The battle for Syria is about to begin and the major players are lining up for a confrontation that may have far reaching consequences.
US Secretary of State John Kerry indicated on Monday that the next phase is about to begin when he announced that there was absolutely no doubt that Syria used chemical weapons against rebel forces in a suburb of a capital Damascus.
Bashar Assad had finally crossed the “red line” drawn by US President Barak Obama when he ordered his forces to use chemical weapons against the rebels. Suddenly in Washington it was no longer a question of “if we strike Syria,” but rather “when we strike Syria.”
At a press conference the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem called Kerry a “liar” and said that Syria would use all means to defend itself. The minister threatened the Americans, saying they would be defeated, he threatened Jordan, who is openly siding with the anti-Assad front and Mr. Moallem even threatened Russia, saying that Moscow was bound by contracts that must be honored.
If it does come down to an open confrontation here is what it is going to look like. On the one side there is the United States leading the charge, along with the United Kingdom, France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Turkey. These are the countries that will commit troops in one manner or another.
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They have the sophisticated weaponry such as Cruise and Tomahawk missiles that can be launched from ships and airplanes hundreds of miles away and can be programmed to enter through an open window or go vertically down a chimney.
With the participation of the US Air Force and the Navy’s air wing, the allies will have total superiority of the skies with unmatched sophisticated warplanes, bombers, stealth fighters and stealth bombers, and unmanned drones, as well as the most advanced warning radar systems in the world. Syria’s outdated MiG and SU fighters and bombers, remnants from the Soviet era, are badly in need of maintenance and upgrading and will not be able to match the allies’ air superiority.
According to the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington, DC-based think tank, Syria has 160-240 MiG 21/25, 135-225 MiG 23/29 and 80-110 SU 22/24 attack aircraft.
The anti-Assad allies are equipped with US or Western European made aircrafts such as the F16, the British Tornado or the French Mirage 2000 currently in use by the Emirates Air Force.
And of course the US-led alliance has the oil and the natural gas, two very powerful weapons in their own right. Those are likely to quickly become the center focus point in this war, if it ever came to pass. More on that in a moment.
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On the opposing side there is Syria and its sole supporter in the region, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Russia, and the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah. While China is opposed to a military intervention, its position in case of armed conflict is still unclear.
There is nothing unclear about the oil, except the near certainty that it could become the first major casualty of this war.
In its efforts to pressure Iran the U.S. Navy is very likely to try and prevent Iranian oil tankers from passing through the Straits of Hormuz on their way to refineries in India, given that Iran lacks adequate facilities to refine its own oil.
If that were to happen, it is almost certain that Iran would move to block the strategic straits by sending its fleet of ultra-rapid watercraft to sink one or two oil tankers and in the process block the world’s busiest oil route, from where more than half of the world’s consumption of oil, transit. The result could be an immediate shortage of oil on the world markets. Prices at the pump would skyrocket and some industries would be forced to close.
The outcome of this conflict could alter the very face of the Middle East as we know it today, redrawing the straight lines in the sand first placed there by Messieurs Sykes and Picot when they drafted their secret agreement in the closing days of World War I.
Military planners are able to predict with surgical precision the start of a war, but no one can accurately foresee the outcome. Still in doubt? Ask those who planned the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
By. Claude Salhani
Claude Salhani is editor of ArabSpringNow.com and a specialist in the Middle East, terrorism and politicized Islam. He tweets @claudesalhani. His latest book, Inauguration Day, is available exclusively on line at amazon.com.