Now that France has officially joined the party in Syria in an effort to avenge the 130 people who lost their lives in Islamic State’s brazen assault on Paris, the odds of World War III have increased exponentially.
Sure, The Kremlin has for now instructed the military to treat the French as “allies” and for the time being, Moscow’s pilots are writing “For Paris” on bombs, but as Tuesday’s “incident” between Turkish F-16s and a Russian Su-24 makes clear, crowded skies are dangerous skies, especially when there’s a significant amount of ambiguity surrounding what everyone is up to in Syria on a day to day basis.
Now that Russia has deployed the S-400s to Latakia and placed the Moskva guided missile cruiser equipped with S-300-like systems off the coast, anything that even looks like a threat to Russia’s air force will be “destroyed” and that, as WaPo noted on Wednesday, “has the potential to create headaches for Turkish and other aircraft in a U.S.-led coalition that are carrying out a separate airstrike campaign in Syria."
So, to the extent that the Paris attacks served to thaw tensions between Russia and the West, Turkey’s decision to shoot down an Su-24 means it was one step forward and two steps back.
Now, it appears the already crowded playing field is about to get more cramped as David Cameron, following up on comments made during meetings with Francois Hollande, is pushing British lawmakers to approve RAF strikes on ISIS. As Reuters reports, the PM “told lawmakers on Thursday it was time to join air strikes against Islamic State militants in Syria, saying Britain cannot ‘subcontract its security to other countries’”.
This is the second time Cameron has sought Parliament’s approval for strikes in Syria. He lost a vote in 2013.
This time around, the stakes are higher and the circumstances have changed. ISIS has proven resilient thanks in no small part to, i) what looks like a deliberate effort on the part of The Pentagon to avoid hitting Islamic State’s oil convoys, ii) the CIA’s continued support for the various rebel groups that have, for the better part of five years, ensured that the country remains completely unstable, and iii) support from Turkey, the Saudis, and Qatar.
"It is wrong for the United Kingdom to expect the aircrews of other nations to carry the burdens and the risks of striking ISIL in Syria to stop terrorism here in Britain," Cameron said.
In a testament to how close Britain is to joining the fray, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will reportedly not use a party whip to influence MP’s decisions. "In these sort of issues of conscience it is better to allow MPs to make their own minds up," John McDonnell told BBC.
"I don't think this is a country that lets others like the French or the Americans defend our interests and protect us from terrorist organizations - we should contribute to that effort,” Finance minister George Osborne added, underscoring the perception that Britain’s military prowess is but a shadow of what it once was.
Cameron played down the idea that striking ISIS in Raqqa would increase the extent to which the group targets Britain. "He told MPs the UK was already a target for IS - and the only way to deal with that was to 'take action' now," BBC reports, adding that The Foreign Affairs Committee has said they'll be "no military intervention without a "coherent international strategy" on tackling IS and ending Syria's civil war."
Yeah, well good luck on that. There are two "strategies", one pursued by Russia and Iran, and the other by the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. Moscow and Tehran will simply destroy anyone and everyone battling the Assad government and that includes ISIS, while the US and its regional allies will continue to fund the FSA and, indirectly al-Qaeda while covertly doing what they can to ensure that strikes against ISIS don't cripple the group's ability to remain operational and effective in Syria and Iraq. France, frankly, is just flying around aimlessly dropping bombs wherever the US tells it to which is precisely what the UK will end up doing should they decide to get involved directly.
The problem here is that France and Britain are just bolt-on air forces. Unless and until the US decides to drop its support for the programs and countries that are arming and financing the FSA, al-Nusra, and ISIS, adding more planes will do nothing to aid in the fight against terror and will only make the airspace more crowded, making it even more difficult for the Russians to determine who is who and which planes represent a threat and which ones don't.
Finally, note that the tensions between Turkey and Russia will make the ongoing discussions in Vienna unbearable for Moscow and Ankara which means that any "progress" on a "political solution" probably crashed and burned with the Su-24 that went down near the Turkish border on Tuesday.
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Meanwhile, in Aleppo...