Analysis: Welcome to the New (Quasi-)World War

Russia put Israeli ships at risk, so Israel shot back. Illustrative. By Joshua Spurlock

Russia put Israeli ships at risk, so Israel shot back. Illustrative. By Joshua Spurlock

In case you missed it, the US attacked Russia on July 5. Ok, so technically Israel struck at some Russian anti-ship missiles stored in Syria, but the reality is that the proxy wars of the past are back. Israel attacked Syria for it’s own reasons. But why Israel had to worry about Russian weapons and the reason why US officials leaked to the media that Israel was behind the strike bode ill for our future.

During the Cold War that lasted from the end of World War II until the beginning of the 1990s, an incredible amount of fighting took place. It wasn’t a “cold” war at all—it was simply fought by proxy. American allies fought Russian ones (Israel and Egypt); or US troops attacked Russian-sponsored groups (Vietnam); or the US sent aid and arms to groups fighting Russia (al-Qaeda in Afghanistan). It was indirect warfare, but still viciously violent.

Today, the fighting is back—albeit at a lower level. For years Russia has been sponsoring and lending partial support to allies and acquaintances in the Middle East. The US has too. Sometimes, those allies are enemies to each other. Such is the case with Israel and Syria. But the latest fighting is much more serious than it ever has been in the past—which is really bad news for you.

Now it makes sense for Russia to back its friend the Syrian regime against the rebels threatening it. To that end, bullets, helicopters and other military aid are all logical, albeit appalling considering how the Syrians are using the weapons on their own people. Yet one has to wonder why the Russians would give the Syrian regime anti-ship missiles to fight rebels… who are only on land.

The reason, of course, is that Russia isn’t helping Syria fight rebels. It’s helping Syria prevent the Americans from fighting at all. Russia doesn’t want a new Libya, where Western planes and ships topple another Russian ally. But if Syria has the weapons needed to make American intervention dangerous, the US isn’t going to risk it.

So Russian anti-ship missiles, anti-aircraft systems and the like are not going to Syria to fight rebels. They’re going to Syria to ward off the West.

Of course Israel is worried these powerful weapons will be used against them by the Hezbollah terror group (a close friend of Syria). Russia, apparently, doesn’t care, and isn’t about to stop its shipments over regional anxieties. The US needs a way to fight back against Russia, and Israel’s self-defense gives them that.

The US wants Russia to stop sending weapons to Syria so the Americans can make a far easier decision on whether or not to enter the Syrian civil war. If Syria will be an easy regime to topple, the odds of Western intervention go way up.

But what can the US do? It doesn’t want to send advanced weapons to rebels that could reach al-Qaeda forces also fighting in the civil war. So instead, it uses Israel.

Israel is going to attack the advanced Russian weapons no matter what. They are not a puppet on a string here. But the US can help their own cause by publicizing the attacks, as seen by unnamed US officials telling CNN what happened on July 5.

Firstly, the leaks that Israel is behind the strikes wipe out the myths coming from the Syrian government of “mysterious explosions”—the Russians know quite clearly that their arms are being blown to bits before Syria can really use them.

Second, it risks precisely the broader fight the Russians don’t want. Israel doesn’t want a full-scale war with Syria, and neither does Syria. But if Israel keeps striking Syrian targets and that fact is made public, there is always the risk that Syria might feel compelled to shoot back—for public opinion if nothing else.

And a full-scale war between Israel and Syria would certainly threaten the Syrian regime and put a serious twist in Russian calculations for the region. If Israel’s attacks are silent and anonymous, it’s easier for Russia and Syria to pretend they weren’t serious—because their people don’t really know what happened. Neither do other potential customers for Russian arms.

But the US is intentionally pushing the envelope to further pressure Russia to back off. Israel attacking Russian arms with impunity is bad for business, and bad for public opinion in Moscow. And if Syria responds in a way that invites more Israeli involvement, look out.

Do you want a major new war that drives up oil prices? Do you want even broader conflict that could draw American troops deep into fights in distant lands? Do you want deadly weapons to potentially reach terrorists? Didn’t think so. So what needs to happen to prevent the Syrian war from doing just that?

The reality is that Russia needs to be more properly pressured by the UN and the West to stop arming Syria. It’s risking a serious regional war, and it’s turning the Israelis and Syrian civilians into pawns on a deadly chessboard. Instead of leaking Israeli airstrikes, the US should start pushing for sanctions or boycotts of Russian products and arms.

It’s time to nip this quasi-World War in the bud before it turns into a real one—or before the US turns it into one while trying to prevent just that.

(By Joshua Spurlock,, July 14, 2013)

What do you think?