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Fear of escalation

Andreas Gorzewski / mllJanuary 9, 2013

The Syrian civil war threatens the country's neighbors. Turkey plans to protect itself with Patriot missiles, but other countries are also worried about the potential collapse of the Syrian state.

Turkish soldiers patrol in the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar near the strategic Syrian border town of Ras al-Ain (Photo: Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images

In a few weeks, Turkey should be enjoying protection from Syrian rocket attacks by Patriot missiles operated by the forces of Germany and other countries. Deployment began on Tuesday (08.01.2013).

Other countries are also worried about spillover from the Syrian civil war: Israel has said it will put up a border fence in the Golan Heights, which it won from Syria in the Six Day War in 1967, to prevent fighters from infiltrating.

Turkish political scientist Mehmet Akif Okur of the Ankara Institute of Strategic Studies believes that Syrian President Bashar Assad could push his country's conflict beyond its borders. By so doing, his well-armed regime could intend to exacerbate the situation and thus hold on to power a little longer. But even without any such deliberate escalation, the situation for Syria's neighbors is threatening.

"The escalation of the conflict is a real danger for all of Syria's neighbors," Okur told DW. Many Iraqi Sunnis have close ties to Syrian rebels while Lebanon and Syria have grown so close that every development in Syria has a direct effect on its smaller neighbor, he said.

Syria interferes in Lebanon

Syria has significant influence in Lebanon. The Lebanese government coalition is largely pro-Syrian, while other political groups in the country want to push back Syrian influence. There have been several clashes between pro- and anti-Syrian factions in Tripoli, Lebanon's second-largest city.

Smoke rises during sectarian clashes between Sunni Muslims and Alawites in Tripoli (Photo:Reuters)
Lebanon has already seen clashes over the Syrian conflictImage: Reuters

The Syrian civil war has already had an effect on Turkey for some time: more than 150,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Turkey. Several artillery shells have hit Turkish territory - in October, five Turks were killed by artillery fire in the border village of Akcakale.

When they're fully deployed in February, the Patriots are intended to defend Turkey from possible rocket attacks from across the border. The German government emphasizes the defensive nature of the mission. Indeed, the Patriots will be based in Kahramanmaras, from which they cannot reach Syrian soil, some 100 kilometers away.

Patriot missiles as symbol of solidarity

Okur is not sure whether the missiles will provide adequate protection against Syrian rockets, "but they are an important symbol," he says. They offer a message of solidarity: "It shows that NATO will protect Turkey from threats to its borders."

Shortly before the incident in Akcakale, the Turkish parliament voted to allow the government to order troops into Syria if necessary. Okur thinks that such an intervention is unlikely, and that Turkey will also not respond to requests by Syrian rebels to send troops into the country.

"But if Bashar Assad were to use chemical weapons against the people," he says, "than that would change everything." Okur describes such a development, against which western governments have repeatedly warned, as a horrifying scenario.

Jordanian economy is badly hit

Jordan, which is hosting some 200,000 refugees, is already suffering from the war. Political scientist Hasan al-Momani of the University of Jordan's Regional Center for Conflict Prevention says that the economy has been badly hit: all Jordan's exports to Europe used to go through Syria.

A Jordanian soldier helps Syrian refugees (Photo: AP/Raad Adayleh)
Jordan has had to take in 200,000 Syrian refugeesImage: dapd

Al-Momani thinks the worst development would be a significant increase in the fighting and the collapse of Syrian state structures: "That would mean an escalation of violence that would have massive effects on Jordan." It could leave Syria as a kind of second Somalia, with immeasurable consequences for the whole region.

At least there's no fighting within the country between supporters and opponents of Assad, as there is in Lebanon. But it is not clear Jordan will be able to stay clear of the conflict." We have had some exchanges of fire and attacks, and some Jordanian soldiers have been wounded," Al-Momani said.