BEIRUT, June 19, (RTRS): Russia, Iran and the United States are drawing new red lines for each other in Syria, with Moscow warning Washington on Monday it would treat any US-led coalition planes in its area of operations as potential targets after the US air force downed a Syrian jet.
Tensions escalated on Sunday as the US army brought down the jet near Raqqa and Iran launched missiles at Islamic State targets in eastern Syria – the first time each state has carried out such actions in the multi-sided Syrian war.
A pro-Damascus commander said Tehran and Washington were drawing “red lines”. Russia, like Iran an ally of President Bashar al-Assad, issued a warning of its own to the United States in response to the downing of the Syrian jet, saying on Monday it would view as targets any planes flying west of the Euphrates River, though it stopped short of saying it would shoot any down.
The incidents reflect mounting competition for areas of Syria where Islamic State (IS) insurgents are in retreat, leaving swathes of territory up for grabs and posing the question of what comes next for US policy that is shaped first and foremost by the priority of vanquishing the jihadists.
The United States said the Syrian army plane shot down on Sunday had dropped bombs near fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters battling to capture the city of Raqqa from IS. Russia’s Defence Ministry responded on Monday by suspending cooperation with the United States aimed at avoiding air incidents over Syria, where the Russian air force is bombing in support of Assad’s campaigns against rebels and IS.
The Syrian army said the jet was shot down while flying a mission against Islamic State. The SDF however accused the Syrian government on Monday of positions using planes, artillery and tanks. “If the regime continues attacking our positions in Raqqa province, we will be forced to retaliate,” SDF spokesman Talal Silo said. The Syrian government this month marched into Raqqa province from the west but had avoided conflict with the US-backed SDF until the latest incident. “The SDF is getting big-headed,” said the pro-Damascus military commander, a non-Syrian who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity. “There could be problems between it and Soheil Hassan,” said the commander, referring to the Syrian officer leading the government offensive in Raqqa province. The United States has said its recent actions against Syrian government forces and allied militia have been self-defensive in nature, aimed at stopping attacks on US-led coalition forces or their local allies.
These have included several air strikes against pro-government forces that have sought to advance towards a US military base in southeastern Syria near the border with Iraq, where the US military has been training rebels to fight IS. The area is of strategic significance to Tehran as it seeks to secure a land corridor to its allies in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and establish a “Shi’ite crescent” of infl uence that has long concerned US-allied states in the Middle East.