Firas Maksad speaks with NPR on the latest Syria developments
The messaging from the White House seems to suggest that the Trump Administration is “walking back” threats to launch an imminent strike against the Assad regime leading some to believe that there is a backchannel effort to find a diplomatic solution that would stop Washington and its allies from taking military action. Russia is a dominant player in Syria and second only to Iran in terms of influence with the Syrian regime. Russia is backing the Assad regime because Damascus provides Moscow with access to warm water ports on the Mediterranean Sea and friendly skies over the Middle East, leverage over Middle East politics, and an ability to thwart American interests. Russia and Iran play a complimentary role in Syria. Iran and its proxies provide troops and financial support for Assad’s depleted military while Russia, which entered Syria, at least in part, at Iran’s invitation, provides air support and political cover for Assad at the UN Security Council. Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon’s threat to target US platforms firing missiles into Syria lacks credibility. While the Russians may shoot down a few American missiles to demonstrate their technological capabilities to prospective buyers of their military equipment, President Putin is not going to risk a direct confrontation with the US. That being said, there is the potential for escalation short of war.