Syria is in ruins. Thousands of hospitals, schools and factories have been reduced to piles of rubble. When there were no institutions left to destroy, houses were targeted. The number of fatalities exceeds 70,000. Nobody knows the number of those tortured or debilitated. Millions have abandoned their homes, while others have left Syria never to return. The war rages on as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime went so far as to fire Scud missiles against its own country.
It is impossible to contain the blaze of the Syrian crisis within its borders, as no physical or sociological boundaries protect its neighbors. In a way, Syria’s civil war has already expanded to become the Middle East’s civil war.
Syrianization of the Middle East
Iraqi Sunnis support Syria’s Sunni opposition, Kurds back the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and a key segment of Shiites are with the regime. The same is true in Lebanon, where rival groups have entered into armed alliances with their Syrian counterparts. For example, Hezbollah militants were killed in clashes last week [Feb. 17]. Lebanese groups conceal their Lebanese identities in the Syrian war. It won’t go on like this for long before clashes spread to Lebanon.
In short, sparks may fall on Lebanon and Iraq without advance warning. Neither Jordan nor Turkey is at ease with the situation. Even though Ankara often considers the crisis an Arab, not Turkish, issue, there are major risks for Turkey. While these risks could emanate from a connection between the PYD and the Kurdistan Workers Party, efforts by others to push Syria into Turkey through polarization and terror do not go unnoticed.
Lebanonization of Syria
When we look at Syria, its destiny resembles that of Lebanon: a years-long civil war and an exhausted country. The collapse of Lebanon — once the richest and most stable country in the Middle East — due to its civil war no doubt pleases Israel more than anyone. If Iraq and Syria suffer the same fate and, further still, if Iran could be dragged into an expanded Middle East war, Israel sees the potential for an easy couple decades to come. This is the primary reason it supports the Syrian opposition just enough to keep it alive. Sadly, almost all the countries of the region are fanning the flames.
What to do?
The region cannot solve this problem by itself. Turkey must disrupt the stalemate between Assad and the opposition or come up with ways to prevent the spread of civil war throughout the region. The way to tip the scale is to cleanse the opposition of certain elements and to provide greater external support. If this cannot be achieved, then we will have to keep from getting sucked in and do away with circumstances that might favor a regional war.
In the meantime, the balances between regional and global actors who are party to the Syrian issue are changing rapidly. Those who aren't changing are being dragged into positions they don’t want to occupy. If this movement is not confronted appropriately and promptly, it is only a matter of time before we have to pay the price for it.