Fears that Syria’s civil war will drag in other countries are on the verge of coalescing into a dangerous reality, as the violence between foreign-backed forces inside Syria spills across the nation’s borders.
Already a proxy war between Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah, which provides troops and weapons in support of the regime of Bashar al-Assad, and Turkey and Saudi Arabia, which comprehensively assist and have been linked to the weapons of anti-Assad rebels, Syria’s civil war now risks escalating into a full-blown regional conflict.
Sectarian divisions driven by the war are sowing political instability inside Syria’s neighbors, alongside the unstable security situation introduced by the fighting itself.
Chaos along Syria’s border with Jordan has sent its security forces scrambling. Late last month a Jordanian soldier was killed as government troops battled with armed militants crossing the border area, which has become one of many weapons’ pipelines into Syria and against which the Syrian government has threatened military action.
Meanwhile Jordanian security officers arrested 11 terrorists who were planning a mass attack again civilian and government targets. The plot raised the specter that the ruling Hashemite monarchy would be the next to fall to the wave of Islamist populism sweeping the Middle East.
The violence along Syria’s northern border with Turkey has become severe enough that officials from Ankara’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), usually inclined to overemphasize the AKP’s foreign policy competence and its solid regional alliances, have described the situation as a “worst case scenario.”
Repeated mortar exchanges between Syrian and Turkish forces have elicited promises of forceful responses from Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, though analysts have expressed skepticism that the Turkish military has the capability to successfully wage war against Assad’s Iranian-backed ground forces and Russian-supplied anti-aircraft batteries.
In Lebanon the assassination of prominent anti-Syrian intelligence officer Wissam Al-Hassan, which leaders and supporters of the March 14 movement promptly and explicitly blamed on Syria, threatened to drag the country into another sectarian civil war.
Hassan was head of the Information Branch of Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces, one of the country’s two tate intelligence services and the one considered to be aligned against the Assad regime and its Hezbollah allies. Hassan had been a central figures behind the arrest of former Lebanese Information Minister Michel Samaha, on charges of colluding with Assad regime officials to conduct terror attacks and incite sectarian strife inside Lebanon, and had also been at the forefront of the 2005 investigation which implicated Hezbollah in the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Last Thursday (Oct. 25), the Washington Post revealed that Hassan himself had predicted that Assad’s regime would try to “survive” by internationalizing the war into a “regional conflict.”