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Two minutes to midnight: The Mid-East mess brings the world a step closer to nuclear disaster

Scientists have a concept called the Doomsday Clock. The closer the minute hands of this great metaphorical clock are to midnight, the closer mankind comes to total nuclear annihilation. The clock is currently set to two minutes to midnight.

Why is this the case? The answer goes much deeper than President Trump, in spite of what hysteria from sections of the Left would suggest. The reality is that the world has never been closer to great power confrontation than it has been at any point since 1945. The theatre of this unfolding horror story in the making is the Middle East, specifically Syria. That hapless country, long at the centre of geopolitical intrigue, appears to be merely the unfortunate proxy for regional power and Great power tensions. Boiling behind the scenes cleavages between Iran on the one hand, and Israel, the West and Arab states on the other are coming to a head. To make matters even more frightening the Russian military is on the ground to assist President Assad, in close proximity to uninvited US forces whose stated aim is regime change. It is not hard to see a single incident spiralling out of control.

Just this week, the Russian government announced that it is moving the lethal S-300 missile system to Syria to deter further Israeli airstrikes. An Israeli raid into Syria last week saw a Russian plane being shot down by Syrian air defences by mistake, in an incident that Moscow blamed on Israel. Clearly, efforts at de-confliction to prevent such incidents, which have a sterling record thus far, are beginning to break down. As the long running war grinds on to what looks like an inevitable victory for Assad and Putin, other actors with high stakes in the conflict are making their presence felt. The Israelis want Iran out of Syria. The presence of Iranian forces near the strategic Golan Heights is a clear red line for the Israelis – they will not allow this. Israeli strategy overlaps with the aims of the Arab states who also fear Iran. Along with the West and Turkey, they all want regime change in Syria.

The repercussions of Russian augmented Syrian air defences downing Israeli aircraft would further raise tension. If the Russians themselves were to shoot Israeli jets down, or launch retaliatory strikes into Israel, it risks a probable confrontation with the United States which is a staunch Israeli ally. The Russians have now demonstrated that many of their cutting edge technical capabilities in areas such as air defence and long range precision strike are on par with the West. They have the ability to go toe to toe with the US in that theatre, even if only temporarily.

That would be a disastrous recipe for further, deadly escalation.

Both Russia and the US have around 5,000 nuclear warheads, enough to wipe out human civilisation. A major confrontation could possibly lead to nuclear escalation with millions dead. The land based Russian deterrent based in massive forests in Siberia and the silent, nearly undetectable US ballistic missile submarine fleet would make a first strike very tempting in such circumstances.

Syria does not appear to be worthy of even a minor conventional war, let alone nuclear confrontation which is appropriately known as MAD (mutually assured destruction). The West has no core interest there, except counterterrorism which is ironically an interest the West now shares with Assad. It is time for all actors, both regional and global, to pull back from the brink. For the sake of our future generations.


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©2016 by Jeevan Vipinachandran