Fire in Syria (I): Preparations on the Turkish and Lebanese Borders

Ibrahim al-Amin

Originally posted on Al-Akhbar English, 11 June 2012

Syria and the wider region are witnessing preparations for a phase that can be described as critical. The international and regional contexts reveal the severity of the upcoming battle, not just in Syria but in all the countries of Bilad al-Sham (the Levant), spreading to the remaining Arab countries and the whole region.

Gulf countries are in a state of high alert based on information regarding possible violent attacks in the context of the Syrian crisis. They are alert because the rulers of these countries know what they are doing, especially after proclaiming that they are in an existential struggle.

Reports from the field and in the media indicate a discernible increase in the number of Arab fighters from Gulf countries joining the battle against the Syrian government and on its soil.

Turkey is left on its own to answer the strategic question: Shall we get involved in the bloody game engulfing Syria and are we ready to pay the costs? While all sides find it difficult to contemplate any type of political solution, they are all quick to reveal thorough practical arrangements for a new round of violence to change the situation on the ground. Each hopes to tip the balance of power in its favor to use in negotiations that are expected to follow at a later time.

Kofi Annan’s mission is over, mainly because there is no consensus to support it. On the contrary, the mission was an opportunity for adversaries of the Syrian regime, whether the opposition or foreign powers, to catch their breath after the latest wave of diplomatic efforts and confrontations on the ground that tipped the balance in the regime’s direction.

Syria’s opponents made an effort to unite the opposition. It turned out to be difficult for many reasons. So they began working on making the opposition work in a common direction. Foreign powers such as Turkey, Gulf states, Europe, the United States, and even Israel would take charge of practical matters.

Failing to attract diplomatic and military groups loyal to the regime to the other side, they decided to expel all Syrian diplomats. They also carried out calculated security-military attacks on a number of officers in the Syrian army to give them a taste of the dangers involved in remaining loyal to the regime.

This was in conjunction with a concentrated campaign to spread rumors, aiming, as usual, to create an atmosphere of doubt and mistrust. They then decided to forbid the regime from replying, even through the media, through attempting to ban satellite transmission of Syrian channels and preparing to disrupt their signals even inside Syria.

On the level of security, work is speedily underway to create the support zones needed by the armed Syrian groups. In the last several weeks, the Turkish border has effectively become a military training ground for Syrian fighters.

Some regime opponents speak about Turkish officers training Syrian fighters on advanced anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. They are also undertaking logistical tasks to coordinate the work of armed groups and train them on modern communications techniques.

In the meantime, some Gulf countries increased their financial support to an unprecedented level. They are financing the purchase of various weapons, providing salaries for the enlisting of more fighters, recruiting young Syrians in Turkey, Iraq, and Lebanon, in addition to the continuation of the open media campaign against the regime until further notice.

Several steps were taken in that direction by the Saudis through Salafi groups and Future Movement supporters, some of whom are employed in the civil and military departments of the Lebanese state. They implemented a part of the plan to control large areas in the North.

One could say now that the Saudis succeeded in having a veto, through its partisans, on any political, security, or other action in the northern Lebanese region. Practically, this veto meant restricting the movement of the Lebanese army, obstructing its intelligence work, warning its leaders that monitoring the opponents of Syria could be considered an aggressive act.

This meant extending the distribution of Lebanese and Syrian armed groups in the city of Tripoli and a substantial section of Akkar. They also created a hostile sectarian situation to increase tensions in the street. This is done by targeting Alawis in such areas, even if this meant a wide and open war.In North Bekaa, on-the-ground preparations continue, with sympathetic groups transporting arms to the mountains of Ersal that have become open bases for Syrian fighters and their Lebanese supporters, under political and even security cover.

The clearest indicator was in the statements of Ersal’s head of municipality, Ali Hujairi, who called on the people of his town to arm themselves and confront the state security forces.

Records of investigations with those detained for transporting and smuggling weapons and explosives in the area have shown that there is an advanced plan underway. Confiscated materials reveal a plot that could destroy whole villages or city neighborhoods.

In the meantime, armed Syrian groups are active along a line connecting the surrounding areas of Damascus and Homs to Lebanon’s eastern borders. They are clashing with people in those regions using the pretext that Hezbollah is deployed in the area to support the regular Syrian army.

It should be noted that areas under Hezbollah’s influence did not hinder the transportation of injured Syrian opposition members through these border points to hospitals in the North.

There is also an increased level of sectarian incitement in a strip of villages along the Syrian border, whose populations are a mix of sects.

It seems there is a zero hour planned by those who control these groups. On the other side, the regime is prepared to face the inevitable… So what is going to happen?

Ibrahim al-Amin is editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar. This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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