The Russian Navy's landing ship Nikolai Filchenkov, hardly worthy of the description 'Armada' bestowed by a Western tabloid, sails in the Bosporus, on its way to the Mediterranean Sea. Photo: Reuters / Murad Sezer

Despite Russia’s warning of great “consequences” should Western powers intervene in Syria, the United States, Britain and France managed to thread the needle with an air strike on Friday that did not prompt any immediate military response from Russia.

In fact, Syrian media reports to the contrary notwithstanding, coalition forces said that not one of the missiles fired in the operation was successfully engaged by Russia’s much-touted defense technology. “The Syrian response was remarkably ineffective,” according to the Pentagon. The US may have helped achieve these results by fooling Russia with a decoy destroyer – the only destroyer in the region’s waters – which didn’t fire a single missile.

One Russian expert said that the strikes were also effective on another level. “The three-member coalition has partially achieved one of its goals by driving a wedge between Russia, Turkey and Iran. The Turkish authorities predictably supported the strikes on targets in Syria,” Vitaly Naumkin of the Russian Academy of Science was quoted by Russia’s TASS news agency as saying.

But the “one-time shot” strike, as US Defense Secretary James Mattis called it, did not mark the end to tensions in Syria. Far from it, headlines hyping “World War III” only multiplied after the air strike, as fears grow of Israel’s and Iran’s mostly proxy battle turning into a direct, all-out conflict, while Russia reinforces its dominant position.

Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron hailed his success in persuading his US counterpart to stay in Syria for the long haul. “Ten days ago, President Trump was saying ‘the United States should withdraw from Syria.’ We convinced him it was necessary to stay,” Macron said in an interview with French media. “We convinced him it was necessary to stay for the long term.”

Whether the US digs in with its Kurdish allies – who dominate a US-aligned swath of more than 20% of Syrian territory – or decides to leave, Russia is not going anywhere.

Mosow is stepping up supplies to Syria this week, with Turkish media posting photos of a Russian warship heading through the Bosporus:

UK tabloid The Sun chose more colorful language, declaring in absurdly exaggerated term that “Vlad’s Armada” was on its way. “Russian warships laden with tanks, Alligator ships and armored patrol boats sail towards Syria as the world waits for Putin’s response,” the headline continues.

Others cautioned that the air strikes are a “great distraction” from the real collision course between Iran and Israel, which Thomas Friedman agreed on Sunday in The New York Times was far more dangerous than Russia-US tensions. “This is not mere speculation. In the past few weeks – for the first time ever – Israel and Iran have begun quietly trading blows directly, not through proxies, in Syria. And this quiet phase may be about to end.”

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