Opinion: Syrian Crisis A Worldwide Danger

Last Friday night, US warships launched airstrikes against Syrian research, storage and military targets.

By Frank V. Vernuccio

Frank V. Vernuccio, Jr., J.D.

[On Friday night, US and European allies launched airstrikes against Syrian research, storage and military targets as President Trump sought to punish President Bashar al-Assad for a suspected chemical attack near Damascus last weekend that killed more than 40 people.

The dangers in Syria may be even more serious than most believe. As tensions escalate over a chemical attack on civilians, the region moves closer to direct conflict between Israeli and Syrian forces, and, most troubling, a potential clash, whether on purpose or accidentally, between American and Russian militaries. The use of outlawed weapons has been a “red line’ issue for the United States, although President Obama ignored his own ultimatum, and chose instead to believe what turned out to be insincere Kremlin promises to eliminate Bashar al-Assad’s illegal weaponry.

The BBC  reports that “The Syrian-American Medical Society said more than 500 people were brought to medical centres in Douma, in the Eastern Ghouta region, near the capital Damascus, with symptoms “indicative of exposure to a chemical agent”, including breathing difficulties, bluish skin, mouth foaming, corneal burns and “the emission of chlorine-like odour”.

Moscow, which denies that the Syrian government is responsible, seeks to be the dominant player in the region for a number of reasons it deems critical. Its economy depends heavily on selling energy to Europe, and a controlling position in the Middle East renders this easier. Additionally, in keeping with even pre-Communist Russian goals, it seeks access to warm-water ports for its navy, which Putin has strengthened significantly.  Assad’s willingness to allow the Kremlin to use Tartus as a major naval base is a key interest. Finally, as Moscow’s position in the area has strengthened, Turkey’s ties to NATO have weakened. Removing the Ankara government from the alliance would be an extraordinary military and diplomatic victory for Putin.

Writing in the Weekly Standard, Thomas Joscelyn  notes that “Assad’s principal international backer, Vladimir Putin, hasn’t stopped him from using of them.  [chemical weapons.] Nor has Iran, which is deeply embedded in Syria alongside Assad’s forces.,,It gets even worse, as another rogue state has reportedly facilitated Assad’s acquisition of chemical weapons: North Korea. This facilitation is especially worrisome in light of the two nations’ previous cooperation on a nuclear reactor that was destroyed by the Israelis in 2007…In March, the U.N. issued a report on North Korea’s active “prohibited military cooperation projects…stretching from Africa to the Asia-Pacific region, including ongoing ballistic missile cooperation with the Syrian Arab Republic and Myanmar, widespread conventional arms deals and cyberoperations to steal military secrets.”

A release  from the UN reports mass evacuations from Syrian cities. “In Idlib Province alone, some 1.5 million people were now displaced in various locations, making it “the biggest refugee camp on earth in many ways,” said Mr. Egeland, who is the Senior Adviser to UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura. Mr. Egeland also provided details about the destruction of Raqqa city, once the stronghold of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) extremists, saying that it was even worse than in Aleppo and Homs, two other once-vibrant Syrian cities that have seen massive destruction over the course of the seven-year conflict.”

There is a clear and troubling trend that is becoming increasing apparent, and exceedingly dangerous.  In Europe, Russia has deployed short range Iskander nuclear missiles, in violation of agreements that were signed between President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. It has also invaded neighboring Ukraine, and now occupies Crimea. In the Middle East, it supports the use of outlawed weapons by its Syrian client state. Similarly, it has transferred weapons to Iran, which, through proxies, is directly threatening U.S. allies Israel and Saudi Arabia.

All this occurs as Putin’s massive arms buildup nears completion, and when American forces, following the Obama disinvestment period, leaves U.S. armed forces at their lowest level of strength in decades.

Moscow’s influence in the Middle East, its intimate alliance with unscrupulous governments in Tehran and Damascus, and its confidence in the capabilities of its strengthened armed forces renders the region a flash-point for a war that spread far beyond the region.

Frank Vernuccio serves as editor-in-chief of the New York Analysis of Policy & Government

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