(NationalSentinel) War: Throughout the Cold War, most geopolitical analysts were convinced that World War III would eventually breakout along the European borders with the former Soviet Union, so U.S. and NATO forces concentrated strategy on protecting the continent from the Red Army.
So today, it seems surreal that the next global conflagration could occur over the rump state of Syria, which barely even exists now after years of internal civil war.
And yet, following the massive U.S. airstrike against a Syrian government airbase believed to be the launch site of last week’s deadly sarin gas attack that killed as many as 100 noncombatants – dozens of them children – a former superpower and a regional power appear set to double down on their support for the flailing regime of Bashar al-Assad.
As reported by The Wall Street Journal, Russia and Iran, both of whom have invested billions of dollars in propping up Assad as he battled ISIS and a myriad of rebel groups, may now conclude that it’s better to protect their investment and reinforce the Syrian government now that President Donald J. Trump has drawn his own red line in the war-torn country:
Many Middle East analysts said Iran could seek to mobilize even more military support for Mr. Assad in coming months. This is in addition to the thousands of Shiite fighters it has already deployed in Syria since civil war broke out in the country in 2011.
Syria serves as Iran’s closest regional ally and the land bridge for Iranian supplies going to Lebanese and Palestinian militias at war with Israel.
“The key question now is, what’s the Iranian response to the attack? Do they double down,” said Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Iranian experts said the government has no choice, given the billions of dollars it has already invested in Mr. Assad over the past six years.
“Iran and Russia have paid a high cost in Syria, both financially and in human life, and Iran has lost even more than Russia,” said Foad Izadi, a professor at Tehran University. “Therefore, Iran will not sit back indifferent.”
As for the Trump administration, analysts believe that the president’s decision to strike hard following the sarin gas attack makes clear the U.S. will no longer tolerate them, leaving Iran and Russia with a choice: Bolster Assad’s conventional defenses to include ground forces mobilized by Iran using militiamen from Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon, or seek a diplomatic solution.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is on schedule to visit Moscow next week to hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and of course, the Syrian civil war will top their agenda.
Barring any solution, it seems obvious that the U.S. – leading a loose coalition that includes Turkey and Saudi Arabia – has laid down a gauntlet in Syria. What the other major players now do will determine whether a rump state in the Middle East will become the trigger for World War III.