Syria: A Ticking Time Bomb

Map of Russian air strikes in Syria, September 2015, the institute for the study of war.
Map of Russian air strikes in Syria, September 2015, the Institute for the Study of War (click to enlarge)

The waging war in neighboring Syria has been tearing the country and its people apart for nearly four years, destroying cities, killing innocent civilians and leaving millions of others displaced around the world fleeing the bloodbath back home and searching for a safe haven in what’s been described as the largest migratory movement since world war two. The Syrian war has thus evolved from simply being an uprising or a revolution against Bashar El Assad’s regime to taking an ugly and bloody turn.

On one hand, Syria has become an “international shooting range” offering the ideal and optimal environment for the rise of a handful of terrorist groups fighting all around the territory for different causes and destroying not only rocks but also precious cultural heritage by plundering UNESCO world heritage sites such as Palmyra. And ISIS is just the tip of the iceberg. There are currently dozens of armed groups and factions not necessarily concerned about the Syrian cause, which are spreading violence and terror as much as ISIS. For example, armed groups have come all the way from Chechnya just to fight the Russian forces active in Syria.

On the other hand, the once regional Syrian crisis has become a show of force between nations taking advantage of the chaos to flex their military muscles. This situation is unfortunately reminiscent of the Cold War era when the U.S. and the Soviet Union were waging a proxy war against each other: The Taliban and the Koreans have been “replaced” by what is called the free Syrian army/moderate opposition and the Syrian government forces. That hasn’t stopped the two superpowers and others from interfering directly in the Syrian crisis in favor of one of its two main sides under the cover of fighting extremism in the region. In fact, both the international coalition to fight ISIS (lead by the United States) and Russia have been effectively conducting air raids in Syria, leaving its airspace very volatile and crammed with fighter jets and drones from both sides. This eventually led to a “close call” between two U.S. Air Force fighters and two Russian Air Force fighters.

In this context, an alarming development has raised political red flags worldwide: The British Royal Air Force, which has also been conducting combat sorties in Syria, has given the green light to its pilots to engage any Russian military aircraft if needed after reports of Russian MiG-29 jets violating Turkish airspace and harassing Turkish F16 jets were confirmed.
Thus, in the midst of this ongoing violence a question remains: Will the Syrian crisis be the spark that will ignite a world war in case such an aerial confrontation takes place?

Samer Saad

First year Law student

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