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The Countdown

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Darko Lazar


As was the case in 2003, when the West failed to provide any evidence to support claims that Saddam Hussein possessed chemical weapons, there is no proof today that a chemical attack even occurred in Syria's Douma - let alone confirmation that Bashar al-Assad was behind it.

Douma Chemical Attack

On the contrary, all indicators suggest that the Syrian leader had neither the resources nor the motive to carry out an attack that could pave the way for a western military intervention in his country, at a time when he is inches away from victory over militant groups.

But regardless of the facts on the ground, an Anglo-American attack on Syria - spurred on by heavy "Israeli" lobbying - appeared to be all but certain this week.

According to London-based Middle East expert Ammar Waqqaf, "this is not about preventing the use of chemical weapons. This is not about proving whether chemical weapons were used or not - or by whom - this is about the United States stamping authority and saying, ‘I could strike wherever and whenever I want.'"

Considering the fact that the Russians have repeatedly threatened to respond to any such attacks, it would be safe to conclude that it is now impossible to strike Syria without also attacking Russia.

Western powers could still give all sides the opportunity to save face by insisting on concrete evidence to back allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria before launching military operations. But the rhetoric suggests that this opportunity has already come and gone.

In other words, present circumstances demand that one of the sides back down or be defeated.

What are the options?

For politicians in western capitals, the preferred option would most likely be a repeat of last year's limited strikes against Syria's Shayrat Airbase.

This would serve as a symbolic demonstration of U.S. military might, both to the American public and the wider world. However, unlike a year ago, even a cosmetic attack could have catastrophic consequences.

Last April, the Russians could afford to turn a blind eye to Washington's muscle flexing. Today, ignoring American strikes in Syria would be unacceptable if Moscow hopes to avoid humiliation and what would inevitably be perceived as submission.

Another option on the table for Washington and its allies would be an all-out military campaign, similar to the ones launched against Iraq, Libya and Yugoslavia.

This would require Russia to respond with all available resources, as its ground troops stationed around the country would likely suffer heavy losses. This option quickly translates into all-out war, the outcome of which would be impossible to predict.

And regardless of the course of action chosen, Western powers would almost immediately lose control of the situation, leaving it up to the Russian responses to dictate how the conflict develops.

Surrendering one's ability to influence the course of events is a characteristic most commonly associated with gamblers rather than strategists. If the Americans allow themselves to adopt such an approach, they would immediately relinquish the confidence of their allies, and their global hegemony would be thrown into even greater jeopardy.

That's not to say that the Russians are eager for a military confrontation with the Americans in the Mediterranean. But if the U.S. does decide to attack Syria, Moscow will have to offer a measured but firm response. Otherwise, the Russians would risk losing the influence and credibility that they have so painstakingly worked to acquire in recent years.

Guns at the ready

According to information available to the public, the only U.S. warship currently deployed close enough to strike Syria is the USS Donald Cook.

This class guided-missile destroyer is equipped with 56 Tomahawks - a figure very close to the total number of projectiles fired at the Shayrat Airbase last year.

Three other destroyers and two submarines are reportedly on their way to waters off the Syrian and Lebanese coastlines.

The Americans have also dispatched a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS Harry S. Truman, which has a strike group of five escort warships, and is expected in the Mediterranean sometime next week. The Truman is capable of carrying 90 fighter jets.

If assembled, this will be the largest U.S. naval force since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Meanwhile, the Russians appear to be preparing for every scenario. On April 10, battle readiness of Russia's armed forces was raised to its highest level.

Its Black Sea Fleet, headquartered in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, is reported to have left port, sailing into open waters. Reports have also emerged that between 11 and 15 Russian warships, cargo vessels, and submarines stationed in the Syrian port city of Tartus also set sail for Mediterranean waters.

"Israel's" ImageSat International, a company specializing in high-resolution satellite imagery, posted pictures on Twitter showing that only one Russian Kilo-class submarine remains in Tartus.

ImageSat claims that the rest have been "deployed at sea due to possible near-future strikes."

Ammar Waqqaf believes that the threat of war is "real especially if the likes of France and Britain decide that this is the time to confront Russia."

"We need to understand that this is not about Syria or chemical warfare. This has been brewing for the past few years," Waqqaf adds. "Western states see Russian influence growing in the Middle East on a daily basis and they need to confront it.

They need to show countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar that the West is a dependable ally and that the emirs and sheikhs of those wealthy nations shouldn't go to Moscow striking oil and gas deals but should rely on the U.S. for their survival. This is about influence. And in that sense, there might be a confrontation." 

Source: Al-Ahed

 

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