Tension between Turkey and Syria has been steadily rising over the past year and a half as cross-border incidents have increased with every passing day drawing the two countries ever so closer to the brink of an all out war, along with all the dangers that accompany such a misadventure.
There is far more at stake than the two countries concerned as a generalized conflagration would almost certainly draw in other nations into the conflict, the outcome of which is unpredictable. In the event of an open war between Turkey and Syria, Turkey, a full-fledged member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, could call on NATO forces for assistance. And under the NATO charter the alliance would have no choice but to deploy forces alongside Turkish troops.
For its part, Syria would call on whatever help it could muster from the few remaining friends it can still count on, among them Iran, Russia and China. In a worst case scenario that could mean that US and Canadian forces, as well as British, Spanish, and several former members of the Warsaw Pact countries such as the Czech Republic, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania could find themselves facing Iranian and Chinese troops, as well as the Lebanese Shiite militia, Hezbollah, who is as well equipped and armed as any small army, if not all the more so. This past week saw a new major development in the Middle East crisis with Hezbollah deploying an unmanned drone over Israel. According to reports from Israel, the drone was able to fly some 200 miles over Israeli territory before it was finally intercepted by Israeli warplanes. It is also reported that the drone was able to capture and transmit back to the pro-Iranian militia aerial views of some very sensitive Israeli military locations.
If and when it comes to war, in a first step it is unlikely that Russia and the United States would deploy front-line troops, but as the conflict would expand, as it will without a doubt do once this war is ignited, the US will realize that as a pillar of the North Atlantic Alliance it cannot succeed in sitting this conflict out and will have to engage American boots on the ground.
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It would be apocalyptic if the situation was allowed to deteriorate to the point where Russian, Chinese and US forces were to face each other, but the risk is there, all the more so that Syria would be quick to call in for help given the state of its military. Over the past 19 months the Syrian armed forces have been severely weakened by the civil war and by large numbers of defections to the ranks of the opposition.
Militarily, the US ranks in 1st place with Russia 2nd and China 3rd. The United Kingdom is in 5th place with Turkey in 6th. Iran is in 12th place, one spot ahead of Germany, who is in 13th place, but two spots behind Israel, in 10th place. Syria ranks in 35th place.
Here is how they compare according to data from the US Library of Congress, the CIA and Global Fire Power:
Population: 22.5 million 78.8 million
Personnel fit for service: 9.9 Million 35 million
Active military: 304,000 (2011 est) 612,000
Active reserves: 405,000 429,000
Tanks: 4,950 4,246
APC’s: 6,610 6,592
Towed Artillery: 2,160 1,838
Mortars: 1,510 7,574
Total aircraft: 830 1,940
Helicopters: 208 874
Serviceable Airports: 104 99
Total Navy ships: 19 265
Oil production: 400,400 bbl/Day 52,980 bbl/Day
Proven reserves: 2,500,000,000 262,200,000
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The figures may be somewhat misleading and fail to give an accurate picture of how the forces may be deployed on the ground. Syria, for example, must still maintain large number of troops along the Golan Heights on the Israeli border. At the same time it has to deploy the bulk of its troops in its major cities where the civil war is eating away at its arsenal and its manpower. Under those circumstances Damascus may well have to call in whatever favors it still holds. This is not an encouraging picture no matter how one looks at it.
This does not take into account the outcome of Israel being drawn into the conflict, something that Syria and Iran will very likely attempt to do.
By Claude Salhani for Oilprice.com
Claude Salhani, a specialist in conflict resolution, is an independent journalist, political analyst and author of several books on the region. His latest book, 'Islam Without a Veil,' is published by Potomac Books. He tweets @claudesalhani.