Syrian Conflict Continues to Spread
An assassination in Lebanon and border clashes in Jordan and Turkey demonstrate the continuing spread of the Syrian conflict. When will peace finally come?
The assassination of an intelligence chief in Lebanon has sparked new conflicts in the nation that has long been in Syria’s shadow.
Lebanese powder keg
Many Lebanese politicians have accused Syria of instigating the car bombing that killed Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan, a Lebanese intelligence officer who opposed the Syrian leadership.
General Hassan was killed Friday, Oct. 19, and violence broke out after his funeral Sunday. Lebanon’s delicate balance of power between rival groups was shaken, as Sunni Muslim supporters of the Syrian opposition sought revenge on Alawite Muslims and other supporters of the Syrian government.
Reuters reported, “The slain Hassan was a senior intelligence official who had helped uncover a bomb plot that led to the arrest and indictment in August of a pro-Assad former Lebanese minister.
“A Sunni Muslim, he also led an investigation that implicated Syria and the Shi’ite Hezbollah in the 2005 assassination of Rafik al-Hariri, a former prime minister of Lebanon.”
Lebanese sectarian violence continues to claim casualties, including a 9-year-old girl shot by a sniper.
Jordanian soldier killed
To the east, a Jordanian soldier was killed Oct. 22 by militants trying to cross the border into Syria to fight against the Assad regime.
Fox News reported that he was the first Jordanian soldier to be killed in the conflict. “A statement by the Jordanian military said the soldier was killed in a shootout with a group of eight suspected militants armed with pistols and machineguns.” It was not clear if the militants were Jordanians (perhaps members of the banned ultraconservative Salafi Muslim movement) or foreign fighters.
Pressure on Turkey
Simon Tisdall explored the widening conflict in The Guardian article “Is Syria’s Regime Spreading Turbulence as a Survival Tactic?” Besides having Russia, Iraq and Iran on his side, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad seems to be using everything at his disposal to frighten his other neighbors into leaving him alone.
“The Syrian regime has already impressed on Turkey how big a price Ankara may have to pay for its departure, which Turkish leaders have been demanding with ever greater vehemence since bilateral relations imploded last year.
“A series of incidents along the two countries’ shared 900km border culminated this month in days of artillery exchanges after Syrian army units shelled a town inside Turkey, killing five civilians. Damascus claimed the initial shelling was an accident. In an interview with the Guardian last week, Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, asked why, if that was the case, the Syrian units kept on firing? [A report in the Turkish Milliyet newspaper said 27 mortar shells had been fired from Syria since the beginning of October, and that Turkey had fired 87 in response.]
“Turkish officials also suspect Assad is using the ever-increasing flow of refugees into Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan as an indirect way of applying pressure on his enemies. Davutoglu fears a humanitarian catastrophe this winter if nothing changes—and wants an international response. There are already 150,000 displaced Syrians on Turkish soil.”
Turkish officials also accuse Syria of supporting the Iraq-based militants of the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK), which has dramatically increased its attacks inside Turkey this year.
“Assad’s crude message to Ankara: back off, or face escalating strife at home.”
Alarm bells in Washington
Simon Tisdall’s Guardian article also proposed that the Syrian strategy goes beyond its next-door neighbors to the rest of the Middle East and the West, particularly the United States.
“Similar calculations may lay behind the reportedly reduced enthusiasm in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states for arming Syria’s rebels. Damascus’s claim that the arms are going to hardline Salafist groups linked to al-Qaida, as happened when the west armed Afghanistan’s mujahideen in the 1980s, have rung alarm bells in Washington.”
Hopes for temporary cease-fire fading
The new UN peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi raised hopes by trying to arrange for a cease-fire during the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, which begins Oct. 26. But Deutsche Welle reported:
“Optimism about the possibility of new peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi brokering a temporary ceasefire in Syria is fading fast. In contrast, there are growing fears that the conflict could spill beyond the country’s borders.
“Syria’s main opposition on Monday expressed strong skepticism that Damascus would honor a temporary holiday ceasefire, as violence continued to rage in the war-torn country. …
“The Arab League’s deputy secretary general, Ahmed Ben Helli, also articulated his doubt on Monday of a truce being implemented. …
“Meanwhile Syrian state media said it supported the idea of a truce but would not cease fighting until the West and Gulf countries withdrew their support for Syrian rebels.”
A previous attempt at a cease-fire in April also resulted in failure (see “Deadline for Peace Passes in Syria; Conflict Spills Over Borders”).
How will peace come?
In spite of the diligent efforts of many diplomats and leaders, true and lasting peace in the Middle East has been elusive. Every cry of “peace, peace” has ended in disappointment. God accurately described the human condition this way: “The way of peace they have not known” (Romans 3:17).
The Bible shows that the Middle East will continue to be a flash point of conflict, including a confrontation between a Middle Eastern power and a European one (Daniel 11:40-42). Finally, when humanity gathers at Armageddon on the brink of a final war of total destruction, Jesus Christ promises to intervene (Revelation 16:14-16; Matthew 24:21-22). He will restore the Kingdom of God to the earth.
Finally the strife-torn Middle East and the whole world will learn His way of peace. “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4). God speed that day!