Middle East war?

The disturbing news is that Russia is sending three warships to its port facility in Tartus, Syria. This is their only warm water port in the Mediterranean and was leased to them by Pres. Assad, and they will not give it up readily. Although resolutions are being repeatedly presented in the UN Security Council, without Russian and Chinese approval nothing can be done about the civil war in Syria. That is why Kofi Annan resigned as UN and Arab League representative to Syria, because from the start his assignment was impossible. Even the General Assembly passed a resolution criticizing the UN’s lack of action. Neither side in the conflict, the Assad regime or the Free Syrian Army, are prepared to compromise. Now things are coming to a head, because the FSA is gaining ground over the regime, they captured Aleppo and Assad’s forces are having a hard time re-capturing it.

In any civil war both sides look for allies. The FSA are not alone, they are now receiving arms from a consortium of Sunni Arab states, namely Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Also, it has been reported that Pres. Obama signed a secret protocol giving US agencies approval to help the rebels with communications and other equipment, although guns were not specifically mentioned. However, if the CIA is involved they aren’t going to give them only medical help. Pres. Obama has publicly called for the replacement of Assad in Syria.

The Assad regime has its supporters too, including Iran and its proxy in Lebanon, Hizbollah. So here you have the essence of a Sunni-Shia conflict. Now the big question is what are Russia’s intentions? Is Putin playing a dangerous game, will he send his marines, that are known to be aboard the warships steaming to Syria, into the fray? Does he intend intervening on the Goverment side in the Syrian civil war? If so, that puts the US and Russia on opposite sides. In the case of Syria this could spread, much as the Spanish Civil War of 1936 became a prelude to WWII, where the German and Soviets used Spain as a testing ground for their military forces. I am not suggesting that this could be the start of WWIII, but the signs are ominous.

One unusual aspect is that so far Israel is not involved in this war scenario. Apart from the potential for a military attack on Iran if they do not stop their nuclear weapons program development, Israel is neither a target nor a combatant in this Middle East war scenario. The only exception to this is if Syria tries to move its chemical weapons or missiles into Lebanon for Hizbollah’s use. But, if a US-Russian clash is in the offing, maybe this was why so many US Administration representatives, including Secty of State Hillary Clinton, Natl. Security Advisor Thomas Donilon and Secty of Defense Leon Panetta, have been visiting Israel recently. All the commentators assumed that it was to gain Jewish votes for Obama in the upcoming US election, or to try to stop Israel aggressively pursuing the Iranian option. Now we have a further more acute scenario. And it all depends upon what the Russians do when their warships reach Tartus. If Russia sends its forces in to actively support the regime and fight the FSA, then the US and Turkey will be forced to respond. Maybe the US was asking for Israeli help? Who knows what can be the consequences in Syria.

About the Author
Jack Cohen was born in London and has a PhD in Chemistry from Cambridge University. He moved to the US and worked at the National Cancer Inst. and then Georgetown Medical School. In 1996, he Moved to Israel and became Chief Scientist of the Sheba Medical Center. He retired in 2001 and worked as a Visiting Professor at Hebrew University Medical School for 5 years.