Donald Trump and his hangers on Theresa May and French president Emmanuel Macron have paused attacking Syria—for now.
But the threat hasn’t gone away—not just more bombing in Syria but war between Western ally Israel and Iran over Syria’s southern border.
After firing off a bloodcurdling tweet earlier this week that seemed to threaten imminent missile strikes, Trump has now delayed action.
May and Macron followed suit.
The bluster and manoeuvring at the top shows this has nothing to do with concern for the lives and deaths of ordinary Syrians on the ground.
It has everything to do with power and control of the Middle East.
And May also knows a war could be very unpopular. One YouGov poll earlier this week showed just 22 percent of people backing missile strikes on Syria with 43 percent opposed.
Syria’s civil war—launched by dictator Bashar al-Assad to crush the Syrian revolution—has long been the site of competition between rival powers.
The Arab revolutions in 2011 shook the West’s grip on the Middle East, which had already been weakened by its defeat in the Iraq war. They had already toppled Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, a close ally of the US and Britain.
So in some countries, such as Bahrain and Yemen, the West quietly armed and funded the regimes that brutally crushed the uprisings.
But in Syria, where the regime of Bashar al-Assad was less friendly to them, they latched on to armed rebel groups that they hoped to control. They also backed Kurdish separatist groups that had taken control of the north of Syria, which the Assad regime had abandoned.
Meanwhile Russia intervened to prop up Assad, hoping to tie the regime closer to itself. Iran also sent troops and militias to help its ally Syria.
Thanks to the US and Russia most of Syria is now in the hands of the Kurds in the north, or the regime and its allies to their south.
That means the two rival blocs are rubbing up against each other. Confrontation between the two could lead to a major war.
That situation also means there’s a real danger that Israel could launch a war on Iranian forces in southern Syria.
Iran used the recent wars in Syria and Iraq to grow its power across the region. It now has troops and bases in Syria, close to the Golan Heights—the Syrian territory that Israel took control of in 1967.
Israel has launched a steady stream of missile attacks against Iranian and Syrian targets over the past few years. An alleged attack on an airbase on Monday killed seven Iranians.
Now Israeli news website the Times of Israel reports that Israeli officials see a “collision” with Iran as “inevitable”.
Israel is heavily armed and funded by the West—especially by the US. Its role in the Middle East has always been to fight on behalf of the West when the US would rather not get directly involved.
So drumbeat for war in Britain and the US could help to trigger an Israeli attack on southern Syria. That’s a war that Britain and the US would probably back.
That’s why Jeremy Corbyn was right to warn that more bombing in Syria could “spawn the war elsewhere”.
Calls for Britain to take “action” in Syria would bring the Middle East closer to a major war that could spiral across the region.
That would mean chaos, misery and death on an appalling scale for the ordinary people the West pretends to care about.