ANALYSIS: Developments show Syrian war could escalate into WWIII

The war is becoming a battle against the Russian-backed Iranian axis in Syria, with US Special Forces and UK soldiers deployed in the area,

Yochanan Visser ,

Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army fighters near Afrin
Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army fighters near Afrin

Yochanan Visser is an independent journalist/analyst who worked for many years as Middle East correspondent for Western in Arizona and was a frequent publicist for the main Dutch paper De Volkskrant. He authored a book in the Dutch language about the cognitive war against Israel and now lives in Gush Etzion. He writes a twice weekly analysis of current issues for Arutz Sheva

Watching unfolding events in Syria over the past week one could be reminded of a famous ancient Midrash by Rabbi Yitzchak which predicted events prior to the redemption of the world.

“The kings of the nations of the world will provoke each other. The king of Persia (today’s ‘Iran’) will threaten the king of Arabia (today called ‘Saudi Arabia’) and because of this the king of Arabia will go to the king of Edom (Edom refers to the Christian world i.e. Europe and the USA) for advice,” Rabbi Yitzchak said almost 2,000 years ago.

While in southern Israel hundreds of U.S. marines joined the IDF in a large scale drill that was conducted in preparation for a three-front missile war and sirens wailed during a nationwide Home Front exercise, the latest dramatic events in Syria could lead to a world war, warn insiders and some ofthe parties in the conflict.

Reacting to the news that the US armed forces in Syria are building new bases east of the Euphrates River, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the establishment of these bases could lead to World War III.

"The question arises, why the US military bases in Syria are needed, and it seems that these bases are directed against Russia and Iran," the Turkish dictator charged.

At the same time the Turkish dictator again threatened to invade parts of northern Iraq and brought his country one step closer to war with Greece over a dispute about several islands in the Aegean Sea which once were part of the Ottoman Empire.

In France, former prime minister Francois Hollande called for war over Russia’s and Turkey’s meddling in the now seven-year-old Syrian conflict.

After explaining that what is at stake in Syria is not the survival of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad but the “world order,” Hollande wrote that the issue is Russia's growing influence in the Middle East.

“The issue is how to respond to Vladimir Putin, not so much how to respond to Bashar al-Assad. … The West must realize the true scope of the danger,” Hollande warned.

He harshly criticized Turkish leader Erdogan for attacking allies of France in Afrin, the Kurdish enclave in northwest Syria, after calling upon NATO, France and the European Union for “action.”

“What sort of ally is Turkey to launch strikes against our own allies?,” Hollande wrote in an op-ed published by Le Monde.

Then there was Saudi Arabia’s new strongman Mohammed Bin Salman who warned that Turkey, Iran and unspecified “extremist groups” are representing a “triangle of evil” in Syria.

The Saudi Crown Prince, who last week visited the UK and is now heading for the US, warned against the growing influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in countries like Turkey and said that Erdogan is trying to establish “a new Caliphate”.

He was referring to “Operation Olive Branch” the ill-named Turkish invasion in Afrin where Erdogan's army and the Free Syrian Army are now besieging the city of Afrin where more than 300,000 citizens are deprived of water and other basics.

The Turkish operation in Afrin, which should have been concluded within weeks, is now on the verge of entering its third month and an end is not in sight.

The battle-hardened Kurds have recently transferred new forces from the other two Kurdish cantons to Afrin and vow to set up a fierce fight to retain control over the enclave, while announcing a shift to guerilla tactics.

“The big battles in Afrin are still to come and are likely to be as destructive and bloody as anything seen in Eastern Ghouta, Raqqa or East Aleppo,” the Independent in Great Britain reported last week.

The U.S. and Turkey, meanwhile, sought to de-escalate the situation in the city of Manbij south of Afrin, which, Erdogan has said, would be the next target of his army and its Syrian allies.

Under a deal which was brokered by former US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Turkish troops would be allowed to deploy in the predominantly Sunni Arab city of Manbij.

According to Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, the Kurdish militia YPG will leave Manbij, and U.S. Special Forces, along with the Turkish army, would patrol the city.

