EU fears spillover from Syrian war could draw in entire region
EUROPEAN DIARY:Brussels is worried about a domino effect as the crisis spreads outside Syria’s borders, writes ARTHUR BEESLEY
AFTER 19 months of relentless turmoil in Syria, European diplomats are becoming increasingly concerned about the spillover from its civil war into neighbouring countries.
The mood of anxiety in Brussels has intensified in the wake of the assassination last Friday of a top Lebanese intelligence figure and the killing of a Jordanian soldier in a weekend skirmish with Islamist fighters.
“We’re watching exactly what we hoped would be avoided, which is Lebanon being slowly dragged into the Syrian conflict,” says a ranking European official. “If nothing happens quickly, we will watch the domino theory applying in the whole area.”
The bomb attack in Beirut, which killed Wissam al-Hassan, head of Lebanon’s national intelligence service, has been blamed on Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
This is in line with perceptions that he is seeking to buttress his own vulnerable position by expanding the conflict into Lebanon’s volatile and battle-scarred hinterland.
Lebanon is deeply polarised between pro-Assad and pro-rebel groups. According to Julien Barnes-Dacey of the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank, the attack last week has stirred the tension.
“These divisions have become ever more entrenched over recent months, raising fears that the country could suffer its own descent into internal conflict,” he writes in a note.
At the same time, the Islamists accused of stoking trouble in Jordan in recent weeks are said to be affiliated with the Syrian rebels.
Then there is the friction between Turkey and Syria. Not only has Syria fired into Turkey, the regime’s withdrawal from key border posts has given a free hand to armed allies of Ankara’s internal enemies in the militant Kurdistan Worker’s Party.
These developments and the inflow of some 100,000 refugees are perceived to have prompted a subtle turn by Turkey to adopt a more cautious stance.
Diplomats believe Turkey is discreetly reaching out to Iran, Syria’s main regional ally, with the message that the conflict could foment problems with its own Kurdish population.
Furthermore, there is fear that violent contagion from the chaos in Syria may ripple also into Iraq.
“People are very worried about the situation and becoming more lucid about the risks,” says the European official.
In spite of the mounting sense of urgency, danger and dread, high-level diplomats say little immediate change is in prospect in the international response.
The western powers have scant appetite for military intervention, US foreign policy is in lockdown before the presidential election and Russia shows no sign of tempering its support for the Assad regime.