, Trump could be the man of principles and the attack could be a brilliant publicity stunt, meant to feed the vultures to keep them busy while he’s doing what a man’s gotta do, and keeping his promise to rid the world of terrorism, working with all parties that have same interests. And those partners cannot be the states that have provided finance and weapons to the terrorist factions fighting in Syria and Iraq—precisely the states that have been the first to cheer the attack.

The latter would mean that more positive scenario is at play. Everything is very simple just like Trump’s announced in his recent meeting in Washington with the king of Jordan, that the fight against ISIS will be short; shorter than many people think. Trump also met Egyptian president Sisi, just before meeting Jordanian king, soon after the conclusion of the Arab Summit in Jordan, in which Arab League states have agreed on the territorial integrity of Syria. In the light of the agreement with the two Arab leaders, the attack on Syria runs contrary to the stated objectives of bringing about peace, upholding territorial integrity of Syria, and creating conditions for refugees to return to their homes.

On the other hand, the fact that the US has informed Russia before the airstrike, could have also allowed Syria to save some of the aircraft, as was reported by the Lebanese TV Al-Mayadeen. What is problematic is the conflicting information regarding damage. There are reports saying that about 9 of the aircraft were destroyed; but the material evidence from the airbase also shows limited damage to the hangars. This puts to question the effectiveness of the missiles. Moreover, the US has reported to have fired about 59 Tomahawk missiles, however Russia has reported that only 23 have reached their targets in Syria, while some Syrian sources are reporting that other were downed by Syrian air-defense systems or have hit civilian targets in surrounding villages. The US claims that 58 out of 59 missiles have hit their targets.

That Russia has taken a very serious stance on the strike is evident in its verbal responses and condemnation, as well as the noticeable movement of the military equipment. Reports are coming in that the Russian air defense systems S-300 and S-400 in Syria have been put in combat readiness. Earlier today, Russian Tass News Agency reported that the Black Sea Fleet cruise missile-armed frigate is headed for Syria’s Tartus. All this signals that Russia is ready to bolster Syrian defenses. Both Iran and Hezbollah have also voiced their readiness to continue offering support to Syria in its fight against terrorism, which means that US and its allies will have not one but at least four different and very capable forces to fight against should they enter the Syrian quagmire.

In case of the larger regional war, who are Americans counting on in their Syrian crusade?

Immediately following the attack, three key regional players and staunch enemies of the Syrian president and current Syrian state have very vocally supported the move: Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel. Turkey has offered readiness to participate in the war. But Erdogan’s Turkey has a problem with Syrian Kurds, and wants part of Syria. Erdogan also needs points for the upcoming referendum, but could lose the country should he get too deeply involved in the Syrian war in case of further escalation. Saudi Arabia is already in war with Yemen, while its economy is facing challenges due to a protracted recession due to low oil prices. Moreover, UK is selling more and more of its weapons to the Kingdom, to save its own economy as it leaves EU. Israel is having its own governmental crisis, just like the other two, which its current Prime Minister, according to his own opposition seeks to ameliorate by diverting attention to the outside threats, with familiar sounding names – Iran, Syria, Hezbollah.

And finally, there is the question of Trump’s big goal of a historic peace deal in the Middle East—the lasting solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict—two states existing in peace side by side. He had apparently agreed with the Egyptian and the Jordanian leaders that two states are the solution. Which means that the only one who doesn’t fit the picture is the current Israreli Prime Minister—the one blocking the Palestinian state creation, calling for war on Hezbollah, toppling Syrian president and most dangerously, war with Iran. Two former Israeli security chiefs have opined that Netanyahu’s days are numbered. They may as well have a clue.

The problem with going to war with Syria, at this juncture, is not only a war against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, whether you like him or not, but a war that United States would have to fight against at least Lebanese Hezbollah, Syrian Army, Russia, Iran and most probably China at some point. Russia’s stakes in the Syrian war are well known and public, but China’s are as well. China’s development project of the century (OBOR) that runs through the Middle East is too big to fail, even for the US. That perhaps, along with Russian nuclear warheads should be the red line that Trump should not even think to cross. Because crossing that line would be equal to crossing Rubicon. Hundred years ago on April 6, another US president has officially announced US entry into the WWI. Trump’s attack on Syria could be US entry into the last world war; last because it has the potential of destroying the world.

Shehab al-Makahleh is a co-founder of Geostrategic Media, Senior Media and Political Adviser in the Middle East