Can Syria’s Civil War Be Contained to Syria? Probably Not

With Syria experiencing a full-on civil war, expect to see more and more stories like this. Via Reuters:

Three people were killed when Syrian mortars hit villages in neighboring north Lebanon. Locals said they were under fire for five hours overnight, after sporadic shelling in the area lasting several days.

It was the second such fatal attack in three days. Three people were killed inside Lebanon by mortar fire at the weekend.

Lebanon has long been a political battleground for bigger regional powers. Damascus had a major military presence in its smaller coastal neighbor for 29 years

Assad withdrew his troops in 2005, but Damascus is still the main external player in the delicately balanced sectarian politics of a country torn apart by a 1975-90 civil war.

The border has become more volatile in the past month, raising fears that Lebanon could be drawn into Syria’s conflict. It is mirrored in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest city, where armed Sunnis and Alawites have fought twice this year.

There is concern that a proxy conflict is being fought out, with Saudi Arabia and Qatar pouring funds into Tripoli through Salafi Islamist groups – increasingly powerful in Lebanon – against Lebanon’s influential Shi’ite Hezbollah and Amal factions, which back Assad’s Alawite-led government.

The government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati has distanced itself from the Syria crisis, calling it an internal matter. But Mikati’s allies and foes have already taken sides. Sunni Muslims feel their political power has already by overtaken by Hezbollah, the powerful and heavily armed Shi’ite movement.

The tenuous peace that has held Lebanon together since the end of a 25 year civil war in 1990 may be torn apart by outside instigators that exploit Lebanon’s ethnic cleavages.  In the meantime, once Lebanon is pulled into this conflict, there is no reason to believe that Israel won’t also be somehow dragged into the action.  Israel has invaded Lebanon twice in the last 20 years, most recently in 2006. Should instability in Lebanon threaten Israeli interests, there’s a good possibility Israel will invade again.

The regional mess that Kofi Annan and others have warned might befall the Levant should the Syria civil war continue to fester is closer to reality than we might realize.