With its breath held, the world is watching the situation creep in Syria. The D-day “could be very soon or not so soon at all”, as President Trump said in another remark to demonstrate his flip-flop policy. The most frequently asked question is what will it lead to? It’s possible to make at least some predictions regarding the prospects of direct clash between the two strongest military powers.
The US will strike Syria. The pressure is mounting and the president has to do something about it. Donald Trump’s name is mentioned in the FBI search and seizure warrants executed against his personal lawyer Michael Cohen. Other stories hit headlines. Some time ago it was tax evasion to be followed by illegal child stories. Today it’s the affairs with adult film star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal. Tomorrow it’ll be something else. The Special Counsel Mueller’s “Russiagate” investigation is underway and you never know what to expect. It’s important to divert public attention and save approval ratings. This is not the time the president can allow himself to be “soft”. He has to react and is pushed to do so. Too many things have been said and done. The decision has been made and there is no turning back.
Will he wait for UN investigators to finish their job? Hardly so. An OPCW team is working in Douma now but the organization has no authority to say who exactly the perpetrator is. It can only ascertain the very fact that the chlorine was used - something the US and its allies appear to have no doubt about. The OPCW has failed to demonstrate its efficiency as it investigated the previous strikes in Syria. The process is slow and one can never be sure they’ll be able to come to definite conclusions. Besides, French President Macron said on April 12 he already had evidence to prove the use of chemical weapons in Douma by Damascus. He did not elaborate. US media cite other sources to confirm the Assad’s fault. The White House is reported to be confident that chemical weapons were used in Douma.
So, Donald Trump will order an attack on Syria’s military infrastructure to degrade its capability as well strike its Iranian ally. The US will have to knock out Syria’s air defenses first to reveal the methods and tactics used to carry out such a mission. No doubt, the Russian military intelligence will analyze it thoroughly.
Will it lead to a direct clash with Russian military? Never say never, but the answer is no, it is too risky. If the US wanted to really start a war with a country that can hit back, it would never make comments on timing of a military action. There would be hush-hush preparations with no warnings and details about the intentions posted on Twitter. The American military would do its best to make the operation a surprise.
The US and Russia have a smoothly running mechanism of avoiding incidents. It’s not in headlines, but their military contacts are intense at the moment via the deconfliction hotline. Russian respected business daily Kommersant reported on April 12 that Russian top defense officials were in contact with the Defense Department over the potential strikes. According to the newspaper, receiving coordinates of the targets before an attack was an issue on the agenda. Washington evidently wants to reach an agreement on keeping Russian military out of harm’s way.
Tartus and Hmeimim, the bases operated by Russian military, will not be targets. It’s not a coincidence that Syria assets have already been moved to Hmeimim. The war against Moscow is on but the main weapon is economic sanctions.
Moscow said it will use its air defense systems to provide legitimate defense of its personnel in Syria. Perhaps, the Syrian Defense Ministry’s building is an asset to defend as Russian personnel is present inside. The US military will strike where air defenses are weak to use an “easy victory” for political ends.
This is going to be a missiles’ war: cruise missiles against Russian state-of–the-art air defense interceptors. Russian S-400 systems have never been tried in action. They can hit low flying targets. To get through, many Tomahawks will be needed to create a saturation effect as losses may be heavy enough. If S-400s prove to be effective, and there is each and every reason to believe they will, one can imagine how many countries will want to acquire them. The missile-to-missile fight will be waged under the conditions of intense electronic warfare but without American and Russian soldiers shooting at each other. The situation will be tense. The parties involved will be balancing on the brink of armed conflict but it won’t be an actual war between the US and Russia.
For President Trump the main the thing is to demonstrate readiness to react. The US will form and head a coalition of leading Western and Arab states to roll back Iran and boost the American influence in the region. It’s very important to have Turkey onboard. Ankara has already urged strong punishment of perpetrators of the alleged Douma chemical attack. This is a chance to smooth differences and get Ankara back into NATO orbit. The talks on using Incirlik air base to strike Syria are already underway.
Many influential politicians and pundits will applaud it, praising the president. If successful, an operation in Syria, along with the economy doing well, will boost GOP’s chances before the 2018 mid-term elections. But flying missiles take toll. The situation is comparable to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis or the balancing of the brink of war during the 1973 Yom Kippur conflict. True, as one can see, the US is applying efforts to avoid a collision with Russia, while ready to strike other actors, such as Iran. It goes to show how important it is to be strong dealing with Washington, which is addicted to the use of force as an instrument to solve domestic and foreign policy problems. Hopefully, the worst will be avoided, at least this time. But one can never be sure. The flames of war are easy to spark but extremely hard to extinguish.