From popular protest to armed rebellion
During visits to Beirut and Amman last week, UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi warned that Syria’s neighbours cannot expect to avoid spillover from the brutal and bloody conflict engulfing that country and urged the international community to press all parties for a ceasefire. So far, however, the regional and global powers involved in the conflict and their local partners have done nothing to secure an effective ceasefire in spite of destabilising spillover affecting Lebanon, Jordan and other neighbours.
The most dramatic example was the October 19th assassination by car bomb of Brig. Gen. Wissam Hassan, head of the information branch of Lebanon’s internal security service. A controversial partisan figure, Hassan had many enemies: Syria, Israel, the Shia Hizbollah movement, and competing Lebanese security agencies.
While there is no evidence that Damascus was behind hismurder, Syria is being blamed by foreign powers and domestic parties promoting the overthrow of the Syrian regime even if this destabilises Lebanon at a time tensions are rising between pro and anti-Syrian Lebanese camps in the country.
Hassan was associated with the anti-Syrian opposition movement that seeks to use his killing as a means to oust the current government headed by Premier Najib Mikati who espouses a policy of “disassociation” from the Syrian conflict.
Guns and money
The opposition is headed by Saad Hariri, son of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri whose assassination in 2005 was initially blamed on Syria and subsequently on Syria’s ally the Shia Hizbollah movement. The younger Hariri, a Sunni who commands the allegiance of many in his community, is not only firmly behind the Syrian rebels but is also said to be funnelling to them guns and money from Saudi Arabia, in violation of Mikati’s policy.
Jordan has responded to the threat of spillover by boosting military deployment along the border with Syria and arresting Jordanians crossing in both directions. A Jordanian soldier was slain in clashes with rebels on the frontier recently while several Jordanian civilians have been wounded by cross-frontier fire.
Jordan has arrested 11 Jordanian jihadis who smuggled arms and explosives into the kingdom from Syria with the aim of attacking shopping malls, hotels, embassies and government facilities.
The Syrian revolt has widespread support among Jordan-ians, particularly those of Palestinian origin who face discrimination, and marginalised tribal elements. A growing minority is turning to jihadism. It must not be forgotten that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who led al-Qaeda in Iraq until his elimination by the US in 2006, was born and brought up in the Jordanian town of Zarqa, a hotbed of discontent.
He claimed responsibility for 2005 bomb blasts in three Amman hotels that claimed the lives of 60 people. Jordanian jihadis argue that King Abdullah, who is resisting strong popular pressure to implement reforms, is a US client. Although scores of jihadis have been arrested and jailed, the king has to battle them with one hand tied behind his back because Saudi Arabia, a close ally and financial backer of cash-strapped Jordan, is the chief sponsor of jihadis.
Concerned over Syrian spill-over into the already edgy kingdom, Washington has dispatched 150 military personnel to assist the Jordanian army in dealing with 200,000 Syrian refugees - whose presence is straining the country's slender resources - and fending off potentially destabilising jihadi attacks.
While Lebanon and Jordan are the countries most in danger from spill-over, Turkey and Iraq also face this risk. Since the Syrian revolt shifted from popular protest to armed rebellion, Turkey has hosted, trained and armed the rebels, risking both contamination and retaliation. Turkey has been compelled to boost military deployment along its 900 kilometre border with Syria and has responded to gun and shell fire from across the border with 87 attacks on Syrian government forces, killing 12 Syrian soldiers and destroying several tanks.
Ankara is also facing fresh attacks on its troops by the separatist Turkish Workers Party (PKK) which has established a base in north-eastern Syria due to a lack of government control. The PKK seeks autonomy or independence for the Kurdish majority region of Turkey.
Iraq has experienced an escalation of bombings and shooting attacks, largely on Shia targets, by Sunni jihadis revived by growing jihadi participation in the struggle for Syria. To complicate the scenario, Iraqi Shias belonging to the allegedly disbanded Mahdi Army loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr are said to be fighting on the government side in Syria.