Tensions are growing in the Middle East as Russia announced through its ambassador to Lebanon that it will shoot down any missiles fired by the United States at Syria. "If there is a strike by the Americans, then... the missiles will be downed and even the sources from which the missiles were fired," Russian ambassador Aleksandr Zasypkin told Hezbollah's al-Manar TV. He added that a clash "should be ruled out and therefore we are ready to hold negotiations." He spoke on Tuesday evening, underlining earlier remarks by Russian president Vladimir Putin.

In response, President Donald Trump warned Russia to "get ready" for a flight of American missiles that may rain down on Syria because of a deadly suspected chemical weapons attack in that country last week. Trump tweeted on Wednesday, “Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!.” Trump wrote, “You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!” The “Animal” to which Trump referred is none other than Syrian dictator Bashr al-Assad, an ally of Russia and Iran.

A few minutes later, Trump followed up with another Twitter statement. “Our relationship with Russia is worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War. There is no reason for this. Russia needs us to help with their economy, something that would be very easy to do, and we need all nations to work together. Stop the arms race?”

At a meeting with military staff on Monday, Trump told reporters that the chemical weapons attack on civilians in Douma, near Damascus, would be met “forcefully.” Also, he warned over the weekend on Twitter that Syria has a "big price to pay" for the attack. Less than one year ago, Trump opted for a military response to a gas attack in Syria. A U.S. missile strike on a single Syrian air base (with a previous warning to Russia) left but little damage. Another attack may be more damaging.

The U.S. may not be acting alone. French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday that he believes Syria used chemical weapons in violation of United Nations resolutions. Macron said that a response from the U.S., France and the UK can be expected in “the coming days.” He said that a military response will be directed at Assad’s chemical “capabilities” and not at its Iranian and Russian allies. France has its own military assets to exercise in Syria.

Also, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said at a joint press conference with Macron in Paris that his kingdom will participate in strikes “if our alliance with our allies requires it.” Importantly, the European air traffic agency, Eurocontrol, has called for caution for flights to the eastern Mediterranean region because of possible airstrikes in Syria over the next 72 hours.



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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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