On June 18, 2017, prominent U.K. newspaper the Guardian asked an important question: “Has Trump opened the door to conflict with Iran?”
According to Foreign Policy,
a pair of top White House officials are pushing to broaden the war in
Syria against Iranian-backed troops who are currently posing a major
threat to the American military’s goals in the region.
“Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence on the
National Security Council, and Derek Harvey, the NSC’s top Middle East
advisor, want the United States to start going on the offensive in
southern Syria, where, in recent weeks, the U.S. military has taken a
handful of defensive actions against Iranian-backed forces fighting in
support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”
Thankfully, FP’s sources state that even the most traditional
Iran hawks are nervous about such a plan, including Defense Secretary
James “Mad Dog” Mattis. FP reports:
“Despite the more aggressive stance pushed by some White House
officials, Mattis, military commanders, and top U.S. diplomats all
oppose opening up a broader front against Iran and its proxies in
southeastern Syria, viewing it as a risky move that could draw the
United States into a dangerous confrontation with Iran, defense
officials said. Such a clash could trigger retaliation against U.S.
troops deployed in Iraq and Syria, where Tehran has armed thousands of
Shiite militia fighters and deployed hundreds of Revolutionary Guard
Iran hawks fear that if the U.S. does not take control in the
aftermath following ISIS’ downfall, Iran will emerge the dominant victor
in Syria’s six-year-long war. This is ironic considering the whole purpose of launching a foreign-backed insurgency against the Assad government was to undermine and contain Iran in the first place.
Once again, America’s foreign policy strategy has backfired and
merely strengthened Iran’s presence in the region. War hawks in the U.S. only have themselves to blame for this dilemma considering they overthrew an anti-Iranian president in Iraq, Saddam Hussein, and replaced him with a Shia-led government that quickly aligned itself with Tehran.
However, as catastrophic as a potential war with Iran would be, there
is a majorly overlooked elephant sitting on the battlefield that no one
is talking about: the Russian military.
As Newsweek explained
last week, both the Russian and American militaries are now battling
ISIS in Raqqa — “but not as allies.” The fact that Russia is taking credit for an airstrike
that reportedly may have killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in
Raqqa is a testament to the fact that both Russia and America’s armed
forces are bombarding the same area. However, the fact remains that they
are not working in tandem – far from it.
The Russian air force is bolstering the Syrian Arab Army (S.A.A.).
According to a recent statement from the S.A.A., the U.S. military reportedly
just shot down a Syrian government warplane in Raqqa, which is a
flagrant act of war. In response to this violation of Syria’s
sovereignty, Russia has released a statement of its own, warning the U.S.-led coalition it will now treat coalition warplanes as targets. Russia has also suspended the supposed “hotline” between Russia and the United States which was set up to avoid these types of scenarios.
Russia also recently confirmed
that the U.S. had, indeed, deployed a long-range rocket launcher to the
Al-Tanf base in Syria — a region where no ISIS fighters are present.
Rather, that area is filled with Iranian-backed militia fighting under
the banner of the S.A.A.
It needs to be further emphasized that ISIS’ last stand in Syria will
pit the United States’ air force directly against Russia’s. This is not
something that can simply be de-escalated through the use of a hotline
because the U.S. and Russia have polar opposite interests in the
country, and ISIS’ defeat is edging ever closer. Once ISIS is defeated,
the two rivals will seek to influence who retakes control of the
Despite the ongoing massacre taking place in Raqqa right now as ISIS fighters flee the city, it is becoming increasingly clear that ISIS’ last stand
will not take place in Raqqa but in a vitally strategic area called
Deir ez-Zor, which is also home to an isolated Syrian government
As the Washington Times notes:
“Military commanders in Damascus, Tehran
and Moscow are setting their sights on the Syrian city of Deir el-Zour
and the surrounding Middle Euphrates River Valley as the battleground
for the fight against the jihadi group, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
“Coalition commanders and Pentagon officials say the overall
battle plan will address the Islamic State buildup in Deir el-Zour. But
with all eyes fixed on Raqqa, it remains to be seen how Syrian-led
operations, backed by Russia, will affect that long-term strategy.”
But here is the potentially devastating news no one is talking about:
Russia is already bombing the areas around Deir ez-Zor in full
preparation for this battle. According to the Independent, Russia just claimed it killed around 180 ISIS militants and two prominent commanders, Abu Omar al-Belijiki and Abu Yassin al-Masri, very close to ISIS’ stronghold in Deir ez-Zor.
Why would Russia expend so much time, effort, money, and personnel – in the face of non-stop American-imposed sanctions
– to prop up Syria’s president only for Vladimir Putin to sit back and
watch as American-backed forces fight to retake vital Syrian cities?
The idea is inconceivable. Russia, Iran, and Syria have made too many
important gains over the past two years to sit back and allow the U.S.
to claim the victory against ISIS. In Iraq, an Iranian-backed militia was crucial in defeating ISIS’ major strongholds. In Syria, the Syrian government and its allies have been the most heavily engaged entity fighting ISIS in the past year.
Further, at least according to Russia’s state-funded RT, Iran launched a mid-range ballistic missile attack on a position in Deir ez-Zor over the weekend, as well.
As allies of the Syrian government, Russia and Iran’s campaigns have an air of legitimacy. Iran is bound to Syria by a mutual defense treaty, which was formed as far back as 2005. The Syrian government requested Russian military assistance in 2015. This is no different than NATO members coming to the aid of a besieged NATO member, as required by the NATO Treaty (or NATO countries ganging up together on a smaller country that possesses a relatively weak military).
Conversely, the U.S. and its allies have no legal basis to operate
militarily within Syrian territory. History will be forced to remember
this ongoing crisis this way. When it comes to a discussion on how
Russia and the U.S. could have avoided their respective air forces
colliding with each other in the Syrian desert, the country that had no
legal justification to be there (and shot down Syrian government jets)
will ultimately be responsible.
Remember this as we edge closer and closer to a global confrontation: it is all occurring as part of a geopolitical chess game that has nothing to do with preserving our rights, freedoms, safety, or security.
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