US sharply reduces air operations in Syria because of presence of Russian missiles after Moscow closes hotline.
The media is barely reporting the fact but the immediate effect of the US missiles strike on Syria’s Sharyat air base has been to reduce US air force flights over Syria as the US worries about Moscow’s reaction.
That this is so is confirmed by the New York Times which – presumably because its anti-Trump campaign overrides all other issues – has actually been doing some proper reporting about the Syrian conflict following the US missile strike.
This is all set out by New York Times in the following article, which says the following:
The American-led task force that is battling the Islamic State has sharply reduced airstrikes against the militants in Syria as commanders assess whether Syrian government forces or their Russian allies plan to respond to the United States’ cruise missile strike on a Syrian airfield this past week, American officials said.
The precautionary move, revealed in statistics made public by the command on Saturday, was taken as Russian officials have threatened to suspend the communication line the American and Russian militaries use to notify each other about air operations in Syria.
So far, the Russian military does not appear to have taken any threatening actions, such as directing its battlefield radar or air defense systems to confront the Americans, or carrying out aggressive actions in the skies, United States officials said.
But officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning said the commanders needed time to determine whether the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, and the Russian military would treat the American cruise missile strike as a one-time operation that they would not respond to militarily. As a precaution, the Pentagon is flying patrols in Syrian skies with F-22 jets, the Air Force’s most advanced air-to-air fighter……
Some American and other Western counterterrorism officials have said the missile strike could………make the fight against the Islamic State in Syria more difficult.
“It seems clear that the strikes will complicate our efforts to pursue our counter-ISIS campaign in Syria,” said Matthew Olsen, a former director of the National Counterterrorism Center. “In particular, the ability to carry out U.S. airstrikes in Syria in support of the coalition against ISIS requires some degree of cooperation with Russia, which is now in serious jeopardy.”
Other security experts said that much depended on the Trump administration’s next steps, and how the Assad government and its Russian patrons responded.
“U.S. aircraft operating over Al-Tabqah are already ostensibly in range of the Russian S-400 system at the Humaymin Air Base, and we might see Russia deploy more air defense assets to Syria,” Jeremy Binnie, the Middle East editor of Jane’s Defense Weekly, said in an email. “But if the U.S. makes no moves to threaten Assad’s position, then they may well accept the punishment and move on.”
William McCants, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of “The ISIS Apocalypse,” offered a similar assessment.
This is the military reality that is causing the US to give repeated assurances to the Russians that the missile strike on Sharyat air base – largely ineffective as it appears to have been – is intended as a one-off, and that in President Trump’s words: “Are we going to get involved in Syria? No.”
Whether the Russians believe this assurance is another matter. Even if it is intended sincerely, the Russians must wonder whether the Trump administration can honour it given that by launching its missiles the Trump administration has decisively lost leverage in Washington to the regime change hardliners.
In any event what this episode shows is the huge leverage the presence of the S-400 and S-300VM Antey-2500 missiles in Syria is giving the Russians.
The Russians do not need to make threats or fire missiles at the US or do any other reckless or dangerous things to make their point and to limit US air operations in Syria. Despite all the brave talk of Russia being under pressure in Syria, the reality is that the Russians can achieve the same result simply by turning off the telephone. That is what they have done, and it the reason for the tough negotiations between Tillerson and the Russians in Moscow.