Risk of Syrian spillover on all four frontiers exposed
Analysis: Neighbouring countries are getting embroiled in the Syrian conflict
The bombings that killed dozens in the Turkish city of Reyhanli on Saturday later expose the violent risks of spillover into neighbouring countries posed by the Syrian conflict. Photograph: Reuters/Umit Bektas
Israel’s missile strikes on military targets in the Damascus area on May 5th and the bombings that killed dozens in the Turkish city of Reyhanli six days later expose the violent risks of spillover into neighbouring countries posed by the Syrian conflict.
Since military confrontations erupted two years ago, random shells fired by Syrian army troops and rebels have repeatedly fallen on the Israeli-occupied Golan but, until the Israeli attack early on Orthodox Christian Easter, neither side had declared any intention of involving Israel.
However, Damascus and the Lebanese Shia Hizbullah movement have now said they would back operations conducted by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, a faction loyal to Damascus, in retaliation for Israeli involvement in the Syrian conflict.
If the General Command carries out any such operations, both Syria and Lebanon could be subjected to an all-out Israeli military campaign that could devastate the countries’ infrastructures and kill many civilians, as in the 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon.
Furthermore, Hizbullah secretary general Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has declared that Syria would provide Hizbullah with “game-changing” weapons, without elaborating on the types of weapons he means.
He has said in the past that the military wing of the movement has missiles that can strike anywhere in Israel, indicating that Hizbullah would strike back if Israel does launch another major attack on Syria or Lebanon.
A war would deepen popular Arab antagonism towards Israel and render impossible attempts to resume the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.
Turkey risks blowback
The Turkish government under prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has risked blowback by engineering the formation of Syria’s expatriate political opposition and the rebel Free Syrian Army, originally consisting of soldiers and officers who defected to Turkey, where they received training and logistical support and were sent back into Syria to challenge the regular army.
With Turkey’s full backing and encouragement, the political opposition has tried to rob the Syrian regime of legitimacy.
A reluctant Jordan has gradually become embroiled in the conflict due to its close ties to Saudi Arabia and the West.
The US has been training rebel Free Syrian Army fighters and providing them with equipment for some time in the expectation they will not hand it over to members of the fundamentalist jihadi groups.
Lebanon has been afflicted by both political and violent spillover, deepening political divisions between pro- and anti-Syrian factions.
There has been fighting in the north, particularly in the port city of Tripoli, and in some frontier areas.
Mainstream Sunnis have been involved in smuggling arms and equipment to the rebels. Radical Sunni Salafis have attempted to challenge Hizbullah but have, so far, failed to provoke outright confrontation. But an incident or events across the border in Syria could spark clashes embroiling Sunnis and Shias.
In the current climate of uncertainty, Lebanese prime minister-designate Tammam Salam has not been able to form a government acceptable to the rival camps, and it is expected that next month’s parliamentary elections will have to be postponed.
Syria’s major regional ally, Iran, and key regional supporters of the opposition and the rebels, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are far removed from the theatre of conflict and do not risk violent involvement.
On a global level, the Syrian conflict has been transformed into a proxy war embroiling the West on the side of the rebels and Russia on the side of the government. Their involvement has not only prolonged the conflict but increased the chances of spillover on all Syria’s four frontiers.