Syria, the weakest link of a bigger war
Up until recently the Korean confrontation was thought to be the major threat facing the world. China then intervened, not wanting a hot conflict on its borders that could affect its economy. Chinese President Xi Jinping invited Kim Jong-un to Beijing and they had a key meeting at the end of March, which played a major role in de-escalation of tension in the Pacific. Now there are reports about a possible meeting between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump amid a trade struggle between the two countries. North Korea thus seems to have been removed from the list as the weakest link in a chain that could trigger a bigger, global scale war.
A couple of weeks ago, reports on the seven-year-old Syrian civil war were mostly limited to Turkey’s military operation against security threats across its border in the northwestern district of Afrin. Washington had tried to deter Turkey from continuing its operation against the U.S.’s ground partner against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara sees as the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
But since last week the focus has shifted to alleged chemical attacks of Bashar al-Assad on towns and regions outside of the regime’s control, East Ghouta, Douma, and others. Trump gave an unexpectedly strong reaction to the attacks, together with France and the U.K., while Russian President Vladimir Putin gave expected full support to the al-Assad regime, denying that it used chemical weapons.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan has strongly condemned “those behind the attack,” while being careful not to accuse Russia directly. Responding to an earlier statement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Erdoğan also said Turkey would transfer control of Afrin to a future, elected Syria government, not necessarily the current regime as Russia implied. It is a fact that Russia’s indirect support to Turkey in the Afrin operation against the YPG (which Moscow described as a “Kurdish proxy-U.S. militia”) made the Turkish military’s job much easier. Yet Turkey’s position remains a key factor in the Syria picture, as a NATO ally of the U.S. in cooperation with Russia in Syria.
As Moscow tries diplomatic maneuvers to steal time to block a United Nations Security Council vote on Syria, the U.S. has vowed tougher action, including a military operation against the Syrian regime. Trump has cancelled a planned trip to Peru and Colombia, signaling that he is on the verge of making a crucial decision, while Russia has reportedly put its forces in Syria and the Mediterranean on red alert. There have been leaked reports about 22 possible targets in Syria that could be hit by the U.S., but Russian units are stationed at some of these targets, which could drag the issue to another level.
In the meantime, Israeli jets hit Syria’s T4 air base near Homs, allegedly because the base was the source of recent drone attacks. It has been reported that the bodies of seven Iranian officers killed in the attack have been sent to Tehran. As an interesting side note, the Russian Foreign Ministry summoned the Israeli ambassador to Moscow in order to protest the attack.
The tension in Syria is rising with every passing hour. Questions are being asked about what Russia’s reaction will be if the U.S. hits Syria, whether Russia’s response will target the American presence in Syria alongside the YPG/PKK, and what kind of role Iran will assume in such a scenario. Those questions alone show that Syria is currently the weakest link in a bigger scale war, which must be avoided through diplomacy.