Russia and Iran Set Their Own "Red Line" in Syria

A framegrab from footage taken from the Russian Defense Ministry official website Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov speaks at a briefing in the Russian Defense Ministry's headquarters in Moscow, Russia, Friday, April 7, 2017. The Russian military says it will help Syria beef up its air defenses after the U.S. strike on a Syrian air base. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, via AP)

As might be expected, Russia and Iran retaliated against the US missile strike on a Syrian air base with a bit of bluster.

A statement released by “the joint command operation center of Syrian allies,” a group that includes Russia and Iran, warned the U.S. against further military actions in the war-torn country, following a missile strike on a Syrian air base last week.

Referring to its defense of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the group warned that they would support Syria and its people “with all means that we have.”

“The United States crossed red lines by attacking Syria, from now on we will respond to anyone, including America if it attacks Syria and crosses the red lines,” the statement read. “America knows very well our ability and capabilities to respond well to them, [and] we will respond without taking into consideration any reaction and consequences.”

The statement did not include critical details like what kind of military operation would cross such a red line, or what kind of response would be made on the part of Syria and its allies, but noted that they would work to “liberate” Syria from occupation.

“Rest assured that we will liberate Syria from all kinds of occupying forces, it does not matter from where they came to the occupied part of Syria,” the statement warned. “Russia and Iran will not allow the United States to be the only superpower in world.”

There are a lot of threads running through this statement.

As the ABC story notes, they don’t bother saying what the “red line” is. We can suspect that it is not the use of chemical weapons as Russia is getting beaten badly on their complicity in the attack and they voted in favor of the 2013 UN Security Council resolution that demanded Syria give up its chemical weapons.

The fact is that retaliating against the United States in the Syrian theater is something Russia is not going to do. It might take a defensive action against another US strike, something it didn’t even attempt on Thursday, but it is not going to strike back later. The reason is simple. Russia is able to supply its forces in Syria because they are allowed to. If Turkey closes its airspace to Russian military flights it is pretty much game over for the Russians in Syria. Beyond that, it is doubtful that the Russian air defense systems in Syria can defend against Tomahawk attacks and its fighters and pilots are no match for any non-Arab air force in the region.

Iran, however, is a different set of facts. They were behind the bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut. They were behind the bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. It is well within their ability to strike against US military forces on the ground in Syria assisting in the fight against ISIS. In fact, we might be able to put this in the “guaranteed” column.

The other thing that struck me about the announcement was the vociferous loyalty pledged to Syria. Over the weekend the Trump foreign policy team was consistent in asking Russia why it wanted to be affiliated with Syria.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said in an interview that the U.S. missile strike was intended to send a message to Russia.
“The entire administration was in agreement that this was something that had to be done. This was something that needed to tell Assad, ‘Enough is enough,'” Haley told NBC’s “Meet The Press.”

“And this is something to let Russia know, ‘You know what? We’re not going to have you cover for this regime anymore. And we’re not going to allow things like this to happen to innocent people.'”

Haley said the U.S. took a “moderate approach” but is capable of doing much more. She criticized Russia, saying its response to the chemical attack was to defend the Syrian government.

The U.S. is not going to allow Russia to “have Assad’s back anymore,” she said.

Tillerson said Sunday he hopes Russia will “be supportive of a process that will lead to a stable Syria.”

“I’m disappointed because I think the real failure here has been Russia’s failure to live up to its commitments under the chemical weapons agreements that were entered into in 2013,” Tillerson said during an interview on ABC’s “This Week.”

He attributed the chemical attack in Syria “in large measure” to a “failure on Russia’s part to achieve its commitment to the international community.”

“I hope Russia is thinking carefully about its continued alliance with Bashar al-Assad,” he said, “because every time one of these horrific attacks occurs, it draws Russia closer into some level of responsibility.”

McMaster also questioned what the Russians want the relationship with the U.S. to look like.

“Do they want it to be a relationship of competition and potential conflict? I don’t see how that’s in Russian interests. Or do they want it to be a relationship in which we can find areas of cooperation that are in mutual interests?” McMaster asked.

“How is it in anyone’s interest that this conflict in Syria and this catastrophe in the greater Middle East continues?”

Over time I’ve discovered the easiest way to tell a man is thinking about cheating on his wife or has basically decided to leave his wife is when he declares out of the blue how wonderful his wife is and how great their marriage is. You’re sitting there and out of the blue, in the middle of a discussion about the foot-pounds impact of the NATO 5.56mm round at 800m, Chuck starts talking about how great the little woman is. When that happens you know his marriage is in its final stages. There was a bit of that in this declaration and when you combine it with the failure to spell out what “red line” was being discussed you take away an impression that Russia and Iran are not of one accord and that Russia might possibly be looking around for the exit.