December 27, 2013

Syria's Neighbours On Edge: A Corruption Scandal In Turkey And A Political Assassination In Lebanon Bring The Region Closer To Chaos

There are over half a million Syrian refugees in Turkey. In October, Reuters reported, "The number of Syrian refugees in Turkey has exceeded 600,000 and more than 400,000 of them are living outside refugee camps, the Turkish disaster management agency said on Monday."

There are even more Syrian refugees in Lebanon, who account for as much as 20 percent of the overall Lebanese population. According to the UN, the official number is a little under 800,000, but "Lebanese authorities say the exact number could be even higher since many of the Syrian refugees are unregistered and undocumented migrants" (Source).

A corruption scandal involving senior members of the Erdogan administration, including the Prime Minister, has led to huge protests and calls for Erdogan to step down from office. The scandal could get bigger in the coming weeks. Semih Idiz writes in, "Turkish corruption probe hurts foreign relations":
The massive corruption scandal, involving tens of millions of dollars, which has implicated four key ministers — all of whom have lost their jobs — is moving in a direction that could also involve members of Erdogan’s family, particularly his son Bilal whose name has started being bandied around in the press.
Turkey's policy towards Syria has changed since the war began three years ago, at least on the surface, with officials toning down their warmongering rhetoric, and calling for a ceasefire. Turkey still continues to harbor foreign Jihadists and provides them with medical treatment, housing, arms, and safe passage into Syria.

If instability were to grow in Turkey, especially in its southern provinces that border Syria, the blame would automatically be directed at Erdogan for his administration's failed policies.

The situation is not much different in Lebanon. It too has seen fighters cross into Syria from its territory, and refugees come the other way. Most of the fighters are from Hezbollah, who are fighting on the side of the Syrian army.

The main and most important difference is that Hezbollah's fighters were born and raised in Lebanon, while the fighters who cross into Syria from Turkey are from various foreign societies such as Tunisia, Libya, Pakistan, England, France, and other European nations.

One group of fighters is fighting in Syria with pure fanaticism only, and they are mostly foreign to the region, while the other group of fighters can point to rational reasons for fighting in Syria since they live in the region and what happens to Syria effects them much more on a security level.

But where Lebanon is at a more disadvantage than Turkey is that the hole of sectarianism can more easily be carved open in its social and political fabric. The latest assassination of Mohammed Chatah, a top Sunni political figure, a former finance minister, and a former ambassador to the United States, has raised talk of a civil war in Lebanon. AP reports:
Allies of the slain politician, former finance minister Mohammed Chatah, indirectly blamed the Shiite Hezbollah group for the bombing, raising tensions between Lebanon's two main political camps at a time when the country's factions are already deeply at odds over the civil war in neighboring Syria.
Whenever history-changing political events such as assassinations and terror attacks happen, anywhere in the world, the obvious question that must be asked is cui bono? In this case, the obvious answer is Israel, who wants to see Lebanon, Syria, and the whole region on fire.

Killing a Sunni political leader at a sensitive period in Lebanon's history, at a time when there are major and heated disagreements over the formation of a new government, and then blaming Hezbollah for the deed, is the perfect way to split apart Lebanon and give Israel a greater opportunity to penetrate its defenses. Breaking the unity of Lebanon is definitely more in the interest of Israel than Hezbollah. It doesn't take a conspiracy theorist to figure that out.

Of course, not every stone that is dropped on someone's head in Lebanon can be blamed on Mossad, but let's be real, Mossad commits incredibly brazen acts from time to time, such as assassinating scientists in Tehran and blowing up skyscrapers in New York. It always has a way to increase hatred and division in Muslim societies and around the world, whether it is through terror attacks, assassinations, or simply the daily barrage of propaganda against the hearts and minds of anyone who is unknowingly subject to its manipulations.

The Syrian government and Hezbollah are also obvious candidates for this latest assassination, since the murdered politician was a big critic of them, but why would they want to flare up tensions in Lebanon when they are winning the war in Syria? Hezbollah's role in this assassination does not make any sense.

How Lebanon and Turkey emerge from these explosive political events is anyone's guess. Both the corruption scandal in Ankara and the assassination of an anti-Assad political figure in Beirut will have political ramifications that will extend beyond the borders of these two countries and touch Syria's fate.

Turkey and Lebanon are more connected to the war in Syria than other regional countries not only because they are housing hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, but also because they are serving as the biggest passage ways for fighters who have different allegiances to the sides in Syria.

A weakened or even politically decapitated Erdogan, and a Hezbollah facing increased hostility at home, may or may not change the military balance in Syria. But regardless of any impact on Syria, the corruption scandal in Turkey and the assassination of Chatah in Lebanon signal the unfolding of a more chaotic Middle East.

Syria may not even be the top story in the region in 2014. Assad is probably looking at Erdogan right now, shaking his head in disbelief, and planning his next vacation in Europe or the Caribbean as stability is restored in his country.