Contributed by Jim Hayes
Australia has been forced to stop, at least for now, military air over Syrian skies.
The catalyst is the shooting down of a Syrian jet by US forces in Syria, which has prompted Russia to state that such flights by members of the US led coalition will become potential targets.
Australia’s government has been downplaying Australia’s role and insisting that it is not fundamentally military. The best explanation for this is that it is highly unpopular with the Australian population and an overtly military stance would incite stronger active opposition.
But the new threat has shown that the government’s claim has been a fig leaf to cover the nature its real involvement, which is military.
According to Airwars, a Britain-based non-profit research group monitoring air strikes, Australia has conducted one of the highest number of air strikes in Syria and Iraq, with six jets based in the United Arab Emirates, since the US “request” in 2015.
Secondly, the said reason for the airpower over Syria is to combat ISIS. Mounting evidence of the American led coalition providing material support to ISIS, the attacks on civilians who are not part of ISIS and the the attack on the Syrian jet, show the reason for involvement is other than the defeat of ISIS,
The Syrian jet was shot down over Syrian territory near Raqqa by a foreign power and this is a clear violation of international law. The Syrian government has the right to take whatever protective measures are necessary to defend its own air space.
The attack also came at a time of increasing tension between the US and Russia.
In response, the Australian government, through the Australian defence Force (ADF), has moved with precaution and stopped all flights by Australian aircraft over Syria, at least for now.
The US has also responded with caution in its handling of Russia, by a promise to use the “deconfliction” hotline established in 2015 and warn Russia of any further strikes.
While this is short of promising that there would be no future strikes, it does signal that they may at least be less frequent, with Russia having forewarning and therefore, greater ability to take counter measures.
It is highly likely that the main reasons to shoot down the Syrian plane had been to test Russian resolve and turn international attention from the emerging scandal, around evidence that recent US air strikes have been targeted at civilian population centres.
Russia has both military and diplomatic capability and is no pushover. Open conflict between the two powers would have serious consequences, above those of involvement in Syria.
The stand off between the US and Russia brings risks to Australia, which is accurately regarded as part of the American military machine and lacking any meaningful independence in foreign policy.
Being a surrogate of a super power’s ambitions makes us especially vulnerable to reprisals. More so, when Australia is seen to be taking part in unjustifiable aggression in other countries, as is the case in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.