World War III in Syria
Saudi-backed Syrian rebels balked at peace talks and
the Russian-backed Syrian army cut off Turkish
supply lines to jihadists and other Syrian rebels,
the U.S. and its Mideast Sunni “allies” appear
poised to invade Syria and force “regime change”
even at the risk of fighting Russia, a gamble with
nuclear war, writes Joe Lauria.
09, 2016 "Information
- " Consortium
Secretary Ashton Carter last October said in a
comment that the United States was ready to take
“direct action on the ground” in Syria. Vice
President Joe Biden said in Istanbul last month that
if peace talks in Geneva failed, the United States
was prepared for a “military solution” in that
talks collapsed on Wednesday even before they began.
A day later Saudi Arabia said it is ready to invade
Syria while Turkey is building up forces at its
aims to restart the talks on Feb. 25 but there is
little hope they can begin in earnest as the
Saudi-run opposition has set numerous conditions.
The most important is that Russia stop its military
operation in support of the Syrian government, which
has been making serious gains on the ground.
A day after
the talks collapsed, it was revealed that Turkey has
begun preparations for an invasion of Syria,
according to the Russian Defense Ministry. On
Thursday, ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said:
“We have good reasons to believe that Turkey is
actively preparing for a military invasion of a
sovereign state – the Syrian Arab Republic. We’re
detecting more and more signs of Turkish armed
forces being engaged in covert preparations
for direct military actions in Syria.” The U.N. and
the State Department had no comment. But this
supported by a sound of alarm from Turkey’s main
opposition party, the Republican People’s Party
which has restarted its war against Kurdish PKK
guerillas inside Turkey, is determined to crush the
emergence of an independent Kurdish state inside
Syria as well. Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan
stopped the Syrian Kurds from attending the aborted
invasion would appear poised to attack the Syrian
Kurdish PYD party, which is allied with the PKK. The
Syrian (and Iraqi) Kurds, with the Syrian army, are
the main ground forces fighting the Islamic State.
Turkey is pretending to fight ISIS, all the while
supporting its quest to overthrow Assad, also a
Arabia then said on Thursday it was prepared to send
its ground forces into Syria if asked. Carter
welcomed it. Of course Biden, Erdogan, Carter
and the Saudis are all saying a ground invasion
would fight ISIS. But their war against ISIS has
been half-hearted at best and they share ISIS’ same
enemy: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. If the U.S.
were serious about fighting ISIS it would have at
least considered a proposal by Russia to join a
coalition as the U.S. did against the Nazis.
Prize of Aleppo
of the Geneva collapse is a ruse. There was little
optimism the talks would succeed. The real reason
for the coming showdown in Syria is the success of
Russia’s military intervention in defense of the
Syrian government against the Islamic State and
other extremist groups. Many of these groups are
supported by Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United
States in pursuit of overthrowing Assad.
nations are all apparently poised for a ground
invasion of Syria just as, by no coincidence, the
Syrian Arab Army with Russian air cover is pushing
to liberate perhaps the greatest prize in the Syrian
civil war — Aleppo, the country’s commercial
capital. The Russians and Syrians have already
cut off Turkey’s supply lines to rebels in the
Saturday, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates joined the
Saudis in saying they would intervene only as part
of a U.S.-led ground invasion. The Obama
administration has maintained that it would not send
U.S. ground forces into Syria, beyond a few hundred
U.S. allies, driven by fierce regional ambitions,
appear to be putting immense pressure on the Obama
administration to decide if it is prepared to lose
Syria. Though Carter said he welcomed the
Saudi declaration he made no commitment about U.S.
ground forces. But Saudi Brigadier General Ahmed
Asseri told al-Arabiya TV that a decision could be
made to intervene at a NATO summit in Brussels next
week. Carter said the
matter would be on the agenda.
cannot likely stand by and watch Russia win in
Syria. At the very least it wants to be on the
ground to meet them at a modern-day
Elbe and influence the outcome.
could go wrong in a war in which the U.S. and Russia
are not allies, as they were in World War II.
Despite this, the U.S. and its allies see Syria as
important enough to risk confrontation with Russia,
with all that implies. It is not at all clear though
what the U.S. interests are in Syria to take such a
outset of Russia’s intervention the U.S. and its
allies have wanted Moscow out of the Syrian theater.
They seem to be only waiting for the right
opportunity. That opportunity may be now — forced by
national security adviser and current Obama adviser
said last October in the Financial Times that,
“The Russian naval and air presences in Syria are
vulnerable, isolated geographically from their
homeland. They could be ‘disarmed’ if they persist
in provoking the U.S.”
downing in November of a Russian warplane that
allegedly veered 17 seconds into Turkish territory
appeared to be very much a provocation to draw
Russia into a conflict to allow NATO to drive Moscow
out of Syrian skies. But Russia was too smart for
that and instead imposed sanctions on Turkey, while
urging Russian tourists not to visit the country,
hurt the Turkish economy.
Battleground of Empires
fertile crossroad between Asia and Africa backed by
desert, Syrian territory has been fought over for
centuries. Pharaoh Ramses II defeated the Hittites
at the Battle of Kadesh near Lake Homs in 1247 BCE.
The Persians conquered Syria in 538 BCE. Alexander
the Great took it 200 years later and the Romans
grabbed Syria in 64 BCE.
defeated the Byzantine Empire there at the Battle of
Yarmuk in 636. In one of the first Shia-Sunni
battles, Ali failed to defeat Muawiyah in 657 at
Siffin along the Euphrates near the Iraq-Syria
border. Damascus became the seat of the Caliphate
until a coup in 750 moved it to Baghdad.
Crusaders next invaded Syria beginning in 1098.
Egyptian Mamluks took the country in 1250 and the
Ottoman Empire began in 1516 at its victory at Marj
Dabik, 44 kilometers north of Aleppo — about where
Turkish supplies are now being cut off. France
double-crossed the Arabs and gained control of
Syria in 1922 after the Ottoman collapse. The Nazis
were pushed out in the momentous 1941 Battle of
We may be
now looking at an epic war with similar historical
significance. All these previous battles, as
momentous as they were, were regional in nature.
What we are
potentially facing is a war that goes beyond the
Soviet-U.S. proxy wars of the Cold War era, and
beyond the proxy war that has so far taken place in
the five-year Syrian civil war. Russia is already
present in Syria. The entry of the United States and
its allies would risk a direct confrontation between
the two largest nuclear powers on earth.
Joe Lauria is
a veteran foreign-affairs journalist based at the
U.N. since 1990. He has written for the Boston
Globe, the London Daily Telegraph, the Johannesburg
Star, the Montreal Gazette, the Wall Street Journal
and other newspapers. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org and
followed on Twitter at @unjoe.