As Syria’s bloody conflict spills over borders, are we on the brink of regional warfare?

Published April 30th, 2013 - 17:37 GMT

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Syria map

Image 1 of 8: The Syrian conflict might have begun in March 2011 as a civil war between forces loyal to Assad’s Ba’ath Party government and those seeking to oust it. But now, with bombs crossing borders, foreign fighters joining the battle and Syrians seeking refuge in neighboring countries, Syria’s war has become a regional affair.

Sayyida Zeinab

Image 1 of 8: Al-Qaeda in Iraq have admitted that Jabhat al-Nusra, the so-called ‘most aggressive and successful arm of the rebel force” in Syria, is part of their network. Meanwhile, Shia fighters from Iraq are reportedly helping local allies in Damascus defend the shrine of Sayyida Zeinab, which they believe is under threat from Sunni rebels.

Gangs Lebanon

Image 1 of 8: The Syrian conflict has shown clear signs of creeping over the border to Lebanon. From stray rockets and an influx of refugees to increasing sectarian tensions. Violent clashes regularly erupt between Alawite sympathisers and Sunni opponents of Assad’s regime. A number of kidnappings linked to the conflict have also taken place inside Lebanon.

Hezbollah support assad

Image 1 of 8: Hezbollah, a staunch supporter of President Bashar Al-Assad, proudly describe their involvement in Syria as defending Shia land and religious sites in the war-torn state. Estimates put the number of Hezbollah fighters in the western area of Al-Qusayr at 800-1,500, with more further north at the Sayyeda Zeinab shrine near Damascus.

syrian refugees zaatari Jordan

Image 1 of 8: Jordan is increasingly involved in the conflict. Over the weekend Syrian rockets landed in border towns as the country houses 500,000 refugees. The government is urging the UNSC to take action as the US sends 200 military planners and reports in the Washington Post suggest that FSA rebels are being trained in Jordan, despite official denials.

syrian refugees Turkey

Image 1 of 8: Turkey is hosting 400,000 refugees in a series of camps near the border. With FSA fighters resting in the area, there have been minor sectarian clashes, which Ankara has tried to deal with, but some fear that the government might try and use its influence in any post-war deal as a regional Sunni player.

iran support syria

Image 1 of 8: Iran, a staunch ally of President Bashar al-Assad, has sent elite Republican Guard troops to support the embattled leader. Tehran is also accused of flying in arms to Syria, by flying over Iraq who have turned a blind eye to the aircraft movements. On Sunday, the Islamic Republic warned that any rebel victory could threaten regional peace.

Sexual Jihad

Image 1 of 8: Tunisia, the Arab country to spark the revolution across the region, is geographically far from Syria but Salafis there are heading to Syria to join with the Jabat Al Nusra, the salfist inspired rebel group. Reports online also suggest that teenage girls have joined the conflict for “sexual jihad” after the fatwa was allegedly issued.

What started as school children spray painting anti-Assad messages on a wall in Syria's southern city of Daraa has entered its third year of violent conflict. The UN estimates that over 70,000 have been killed in the fighting, with over 1.4 million fleeing to neighboring countries.

The bloody conflict has now spilled far beyond Syria’s borders, threatening regional war.

There are fears that the almost 100 year-old Sykes-Picot Agreement - an Anglo-French plan that created modern day Lebanon and Syria - may be threatened by increasing sectarian fighting.

Jordan's King Abdullah II is urging the UN Security Council to declare the refugee crisis a threat to "the security and stability of our country." The Hashemite Kingdom is seeing between 1-2000 people crossing daily, putting strain on an already struggling economy and  limited natural resources.

Jordan could also be drawn in militarily. The US is sending 200 army planners to Amman to assist with the preparations with future operations and the last few days have seen salvos of rockets landing on Jordanian territory. Reports in the Washington Post also suggest that rebels from the Free Syrian Army are being trained in preparation for “buffer zones” just inside Syria. The government deny this.

Lebanon, occupied by Syria from 1976 until 2005, is maintaining a fragile peace in spite of reported rocket attacks on the Bekaa Valley and occasional air raids by the the Syrian air force. The UN Refugee Agency says that Lebanon is currently home to 450,000 refugees causing friction in host communities with security forces imposing a nighttime curfew on Syrians.

Hezbollah - the militant Shia organization - is also sending fighters to support embattled President Assad, with help from their Shia brothers in Iran, threatening to pull Lebanon back in to a state of armed conflict as sectarian divisions become more pronounced.

Iraq, too, is facing a wave of refugees and a new influx of returnees who left the country because of the US-led 2003 invasion. Kurds in Syria are becoming more powerful, which could spell trouble for Baghdad as its own Kurdish community begins to feel more emboldened after years of struggle following the collapse of the Ottoman empire.

The latest development saw the Nusra Front, a Salafi-inspired organization entering into an alliance with al-Qaeda in Iraq, bringing Baghdad in increasing contact with Sunni militants, all whilst officials turned a blind-eye to Iranian aircraft flying over the country sending weapons to Assad.

The Syrian struggle is felt across north Africa too, as refugees flood into Egypt, with men in Cairo looking for ‘cheap’ Syrian brides. In Tunisia, teenagers are among those taking up arms following the the call to Salafis to join the fight.

The conflict has altered the region, and there is every chance that the Syrian civil war will have be a turning point in Arab history.

Here, Al Bawaba guides you through the ways Syria’s bloody conflict is changing the region.

Do you think Syria’s civil conflict will turn into regional warfare? Share your comments with us below!


Because the Middle East was drawn up by Western powers, the states, by and large are not natural entities. Tribe and religious loyalties over ride nationalism. The Syrian conflict is essentially the destruction of a quasi-secular Islamic state, ruled by the Alawite minority. Kurds, Sunis, and others are seeing opportunities for more autonomy, while Iran and Hezbollah are fighting to maintain the state as part of a Shia hegemony, extending from Iran through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. So, yes. The destruction of Syria is lighting the imaginations of minorities throughout the Arab world and the battle lines may very well extend first to Lebanon and then, even to Turkey and beyond.

Anonymous (not verified) Wed, 05/01/2013 - 05:20

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