US Secretary of Defense James Mattis with President Trump at the White House: Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

US President Donald Trump wants a retaliatory military strike in Syria to be “more sweeping” than the options given by his military advisors, with an eye to “exact a price” from Russia and Iran, the Wall Street Journal is reporting on Friday.

The US administration has been deliberating on whether and how to respond to an alleged chemical attack, which the US, along with Britain and France, have accused Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime of carrying out.

One White House official said that Trump “wants [Defense Secretary James] Mattis to push the limits a little bit more.”

According to defense officials cited in the report, Mattis halted several proposed strikes over the past few days, wary of escalating the broader conflict with anything other than a “show strike.”

As the world braced for possible US military action, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said Friday that even a small strike would have dire consequences, and would lead to “developments that aren’t at all needed, either by us or our European neighbors.”

Lavrov also said that the alleged chemical attack was “staged” by a malicious country, which the Russian military later identified as Britain.

Trump’s emphasis on Russia, and Mattis’ caution, highlight the great power competition dimension of the Syrian conflict, which many fear could spiral into an all-out conflict between the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia on one side, and Russia and Iran on the other. As Israel’s Haaretz newspaper put it on Fiday, “there’s only one show in Syria right now: a battle between two superpowers.”

“Britain is moving its submarines, Russia and Syria are relocating their war planes and Saudi Arabia eyes joining the game,” the headline continues. “World waits for Trump to decide on Syria strike; Jerusalem determined to block Iran and not get bogged down in Syria — but at what price?”

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