Yesterday, Russian warplanes bombed targets in Syria. The Russians say that they were targetting the Islamic State. Unfortunately, this is just another one of Putin’s lies. Indeed, Putin’s claim that he is helping fight terrorism in Syria is just as hollow as his assertion that his forces are not directly involved in the occupation of eastern Ukraine, not to mention his takeover of Crimea last year. In the short term, Putin is simply giving more support to fellow dictator, Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad. In the long term, however, he’s doing something even more dangerous. He’s creating a staging point from which he and his Iranian allies can conquer the entire Middle East.
Russia’s military buildup in Syria has barely started, yet it is already substantial and includes soldiers, tanks and even anti-aircraft weapons. I know I’m not the only one asking why Russia needs anti-aircraft systems to fight the Islamic State when the latter has no air force to speak of. It’s time to face up to the facts. The forces that Putin’s Russia has deployed to Syria are not there to fight the Islamic State or any other terrorists. They’re there to defend Bashar Al-Assad’s regime and safeguard the strategic Russian naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus.
Putin already lost an ally in the Middle East when Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi was deposed and he does not want to lose another one. Actually, it is very unfortunate that the Western powers did not intervene in Syria as they did in Libya, not only because doing so would probably have saved thousands of lives, but also because Assad’s removal from power in Syria would have significantly curtailed Russian and Iranian influence in the region. Russia would likely have lost its naval base in Syria and their foothold in the Mediterranean, while Iran would have lost their most important ally in the region, along with much of their ability to support Hezbollah and Hamas in their attacks on Israel. Hence, the Western powers missed a golden opportunity to curtail Russian and Iranian influence in the region.
Syria and World War III
Over a year ago, as the world commemorated the anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, I wrote a blog post arguing that the possibility of a third world war was very likely and that such a war would pit a bloc of countries led by the West against another alliance of states led by Russia, China and Iran (see: World War I Began One Hundred Years Ago. How Likely is Another World War? Unfortunately, Very Likely). So how does Syria play into this scenario? If you read my blog, you will notice that I mention the Middle East as being one of the key fronts in the third world war, where some of the bloodiest battles will take place. I even suggest that the war may begin with an attack on Israel. If such an attack is indeed what starts World War III, I believe that it will be staged from Syria and will be part of a wider offensive by Russia and Iran to conquer the entire Middle East region.