The move will bring the Turks closer to the other two Kurdish cantons in Syria and could not only threaten the Kurdish dreams of independence, but also US influence in Syria. The U.S. has carved out the other cantons as its main sphere of influence in the warn-torn country.

The accord with Erdogan might be one of the reasons Tillerson was fired by President Trump this week.

There’s more.

On Tuesday, the Russians threatened the U.S. they will not hesitate to respond whenever the Trump administration decides to launch fresh strikes against the Syrian army.

“If lives of the Russian officers are threatened, the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation will retaliate against missile and launch systems,” Gen. Valery Gerasimov, Russian Army Chief of Staff, threatened.

Pundits differed about the meaning of Gerasimov’s threat, with most of them saying the warning was related to events in Goutha, a suburb east of Damascus, where Islamist rebel groups are trying to hold out against an offensive of the Russian backed pro-Assad coalition.

The Russians are leading this massive ground and air operation to prevent an Iranian takeover of the Damascus area, thus protecting their control over the Assad regime.

Others pointed to a threat issued by Nikki Haley, the US ambassador at the United Nations, and said this had triggered the sharp Russian response.

Haley said earlier this week that the U.S. would act on its own against the Assad regime if the UN Security Council refuses to take action.

“The United States remains prepared to act if we must, just as it did last year when it bombed a Syrian government air base over a deadly chemical weapons attack,” Haley said, referring to the fighting in Goutha.

The pro-Assad coalition has currently ‘liberated’ half of Ghouta where thousands of families are camping out in the streets of the devastated city, and where 650 citizens have been killed since February 19.

Russian state-owned media now claim that rebels in the city are “preparing to falsify a government chemical attack against civilians” in order to trigger an American response. They say the crowds in the streets of the city will serve as cannon fodder in a staged chemical attack.

While the mutual threats might be related to an imminent chemical attack on Ghouta, other information points to a developing crisis over an imminent rebel attack on Iranian militias and the Syrian army, in the Daraa province and the Kuneitra region on the Syrian Golan Heights.

Observers think that after the re-conquest of Goutha, the pro-Assad coalition will set its sights on southern Syria and will try to finalize the the last stretch of the Iranian land corridor to the Israeli border.

Iran has reportedly a “huge number” of forces deployed near the Israeli border.

In fact, the Syrian air force has already started to attack rebel positions in southern Syria following an urgent meeting in Amman on Tuesday by the US military and its allies in ‘the war against ISIS..

This war is now slowly evolving into a war against the Russian-backed Iranian axis in Syria.

The axis has already carved out a corridor leading up to the city of Daraa which is not far from the Israeli border as a map published by The Independent clearly shows.

Also on Tuesday, the Syrian Observer reported preparations for a major offensive against the pro-Assad coalition in Daraa and Kuneitra.

The Syrian news outlet explained that the offensive would be directed at “Hezbollah and Iranian militias” stationed in these areas.

The collapse of the agreement over the so-called de-escalation zone in southern Syria is imminent, according to insiders.

Russia, which was supposed to safeguard the deal, now threatens Daraa could face the same fate as Idlib, Aleppo and Ghouta which were bombed to smithereens during earlier and current Iranian-Russian led offensives.

This threat was then followed by the deployment of a new regiment of U.S. Special Forces to the Jordanian border, while Great Britain dispatched an unknown number of officers to the area.

To make things even more complicated in the area adjacent to the Israeli border, local ISIS branch Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed seized the opportunity to expand its territory after it launched a major offensive against rival rebel groups in the area of the Yarmouk basin.

The offensive, which started on February 20th, could result in the establishment of a new wilayat (province) Syria Deeply reported.

The ISIS affiliate is expanding its territory and is now able to execute complex military operations after it introduced compulsory military service for young men last month.

The latest news coming out of Syria concerns Iran. The Islamic Republic has relocated its drone base from T4, which was bombed by the IAF on February 10, to a base close to Palmyra. The Iranians think their UAV's will be better protected there.

The now seven-year-old Syrian war has cost more than 500,000 people their lives, left 1.5 million people disabled and has displaced more than half of the population (11 million) in the country. Is a World War the next result of this seemingly endless conflict?