The Real War in Syria :: By Matt Ward

Just hours after the West’s unilateral strike in response to the horrendous chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria,  President Donald Trump took to Twitter, declaring,

“A perfectly executed strike last night. Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and fine military. Could not have been a better result. Mission Accomplished!”

This statement makes me feel deeply uneasy. Trump is not the first Commander in Chief to issue such a claim. Fifteen years before him, President George W. Bush, standing on board the USS Abraham Lincoln, announced that, “major combat operations have ended.”

With a banner hanging above his head, touting the phrase “Mission Accomplished,” it was a speech that would in time come to haunt him. To this day he is still ridiculed and mocked for it. Bush was there that day to declare an end to combat operations in Iraq.

Unfortunately for President Bush, most of the American military deaths in Iraq were still yet to occur, happening long after he had given this “Mission Accomplished” speech. The mission, for the American military in Iraqi, remained far from over.

Skip forward in time fifteen years and one has to wonder how much President Trump really understands about the quagmire that is modern-day Syria. This isn’t over yet, despite his claims to the contrary. Russia, for their part and at the time of this writing, has not yet even responded to these allied airstrikes. And Russia will respond; of that we can be sure.

Most likely, this response will take one of a number of different forms. The British government, for their part, has been very vocal in recent days about their belief that Russia will certainly retaliate at some point in the near future. Boris Johnson, British Foreign Minister, when questioned on television last Sunday, warned that the UK must take “every possible precaution” to protect itself from Russian retaliation following the coalition air strikes on Syria. (1)

Johnson, when asked directly about the possibility of Russian “revenge” attacks, replied,

“You have to take every possible precaution, and when you look at what Russia has done not just in this country, in Salisbury, attacks on TV stations, on the democratic processes, on critical national infrastructure – of course we have to be very, very cautious indeed.”

Indeed, intelligence officers at GCHQ and Britain’s Secret Intelligence Services are on standby, not only for potential cyber-attacks, but also for a “dirty” campaign against the British establishment itself, using the “kompromat” tactics widely used at the height of the cold war. It is believed to be highly likely that Russian hackers will now target British, French and American politicians and VIP’s, with the express aim of finding information that may compromise or smear them in some way.

Equally, it is also highly likely that Russia may launch a series of cyber-attacks on British or allied key infrastructures, like the NHS in Britain, transport or power networks. These attacks, if successful, could potentially bring Britain, or allies, to their knees.

More ominous, though, is what Russia’s response means for the Jewish State of Israel. From a Western and Israeli perspective, the Russian response to the targeted bombings in Syria has been a disturbing one, with Russia immediately seeking to strengthen its ties with Tehran and beginning a rapid process of beefing up the Syrian military.

At the very same time that Western news media was full of stories of Russia’s non-reaction to the Western bombings, Russia was repositioning its heavy strategic Tu-95 and Tu-22M nuclear bombers to bases in Iran, thereby cutting flight time to Syria from Russia by four hours.

At the same time, and in full sight of Western military observers, Russian freighters were landing cargoes of brand new Russia military equipment in Syria, bound for use by the Assad military that the West had just bombed.

Russia has also indicated that they will resume their discussions with Iran, Syria and other nations for the sale of their highly advanced S300 air defense systems, with the aim of protecting their allies against any future US military strikes.

All of this is extremely bad news for Israel. Unlike the West, who limited their attack in Syria to just chemical weapons facilities and associated storage sites, the Russians have made no such promises regarding the scope of their response or retaliation. Everything is fair game to the Russians.

Israel, quite understandably, feels increasingly threatened by Iran’s growing military presence in Syria, and Russia now feels absolutely no inclination to check it, in any way. The US-French-UK airstrikes of Saturday, April 14th, did nothing to address any of Israel’s growing strategic and security concerns in Syria. Indeed, Israel has now been left feeling increasingly isolated by the action, fearing that in the wake of these strikes they may well be left all alone in the event of an Iranian attack against them.

And Israel is right in assuming that Iran may be ready, for the first time, to launch a direct attack of their own against the Jewish State. Hassan Nasrallah, Secretary General of Hezbollah, summed up the strikes quite succinctly, along with the non-impact they have had upon Israel’s enemies:

“Western strikes on Syria had failed to terrorize the army, help insurgents or even serve Israel’s interests.”

And this brings us to the heart of the problem in Syria, and where the real war is, because it certainly isn’t between Russia and the West. The real war in Syria is between Israel and Iran. The recent joint Western strikes did nothing to address any of Israel’s ongoing security concerns, nor did they in any way diminish Iran’s rapidly increasing military presence or the threat they pose to Israel.

Indeed, when President Trump, shortly after the strikes, declared that he would leave Syria and the growing threats there “to others,” Jerusalem determined this to mean that the US was telling Israel, and Jordan by implication, that they must face up to the growing Iranian threats on their borders on their own.

At the exact moment when Israel needs increased US support against Iran, Israel may well not get it. Iran, on the other-hand, is enjoying significantly ramped-up support from Russia because of the strikes.

It is time for a reality check. The Western strikes in Syria have not weakened Assad, nor have they diminished Assad’s illegal chemical weapons arsenal. Neither have the strikes in any way deterred Russia or her allies. Indeed, the opposite is true; the Western strikes have served only to push Russia more deeply into the arms of Iran and her proxies.

Thus, we now reach a point where Israel’s military is at its highest state of alert for years. Israel’s forces on its northern border are at a higher state of readiness now than they have ever been in Israel’s history. This is so because Israel is expecting an attack, at any moment, from Iran. Israel believes that Iran is now on the verge of launching a military operation against them as punishment for their bombing of the Iranian T-4 airbase within Syria just weeks ago, which left eight Iranian Revolutionary Guardsmen and an Iranian Colonel dead.

If this does happen, it will be the first ever direct military clash between Israel and Iran. Israeli intelligence, as cited in national Israeli news publications – which are clearly trying to prepare the Israeli public for an imminent clash with Iran – relayed that various Iranian units in Syria seem to be gearing up for just such an attack.

Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s Defense Minister, put it as follows:

“We are facing a new reality – the Lebanese Army in cooperation with Hezbollah, the Syrian Army, the Shiite militias in Syria and above them Iran — are all becoming a single front against the state of Israel.”

Uncomfortable parallels exist today between the Middle East and Europe immediately prior to the outbreak of World War One. In 1914, it took only one small spark to light a fire that provoked the “war to end all wars.”

The present-day Middle East is the modern-day equivalent of Europe in 1914. Amidst the background of an ever-developing nuclear arms race between Shiite Islam and Sunni Islam, we have the ruined nation state of Syria, which has developed without question into a proxy war between East and West, and which will likely soon culminate in a direct clash between Israel and Iran.

Syria is not a “mission accomplished” scenario, either for the West or for Israel. Indeed, all the signs indicate that the real chaos, between Israel and Iran, is about to begin.