Middle East

Download the Middle East Daily News Summary for May 29, 2013.

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Syria’s Civil War: Security and stability concerns

 

BLUF

Violence in Syria threatens the stability and security of surrounding nations, particularly Jordan, Israel, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Turkey, and further afield in the U.S., U.N., and the Arab League.

 

OBSERVED

Jordan faces refugee problems, threats from Syria, and border security issues in the midst of a recent dissolution and re-installment of a new government. As of the beginning of April, Jordan has absorbed 470,000 refugees and continues to expand camps to shelter the stream of refugees pouring through its border daily, costing the kingdom $550 million annually and rising.

Its borders have remained open except for a few closures due to violence between rebel and Syrian government forces. Jordan’s aid to rebels inside Syria has outraged the al-Assad regime. Since October, Jordan has hosted training camps for Free Syrian Army (FSA) officers who are mostly trained by U.S. personnel. By the end of April, 3,000 FSA officers will graduate early and cross the border into Syria. Syria’s President Assad has warned the Kingdom it is “playing with fire” by allowing arms and trained troops to flow across the border.

Israel’s concern over security in the Golan and weapons falling into terrorist hands has led to a rapprochement with Turkey. Spillover from the fighting in Syria has resulted in mortars landing in Israel, shots fired at Israeli troops, and controlled fire returned by Israeli tanks.

Concerns over the civil war include coordinating efforts on preventing neighboring terrorist groups, namely Hezbollah, from obtaining Syrian chemical weapons. This has prompted Prime Minister Netanyahu to reopen diplomatic ties with Turkey after a three-year hiatus.

Additionally, the U.N. is having a difficult time ensuring the safety of not only its peacekeeping force in the Golan, but also the cease-fire agreement reached between Israel and Syria following the Yom Kippur War of 1973. FSA soldiers took twenty-one peacekeepers were taken hostage and later released. Syrian government forces’ pursuit of rebels into the demilitarized zone limits peacekeepers’ success in enforcing the cease-fire.

Iraq is mostly concerned with the collusion of extremist Islamist groups and the rise of violence in Iraq. Iraqi intelligence reveals that al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and Jabhat al-Nursa or the Nursa Front operating in Syria are coordinating attacks on Syrian troops. Sectarian divisions in Syria between the Shiite-derived Alawite government and the predominantly Sunni rebels embolden disempowered Sunni tribes in Iraq against their own Shiite government. Suicide attacks, car bombings, and deaths are on the rise in Iraq.

Iran is latently supported by Western powers in its advocacy for the al-Assad regime. Due to recent progress on nuclear talks in Kazakhstan, the U.S. may be holding off on materially opposing Iran’s position on Syria (i.e. arming rebels) in order to gain influence and bargaining power in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.

The Arab League allowed Syrian rebel leader Moaz al-Khatib to represent Syria at the Arab League’s recent meeting. Iran sharply criticized this move. This recognition granted rebels greater legitimacy, which increases arms flow to its fighters.

Lebanon proves to be the most at risk, with a huge portion of refugees, an unstable government teetering on collapse, and Syrian aircraft attacking its sovereignty. Various news sources put the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon between 400,000 registered refugees and one million, both documented and undocumented. With approximately 8,000 Syrians pouring over the border daily, this amounts to 25 percent of the Lebanese population. Lebanon decided not to set up refugee camps, so refugees rent rooms, are taken in by families, or set up illegal tent camps.

Refugee problems add uncertainty to Lebanon’s already precarious government. Prime Minister Najib Mikati resigned at the end of March, three months before parliamentary elections, citing an inability to work with Hezbollah. His resignation comes amidst a recent sectarian spillover in the coastal city of Tripoli, where rebel supporters and Alawite enclaves have clashed in the streets, using machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. Finally, Syrian aircraft have been making forays into Lebanese air space, most recently firing into an empty field outside the town of Arsal.

Turkey received defensive Patriot missiles from NATO; however, the Syrian opposition is pressuring Turkey and NATO allies to use these weapons to cover a no-fly zone over northern Syria while refugees in Turkish camps have begun to clash with police. The U.S. has reiterated that Patriot missiles are for Turkish defensive measures alone. Protests and other violence in refugee camps led to the Turkish government deporting 600 refugees.

 

ASSESSMENT

[+]  The U.S. is able to maintain a show of support for the FSA by training its officers on Jordanian soil. A show of support is important for regime-change endgame, when the U.S. will want to solidify influence in Syria, a neighbor to Israel, as well as limit the proliferation of extremists in the area.

[+]  The projected fall of the Syrian regime will eliminate a principle ally of Iran and the mediator of the Iran-Hezbollah relationship. Support for the terrorist group Hezbollah may dwindle significantly as a result and make U.S.-ally Israel marginally safer.

[-]  Lebanon has the highest chance of falling into civil unrest due to unstable internal politics, upcoming elections, sectarian tensions revived by the Syrian conflict, and Hezbollah’s support for the dying regime in Syria. This will likely cause more instability and insurgent activity in the region.

[-]  The civil war in Syria will likely continue to fuel insurgent groups already active in the wider Middle East, serving as both a training ground for fighters and a laboratory for radical Islamist policies that will embolden insurgent ideologies and actions. This portends decades of regional instability and is proving an effective impediment to the U.S. pivot to Asia.

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