World War Three could be 30 seconds away as attacks on ISIS stepped up
| October 12th 2015
Syria: US-led coalition forces have announced they staged 24 attacks on ISIS in just one day, while Russia claim to have hit 55 targets.
We could be 30 seconds from the brink of World War Three as international tensions over powder keg Syria threaten to ignite.
As US-led forces announced they had staged 24 attacks on the Islamic State on Saturday, Russia claimed to have hit 55 IS targets – and president Vladimir Putin taunted the West for not getting “results”.
But rebels on the ground claimed Moscow’s airstrikes, combined with ground attacks by forces loyal to Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad , have also targeted rebel groups not associated with ISIS , including US-trained fighters.
And as the airspace over Syria becomes increasingly congested, military commanders fear a clash of warplanes, helicopters, drones, missiles and artillery is increasingly likely – and could have global ramifications.
One military expert warned: “Rationalising such a complex airspace is not possible – like getting your mind round a Rubik’s Cube that moves around at Mach 1.5, then adding a dozen more.
“Given the amount of military traffic in the air there is a real worry a plane will be shot down in a catastrophic misunderstanding of intent. It means we could be seconds from a sudden escalation taking us to the very brink of war.”
Some US planes over Syria have had to abandon targets and even bank sharply to avoid Russian jets.
Startling radar images from US Central Command in Qatar show how close US F-16 jets have come to Russian Su-34 war planes above Syria .
In one terrifying close call Lt Gen Charles Brown, commander of the American air campaign in Syria, said US and Russian planes came within just 20 miles of each other – which, at the speeds they travel, is as little as 30 seconds from a disastrous impact.
With the Chinese aircraft carrier Lianoning stationed off the coast of Syria, positioned to allow J-15 warplanes to carry out airstrikes, the fear of split-second mistakes has spiralled even further.
Andrew Foxall, Russia expert at the Henry Jackson Society think tank, said an error could lead to a “diplomatic incident of catastrophic proportions”.
But the wider nightmare is that the proxy war being fought by a global anti-IS coalition against Putin ’s Assad-supporting troops will spiral to the brink of all-out conflict.
Dr Foxall said: “Russia has a very different objective to the Nato coalition and the western drive for liberal democracy and regime change in Syria.
"The Kremlin’s primary interest is maintaining a pro-Russian regime in Syria.”
The intervention of China has further complicated matters, with fears it could use airstrikes on IS as a cover to launch attacks on Syrian rebels.
There are also concerns that Russia is seeking to expand its influence elsewhere in the region, particularly among the Iraqi and Iranian Shia Muslims, hated by Sunni extremists like ISIS.
Iraq is likely to follow Syria’s lead in asking Russia to launch airstrikes against IS, a result of months of covert plotting by Putin’s spies.
With Iran already allowing Russia to fly through its airspace, two powerful rival alliances have emerged in the Middle East, recalling the build up to the First World War.
Dr Foxall said: “I don’t know of any recent conflict comparable in terms of the number of competing national interests.”
The tensions escalated amid reports that ISIS warlord Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been smuggled away in an “unknown condition” after his convoy was bombed by Iraqi air forces.
Putin hit out at the West “who say they are fighting terrorism but do not demonstrate results”.
But former Nato Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told Channel 4 news: “I think Putin will eventually fall on his own sword.
"He will be the anti-Christ for every Sunni in the Middle East.”
On Syria’s western border Turkey reacted with alarm as Russian aircraft have begun making probes into its airspace.
Nato warned Russia it will defend members and allies if pushed.
And Britain is sending 100 troops to Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia to guard against further aggression by Russia following its intervention in Ukraine and a steady increase in the number of Russian incursions into British skies.
Former MI6 chief Sir John Sawers has warned Russia and the West will clash if Putin does not cooperate with the US-led coalition.
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