Turkey, Jordan, and Iran are weighing their involvement in
Syria. What happens when a civil war goes international?
Anti-regime protesters near Homs pray next to the bodies of civilians killed in recent clashes / Reuters
Syria is in the early stages of what every indication suggests could become a long, cruel, and bloody civil war. In the early hours last Wednesday morning, the Free Syrian Army attacked an intelligence facility in Damascus, the first large-scale military action against the regime. A Lebanese newspaper reported an attack against the Baath Party headquarters in Damascus on Sunday. On Monday, Syrian soldiers fired on buses of Turkish pilgrims in Homs. Turkey is being drawn in more and more each day -- the government in Ankara has been discussing establishing a haven for Syrian dissidents along its border since at least mid-October, but now Jordan is reportedly considering joining Turkey in creating a haven along their border with Syria as well. All of this follows closely on the heels of the historic Arab League decision to suspend Syria's membership. As Michele Dunne, director of the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Middle East Center, pointed out at the Middle East Institute's annual conference on November 17, the League's decision was almost certainly not taken out of concern for the Syrian people; rather, the Arab states are betting on the fall of the Assad regime.
Regional leaders are no doubt planning how best to respond to -- and capitalize on -- a Syrian civil war, should one start, even as the Free Syrian Army is launching its first attacks on Damascus. If it does, other Middle East states will have strong incentives to get involved, which would likely transform not just the Syrian conflict but the regional politics in which Syria plays such a large role. In internal conflicts such as Syria's, alliances between domestic factions and foreign countries can expand the conflict, generate financial incentives to perpetuate war, and change the meaning of the conflict, which allows the initial grievances and tensions that provoked fighting in the first place to linger until violence returns years, sometimes decades, after the nominal end of the war.