Spillover From Syria: How Far Will It Spread?

Article Summary
The disintegration of Syria is inevitable, based on the scale of the rebellion and the intransigence of the Assad regime. Mohammed Yaghi predicts the effects Syria’s sectarian breakdown may have on its neighbors, and the picture is not pretty.

It no longer matters whether what is happening in Syria is a revolution or a conspiracy that preempted a potential revolution — or even a conspiracy targeting the “non-aligned” countries. The substance of the matter is: Is it possible to save Syria from imminent disintegration?

Today, there are 6,000 jihadist combatants from all across the Arab and Islamic worlds — even from Chechnya — taking part in the revolution. Last week in the Jordanian city of Maan, Salafi jihadist groups broadcast a video of one of their members blowing himself up at Syrian checkpoint. The Salafist movement declared that 100 of its jihadists are stationed in Syria.

What’s more, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) is estimated to consist of 90,000 fighters, who are receiving advanced weaponry from Arab and Western countries, weapons which are allegedly capable of downing the regime’s warplanes. The FSA is also receiving aid — mainly in the form of communication and logistical supplies — from many countries, including information on the Syrian army’s movements inside Syrian cities, which has been provided by the German Navy.

The world is divided over the Syrian crisis. While most of it backs the Syrian opposition, a few countries — including Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela and possibly Algeria — support Assad’s regime. After 18 months of bloodbath, the regime has yet to fall and has not even suffered any rifts within its ranks, as the opposition expected. Thus, the war is likely to persist for much longer.

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Based on reports from the Arab League, the United Nations and international human rights organizations, the regime and the opposition are both responsible for the atrocities that are being committed against the Syrian people. In terms of moral standards, the opposition is not much better than the regime that it is trying to replace.

Most importantly, one must note that a victory on the part of the opposition will not mean the end of war for Syria, and could even signal the beginning of a much fiercer and more lethal civil war. In northeast Syria, where most of Syria’s Kurds live — particularly in the regions of Qamishli, Hasakah and Derek — the state has ceased to exist. Kurds are taking matters into their own hands and taking control of their own lives. They have established their own military units to defend themselves. Some of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party militants are starting to head toward Turkey.

Along Syria’s western coast on the Mediterranean Sea, an Alawite majority lives in an area known as the Alawite Mountains and as the western coastal mountains. Most Alawites have settled in the cities of Latakia and Tartous. Needless to say, Alawites are one of the regime’s main support bases and it seems only natural that they had been armed to defend themselves against any opposition. However, it is also possible that Alawites began taking up arms when the cloak of civil war was laid upon the country.

Thus, should the opposition declare victory, three enclaves are likely to emerge in Syria. Northeast Syria could become an independent state for the Kurds and the west coast would be for the Alawaites, while Sunnis would also have their own enclave. This fragmentation of the Syrian state could also spill over into neighboring countries.

Half a million Palestinians are likely to leave Syria for Jordan. They fear the outcome of a civil war, as they saw jihadists slaughter their fellow opposition advocates of different sects. Palestinians are also fleeing as a result of the regime’s indiscriminate shelling of areas that have been seized by the opposition. Turkey and Iraq will not remain untouched, for the Kurds have long dreamed of establishing an independent state in parts of these two countries.

Lebanon will also be at the mercy of Syria’s disintegration. All ideological groups, when sensing that they are endangered by stronger neighboring groups, seek to be geographically aligned with groups of the same identity and ideology. In pursuit of security and peace of mind, threatened groups would cleanse their areas of those with different ideologies from their own, who might pose a threat to them. Since ethnic or sectarian cleansing is inevitable, people would start to flee their homes for fear of being killed. So, it is very likely that Syrian Alawites will be geography aligned with Lebanese Shiites. Meanwhile, Lebanese Sunnis will also likely be aligned with Syrian Sunnis, therefore changing borders and purging sects and ethnicities from their homelands.

This scenario is not the product of an overactive imagination. The American invasion of Iraq is living proof of this possibility. The civil war that took place under the US invasion's patronage has actually divided Iraq into three states: Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish.

Although the official name of “the Republic of Iraq” is a cloak to cover this division, it is well known that each of the three major Iraqi sects enjoy high autonomy at the expense of the state. Arabs are being banished from Kurdish areas, Sunnis from Shiite regions and vice versa. It must be also noted that Tariq al-Hashemi, the fugitive Iraqi vice president who was accused of plotting against Maliki’s regime, fled to the Kurdistan Region, where Maliki’s regime has no control.

Is it possible to save Syria from this disastrous fate?

Assad’s departure and holding presidential elections under international auspices may seem like a reasonable solution, but how can the Alawite minority be reassured that it will not be subjected to massacres following Assad’s departure? Are there any actual reassurances, given all of the crimes committed by jihadist fighters? They are not only fighting to topple the regime but also to establish their own state based on Islamic law. How can the Kurds' attempts to monopolize northeast Syria be foiled, now that their dream of establishing their own state has become possible? How can the many divided opposition factions — at home or abroad — unify?

It is no longer possible to save Syria from its fate. Should the war persist, it will eventually come to an end at the hands of opposition forces and Syria will be divided into sectarian states. Yet, if Western countries and their allies reckon that the Syrian regime has been worn out to the extent that it no longer has any regional influence, and that their interests lie in preserving the state, then the opposition will disappear. The regime will be left to eliminate it. However, this would drag on for many years due to the sectarian strife that was born out of the war.

In both cases, whether the opposition or the regime emerges as the winner, Syria will never be as it was, for sectarian strife will be the cause of its demise.

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Found in: turkish-syrian relations, syrian civil war, syrian crisis, syrian, syria crisis, lebanese-syrian relations
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