We can only hope that Damascus escapes the fate of being the Sarajevo of the 21st Century, as US historian Daniel Lazare warned in a recent media interview.
Sarajevo is synonymous with the trigger that ignited World War I in 1914, which led to over 10 million deaths. It saw the demonic birth of modern wars of mass destruction.
Lazare contends that the American, French and British air strikes on April 14 are just the “first step in a far more aggressive US military campaign against Syria”.
He added: “The US cannot leave Syria, it will never leave Syria, greater US military aggression is to come… Damascus is the Sarajevo of the 21st Century.”
History rarely repeats itself exactly. But history certainly can rhyme, so to speak, meaning that repetition of approximate patterns are discernible.
Exactly a century after the very first world-wide, industrial-scale war ended in 1918, there is a real risk of a similar conflagration erupting in Syria. Only, if this were to happen, the danger of escalation is even greater, given that potential combatants have nuclear weapons.
It is not inevitable that history repeats, or even rhymes. It is not inevitable that Syria’s seven-year war will explode into an international war. But nevertheless the danger is proximate.
As with Sarajevo in 1914, the burgeoning configuration of rival powers is present. All it would take is for one spark to ignite the powder keg of forces.
One such spark was the US, French and British air strikes against Syria earlier this month. Syria and its allies, Russia and Iran, denounced the military attack as an aggression, a violation of international law owing to the alleged pretext of revenge for a chemical weapons incident on April 7 near Damascus was patently fraudulent.
The tragedy of the looming conflict in Syria is that few politicians or citizens would want an all-out war to eventuate, knowing that the consequences could be so utterly horrific.
There is every reason to believe that US and Russian military commands are maintaining close communications to avoid any accidental clash in Syria, and thus avoid a confrontation.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in a lengthy interview with Russian media, said that Moscow had warned Washington about “red lines” in Syria, which he said the American side abided by when it conducted the air strikes earlier this month. There were no casualties and the minimal extent of damage suggest that the air strikes were more for show than for any real military purpose.
Lavrov also said that he was confident the present American and Russian leaderships would not allow an escalation of conflict in Syria.
The foreign minister said: “Speaking about the risk of a military confrontation, I feel absolutely confident in assuming that the militaries will not allow this, and of course neither will President Putin nor President Trump. They are leaders, after all, elected by their people and responsible for their peace.”
Nonetheless, getting back to the Sarajevo analogy, the fiendishly perplexing thing is that the configuration of forces is such that the logic of war can over-ride what leaders say with rationality. It is probably fair to say that European leaders back in 1914 did not want nor foresee how events would unravel in an uncontrollable and catastrophic way.
In Syria today, we have American, French and British forces operating on the ground and in the air. A US aircraft-carrier battle group has now arrived in the Mediterranean within striking distance from Syria. All of these NATO forces, including Turkey, it should be said, are illegally threatening Syria.
There seems little doubt that the recent build-up of NATO military power threatening Syria is a result of their proxy terror groups having been defeated after a seven-year war. That strategic defeat can be attributed to Russia and Iran’s intervention on the side of its Syrian ally following a legal request for help from Damascus.
US President Trump has lately been talking about withdrawing American forces from Syria. That could be idle bluster from Trump given that the Pentagon seems determined to do just the opposite. Also, if Trump manages to draw down some US troop levels in Syria, he has stated a desire to replace those forces with military units from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab regimes, as well as possibly contracting private mercenaries under the charge of his friend Erik Prince, the founder of infamous Blackwater USA.
Then we have French President Emmanuel Macron this week urging Trump to maintain US military presence in Syria, warning that the Western states cannot afford to let Iran gain influence, despite the fact that Iranian forces are legally present in Syria under request from Damascus, and despite the fact that Iran, along with Russia, helped defeat the Western-backed covert war for regime change using terrorist proxies. The sheer arrogance of Macron!
Adding to the combustible mix is Saudi Arabia and Israel who have said they are willing to join in any future US-led air strikes on Syria.
It seems clear that the Saudis and Israelis are itching to start a war with Iran which they obsessively view as their nemesis.
Almost a week before the April 14 US-led air strikes, a far more dangerous incident occurred on April 8, when Israeli air-launched missiles hit the T-4 military airbase in central Syria. Among the dead were seven Iranian advisors. Again, it was another spark jumping at the powder keg.
Iran’s national security chief Ali Shamkhani this week warned of “consequences and retaliatory actions” for what was an outrageous act of war by Israel.
In response to this legitimate statement of Iranian self-defense, Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman had the chutzpah to say: “Israel doesn’t war but if Iran attacks Tel Aviv we will hit Tehran.”
Apart from Lieberman’s arrogant irrationality, what his statement implies is that a false-flag incident is begging in order to give Israel a pretext for more aggression against Syria and Iran.
The danger in Syria is not just the accumulation of military forces but the dynamic of many moving parts. An incident involving Israel and Iran could be the flashpoint that explodes with impact on the concentric forces aligned.
Politicians and military leaders in the US and Russia may have no intention of all-out war. They may even genuinely abhor such a scenario.
But that is why the Sarajevo analogy invoked by Daniel Lazare holds. Disastrous consequences can follow ineluctably from the circumstances, regardless of better intentions.
This is why it is imperative that all military forces in Syria must stand down and let the country pursue a self-determined political process, as several UN resolutions have mandated.
The legal and moral onus is first and foremost on the US, France and Britain to stand down their military forces, and to stop interfering in Syria. They, after all, are illegally present.
Ominously, however, the NATO allies do not seem willing to comply with international law. They are recklessly piling up the powder keg. And to their shame, the United Nations and the European Union, are cowardly complicit in acquiescing to the belligerence of Washington and its allies. The UN and EU should be explicitly demanding the NATO powers to desist from their illegal activities towards Syria. But no. Cowardly silence.
In that regard, Damascus, fearfully, looks increasingly like Sarajevo in 1914.
Against that, we might recall that the Syrian city is also synonymous with “conversion” and “repentance” – as goes the story of Saul the Jewish mass murderer of early Christians who then “saw the light” of divine righteousness to turn away from iniquity to become peace-loving St Paul.
However, given the arrogant, deluded mass-murderers among the US-led NATO alliance, such a timely conversion seems unlikely.