As most everyone knows by now, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad launched another chemical attack on Douma last weekend. Roughly a year ago, Assad launched a previous chemical attack and this was met with close to 60 Tomahawk cruise missiles hitting the airbase where the chemical attack originated. Now, in the wake of this most recent attack and Israel’s immediate response on Sunday night, the world is waiting for the next shoe to drop–and it appears that it will be coming based on President Trump’s tweets–though a few questions–and issues–obviously exist: What’s going to be targeted this time? Who’s all going to be involved? How long will the response last – will this just be a once and done raid or will this happen over several days? And, obviously, when will this happen?
Adding just a little bit of suspense to this is Putin’s claim that he’ll be targeting both the missiles themselves, as well as the vehicle that launches these missiles. Russia installed their advanced S-400 air defense missile system at Hmeimim Air Base in northwestern Syria a couple years ago so it would appear that they have the capability to definitely reach out and touch someone. (You can read all about that here, as well as its capabilities.) The question is, though, if Russia does engage any of the attackers, would the US, and presumably any of the attacking coalition, respond in kind? It would not be the first time US forces have engaged–and killed–Russian opposition forces in Syria. Two months ago, Russian forces operating under the Wagner Group attacked US, and US backed, forces at a base in northeastern Syria. The Special Forces commander called in air support from orbiting F-15E’s, AC-130’s, F-22’s and even some Reaper drones–all of this followed by Apache helicopters. In the end, upwards of 350 Russian soldiers were killed. Russia denied this action as all of the troops involved belonged to their private contractor Wagner. However, things could be different this time.
Let’s also not forget that at the same time as the Russians were engaging the US outpost in Syria, Israel was attacking in Syria as well, including bases housing their Iranian allies. This attack cost Israel one of their vaunted F-16I’s but this amounted to their most widespread bombings in Syria since it destroyed almost all of Syria’s air defenses in 1982. Of course, Israel launched an immediate attack last Sunday but this seemed to be rather limited in nature, given the capability the Israelis have, and have used in the past.
Not to be outdone, Bloomberg is reporting that the Houthi’s in Yemen have launched another ballistic missile – and drone – attack against the Saudis just yesterday. The Saudi’s apparently took out several, if not all, of the inbound missiles and drones. However, is it too much to think that Iran urged the Houthi’s to initiate this attack to keep the Saudi’s preoccupied in the Peninsula? Maybe, maybe not.
The bottom line: There’s more to think about than simply retaliating against Assad’s use of chemical weapons – as deplorable as this is. Should we attack? Personally, I think so. And, it would seem that Putin is expecting the attack as the entire Russian fleet has vacated their naval base of Latakia. However, we need to be prepared for a Russian response and Tyler Rogoway and Joseph Trevithick have an excellent article in what Putin’s response could look like.