I’ll be back with some full-length journalism tomorrow morning, and in the meantime, things are really going to hell in the Eastern Mediterranean. Syria’s civil war will not only suck in the neighbors, it is also, at the same time, reaching out to engulf the neighbors.
Tripoli, on Lebanon’s northern coast, witnessed street battles between pro- and anti-Assad groups back in February. Violence erupted again over the weekend, and intermittent fighting continued for a third day today. Rocket-propelled grenades and machine-gun fire echoed through part of the city. Perhaps five people have been killed, and dozens wounded. Lebanon’s Daily Star carried ominous reports (“Tension and fear gripped Tripoli Monday after both political and security efforts failed to maintain a cease-fire”) and photos of men carrying rocket launchers through deserted city streets and ducking into alleys with AK-47s and Lebanese Army tanks rolling past apartment blocks.
This is the clearest sign so far that violence from Syria’s civil war will spill into Lebanon, where Butcher Assad has many allies: some in the national government, others in the “official” security services, still others in community and religious groups, and, of course, Hezbollah.
The worst case scenario is not difficult to envision: the conflict in Syria reignites civil war in Lebanon and merges with sectarian violence in Iraq to destabilize the Fertile Crescent from Beirut to Basra. Given Turkey’s concerns with the Kurds in this region and the religious divisions inside Turkey itself, Istanbul would have a hard time staying out of this conflict. Tehran also would feel a strong pull to engage. The United States on both humanitarian and geopolitical grounds might also be pulled into a conflict of this kind.