Saturday, 6 April 2013

SYRIA: Militarization & Spillover

On March 25, unnamed foreign and U. S. government officials revealed that the United States has been secretly training Syrian rebels in Jordan, and the New York Times reported that U.S. intelligence services facilitated large arms purchases for rebel forces by Saudi Arabia. It marked a milestone in the militarization of Syria's civil war. 

The disclosures are a departure from public U.S. policy on Syria, which has attempted to regulate the distribution of arms through a "security coordination committee" without getting embroiled in the conflict. But the U.S. training program and role in procuring arms for rebels are just the latest instances of the internationalization of Syria's civil war.

But United States is not the only country attempting to militarize and internationalize Syria's civil war. In the west, France and Britain are getting their hands full too. There are unconfirmed ''reports'' that French and British special forces are already stationed in Jordan and Turkey-Syria border. But what we do know for sure is that: those special forces are training Syrian rebels and supplying them weapons. France and Britain are also twisting NATO's hands to get involved in Syria.

NATO is actually making contingency plans for military action in Syria, the top US commander in Europe revealed. Pressure is growing for intervention, with Great Britain and France leading calls to lift sanctions and arm the rebels. France has been pushing discussions within NATO countries to impose ''no fly zone'' and providing lethat support to opposition and arms embargo.

Militarization and internationalization of Syria's civil war are not the only latests developments of the crisis. The spillover is another one. Northern Lebanon is currently suffering the kind of violent absurdity that occurs nowhere in the world but the Middle East.

The Syrian civil war is spilling into the city of Tripoli, the second largest in Lebanon. Sunni Muslims in the poor neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh are at war with an Alawite militia in the adjacent hilltop neighborhood of Jebel Mohsen that supports Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Last week there was even a shootout at a hospital, of all places. The fighting between Sunni and Alawite militias is real. It is not theater. The fighters are pawns in a larger game, but they’re deadly serious.

The Alawite fighters feel threatened as detested minorities in league with a dying system while the Sunni fighters wish to see Assad and his local proxies destroyed. The Alawites are backed by Syria and Hezbollah while the Sunni militia is funded and armed by Saudis, Qataris, Emiratis, and Kuwaitis.

What makes this conflict absurdly unusual is that segments of the Lebanese army are protecting both militias, and they’re doing so on behalf of a foreign government—Syria’s. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. Factions within the Lebanese army really are protecting both the Sunni and Alawite militias. Partly this is because the army is just as divided along sectarian lines as the country is, but mostly it’s because many of the army officers are still loyal to Assad and to Hezbollah.

Hezbollah’s main focus is in Syria. Its fighters never thought they end up waging a battle for their own survival in the Arab land to the east, but that’s what the “resistance” has become now that one of their patrons and armorers is in an existential fight for his life. 

The war really is existential for the Assad regime, and it is seen as such by much of Syria’s Alawite community, too. They only make up twelve percent (roughly) of Syria’s population. And since the Alawite regime has been lording it over the Sunni majority with a police state for the last forty years, they’re deathly afraid of retribution and perhaps persecution should the Assad family and its local allies lose power.

Syria is the intersection of many colliding interests in the Middle East: with so many factions and eager foreign patrons it seems doomed to fragment -- much like neighboring Lebanon did, during its 15-year civil war -- drawing in neighbors as it implodes. And the spillover could will spread around the region, even Israel could be ''in great danger''.

This is the prospect we face: an utterly ravaged country, with 6 million instead of 1 million refugees, and a civil war that drags Lebanon along into the fray -- a war that will not end with Assad's downfall, but will continue indefinitely, fueled by a cycle of revenge and retaliation.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist
Researcher at : De MontFort University

Photo-Credit: AFP