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British Pilots in Syria Could Start World War III

Oct. 14, 2016 (EIRNS)—London’s Sunday Times ran a story on Oct. 9, reporting that British pilots flying in Syria have been given the right to fire on Russian planes if they feel threatened. According to Zero Hedge, the Royal Air Force’s Tornado pilots have been instructed to avoid contact with Russian aircraft while engaged in missions in Syria, but are armed with air-to-air missiles, and the pilots have been given the green light to defend themselves if they are threatened by Russian pilots.

"The first thing a British pilot will do is to try to avoid a situation where an air-to-air attack is likely to occur—you avoid an area if there is Russian activity,"

an unidentified source from the U.K.’s Permanent Joint Headquarters (PJHQ) told the Sunday Times.

"But if a pilot is fired on or believes he is about to be fired on, he can defend himself. We now have a situation where a single pilot, irrespective of nationality, can have a strategic impact on future events."

Where things get tricky is the qualifier "if he believes he is about to be fired on"—since this makes open engagement a function of threat evaluation in real time during stressed conditions, the likelihood of an escalation that could result in two warplanes shooting at each other, just jumped significantly, comments Zero Hedge.

Zero Hedge also cites the International Business Times reporting that the air-to-air missiles with which the Tornados are armed, have longer range than Russian missiles, "allowing RAF pilots to shoot down enemy aircraft without being targeted themselves." This statement, of course, ignores the S-300/S-400 air defense complex that the Russians have deployed in Syria, which will come into play if any Russian planes are shot at.

That the change in the rules of engagement could be the prelude of a wider conflict is apparently not lost on the British themselves. The Sunday Times’ report quoted a defense source as saying:

"Up till now RAF Tornados have been equipped with 500lb satellite-guided bombs—there has been no or little air-to-air threat. But in the last week the situation has changed. We need to respond accordingly."

But another source of the original story summarized the severity of the situation best when he said that

"we need to protect our pilots, but at the same time we’re taking a step closer to war. It will only take one plane to be shot down in an air-to-air battle and the whole landscape will change."