Spreading like wildfire
The Syrian crisis is spreading to other states in the region, threatening their stability, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus
Military clashes between the regular army and the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) have escalated over recent months across Syria, with anti-regime brigades taking control of a number of cities and towns across the country and regular forces losing control of other parts. The fighting has displaced hundreds of thousands of Syrians, who have fled to neighbouring states, while others continue to suffer as a result of an ongoing humanitarian crisis.
The Syrian regime headed by President Bashar Al-Assad claims that Arab and non-Arab jihadists and Al-Qaeda fighters have infiltrated the country in order to assist rebel forces, and Arab and Western states have voiced concerns about the escalation of the violence in Syria.
They are worried that the arrival of thousands of refugees in neighbouring states will destabilise the host countries, and that Syria will become a "failed state" like Afghanistan if jihadists continue to pour into the country to support the mostly Sunni opposition against the Alawite-led minority regime.
The Syrian crisis has cast a shadow over the security of neighbouring states like Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan, all of which have voiced concerns that the chaotic situation in Syria could spread to them. If the crisis in Syria continues, these countries' security could be seriously threatened, making it incumbent on them to protect themselves.
Turkey's National Security Council (NSC) issued a statement recently declaring that the country was committed to combating terrorism and emphasising its determination to act against any threats resulting from the deteriorating security and humanitarian conditions in Syria.
The Turkish Council added that the country would firmly deal with "terrorist elements" trying to use the power vacuum in Syria for their own advantage, a reference to the separatist Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) in Turkey that for years has been supported by the Syrian regime.
Meanwhile, there have been violent clashes in north Lebanon between Lebanese supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime, resulting in the deaths of several people and wounding dozens. Several Syrians have also been kidnapped in Lebanon in response to the kidnapping by the FSA of Lebanese nationals believed to be members of the Lebanese Shia group Hizbullah fighting alongside regime forces.
The Lebanese authorities have revealed that a former Lebanese cabinet minister allegedly conspired to undermine stability and civil peace in Lebanon in coordination with the Syrian regime, which remains very influential in Lebanon.
The UN Security Council has warned against attempts to jeopardise Lebanon's security and stability as the violence escalates in Syria.
It has also been reported that jihadists from Syria have entered neighbouring Iraq, and that Iraqi troops have clashed with the Syrian army after Syrian rockets hit a border patrol and destroyed an Iraqi town. Border crossings between the two countries were closed several times over the past month, out of fears that Syrian refugees would attempt to enter Iraq.
The government in Baghdad is concerned that the Syrian crisis will have ramifications in Iraq, which is already struggling against armed groups, as well as sectarian violence.
Baghdad has also admitted that fighters are crossing the border into Syria from Iraq. As border crossings between the two countries have fallen into the hands of Syrian opposition fighters, the Iraqi government has decided to close the border with Syria, refusing to accept any further Syrian refugees.
Meanwhile, several artillery rockets have landed in Syria's neighbour to the south, Jordan, sometimes in residential areas. The armies of both countries have clashed, apparently because Syrian troops have been targeting Syrian refugees after they have entered Jordanian territory.
The international community has acknowledged the dangers of the situation in Syria and expressed concern that the war between the regime and its opponents could deteriorate into chaos. This could attract further jihadist fighters from around the world, transforming Syria into a "failed state."
Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey said recently that the Syrian crisis threatened the stability of the region, warning that Syria could soon become a failed state.
Dempsey held Al-Assad responsible for the violence in the country, hinting that the option of military intervention to end the violence in Syria was not far from US thinking. He added that creating safe zones in Syria was a political, not a military decision, and that the US has no intention of establishing buffer zones for Syrian refugees in Syria for the time being.
European states believe that Al-Assad's departure is the key to stability in the region, arguing that his departure would not create more mayhem but would help to stabilise the situation. French President Fran³żois Hollande and Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy said recently that Al-Assad's stepping down "is a fundamental key to reaching a political solution to the Syrian crisis".
They added that Al-Assad's "departure will not create havoc in the region, but will be a stabilising factor," and urged that the crisis be resolved before it expands beyond Syria's borders. The two leaders emphasised that countries supporting the Syrian regime, such as Russia and China, should understand that this would be the best solution for Syria and the other countries in the region.
As military operations by Syrian troops escalate, following some 30,000 civilian deaths and 500,000 refugees fleeing to neighbouring states, the international community remains sharply divided about how best to deal with the Syrian crisis.
Some countries, led by the Arab states, the EU and US, believe that the solution is for Al-Assad to leave, followed by a transitional government being formed from the opposition and regime figures not complicit in the killing.
Another group of countries, led by Russia, China and Iran, argues that events in Syria are an internal affair that should be resolved through national dialogue and that there can be no precondition of Al-Assad's departure.
Former Arab League secretary-general Amr Moussa has warned against armed confrontation in Syria spreading to neighbouring states. Moussa said that it was foreseeable that fighting in Syria would affect neighbouring countries on the humanitarian and military levels, warning that violence between Sunnis and Shia in the region could expand as part of a wider sectarian crisis.
Hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria have created a humanitarian crisis in neighbouring states, which are worried about the ramifications of the crisis on their economic, political and security situations.
The UN has reported that Jordan alone is hosting 200,000-250,000 refugees, some living in refugee camps and others integrating into Jordanian society, while thousands of others are waiting for the chance to cross the border, including a growing number of unaccompanied children.
Meanwhile, Turkey has announced it will open new refugee camps to keep up with the growing number of Syrian refugees, since the existing eight in Turkey, estimated by officials to hold more than 80,000 refugees, are insufficient.
Lebanon and Iraq have been compelled to open their borders to tens of thousands of refugees, while Algeria, Libya, other Arab and European countries are hosting thousands more.
Syrian towns and villages have become ghost towns, and hundreds of families whose homes have been destroyed by the army have relocated to public parks, pavements and mosques. Observers warn that the children of these families will likely take up arms against the regime, especially since the regime is doing nothing to help them.
All neighbouring states have said that they are unable to take more refugees because of the economic burden or their inability to ensure their security. They have called on Arab, Islamic and western states to shoulder their responsibilities on the issue.
For its part, the Syrian opposition has called for the creation of buffer zones inside Syria, to be enforced by UN troops, in order to protect Syrian civilians such that they are not forced to leave the country.
However, Russia has blocked any international resolution on the issue, and Syria refuses to discuss it. France, Britain and the US have warned the Syrian regime that military intervention to create safe areas inside Syria is not impossible, though it is unlikely for now.
"As the Syrian regime teeters, with limited control in many areas, and as the chaos spreads, emigration is on the rise at a startling rate due to fears of regime violence or the unsafe conditions that could follow the regime's collapse," Suleiman Youssef, a Syrian opposition figure, told Al-Ahram Weekly.
"If we want to save the Syrian state from descending into mayhem, the transitional phase should be brief and the regime removed as soon as possible."
Observers believe that as moves at the UN Security Council seem to have reached a dead end, and as the crisis continues to lead to the deaths of thousands every month, the risk is greater than ever that the crisis will spread to neighbouring states, threatening their security.
This risk is all the more serious in that conditions in many of these countries are already fragile, presenting the international community with virtually insurmountable problems.