- President Donald Trump threatened to shoot missiles at Syria despite Russia’s intention to counterattack the US, but he hasn’t yet ordered the strike.
- Instead, Trump has been working behind the scenes to strategize with allies and Russia, and he may have cooked up a strike that could avert further escalation.
- Russia doesn’t have the conventional military strength to stand up to the US and its allies, so if attacked, it may feel the need to respond asymmetrically or even brandish its nuclear force in a way that could bring about World War III.
- If the US can manage to strike only Syrian targets involved in suspected gas attacks on civilians, the US may well pull of a strike that would go unpunished, as it did in April 2017.
President Donald Trump rattled the world on Wednesday by telling Russia to prepare for a US missile strike on Syria, despite Moscow’s threats to retaliate against the US.
But by Friday, fears of a major conflict have largely abated.
For the US, the path to punishing Syrian President Bashar Assad for what it sees as repeated gas attacks against civilians could easily veer into a massive conflict with Russia.
Russia, Syria’s ally, has troops on the ground in the country and powerful air defences to protect its own assets, and because Syria is a small country and Russian systems are long range, much of the country is under Russia’s protection.
But despite what experts have unanimously classified to Business Insider as Russian bluster about counter-attacking the US if it strikes Syria, all-out war seems unlikely.
The Kremlin says the US and Russia are regularly talking on a deconfliction hotline, which has the express purpose of avoiding US military activity from impacting Russian forces, and vice versa.
Now, the Kremlin’s official line seems to have softened.
Whatever Trump is doing behind the scenes, it’s calmed people down
“I rule out a scenario in which the United States will intentionally strike a facility in Syria where Russian servicemen are located,” Military Sciences Academy Vice President Sergei Modes tov said in Thursday’s edition of the government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the Washington Post notes.
In Lebanon, Syria’s neighbour, Iran-backed Hezbollah also doubts a US-Russia clash or an escalation into all out war, according to its deputy leader.
“The conditions do not point to a total war happening … unless Trump and Netanyahu completely lose their minds,” Sheikh Naim Qassem told Lebanese daily al-Joumhouria, referring to the US president and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as Reuters notes.
Potentially the source of the new confidence on the part of the US’s rivals in the Middle East comes from the fact that Trump will reportedly warn Russia of the targets it intends to hit in advance of any strike on Syria.
If a US strike on Syria doesn’t kill any Russians, and simply punishes targets thought to participate in gas attacks on civilians, it could very well pass without much blowback.
In fact, that exact scenario played out in April 2017, when the US last struck Syria.
The US has options, Russia doesn’t really
Meanwhile, the US has been rallying allies and putting together a joint strategy with France and the UK. If France, and not the US, carry out the strike, it’s unclear if Russia’s threats to down US platforms would transfer over to the French, who have better relations with Moscow.
If the US killed Russian servicemen who were invited into the country by Syria – but do not threaten US forces – Russia could be justified in launching a counterattack, though experts don’t give them a good chance in fighting with the US military.
With a weak conventional army, an offended Russia may see its only recourse as asymmetrical escalation via offensives elsewhere, and possibly even brandishing its considerable nuclear deterrent.
In Syria, all the makings of World War III are there, but despite inflammatory tweets, Trump may be cautiously taking action to avert such a catastrophe.
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