August 24, 2012 | Quote

Analysts: Syria’s Violence Threatens Neighboring Countries

The war in Syria is spilling across the country's borders, threatening the stability of neighboring countries and the oil-rich Persian Gulf, Middle East analysts said.

The violence in Syria is stoking existing sectarian rivalries within neighboring states, said James Dobbins, an international security analyst at RAND Corp., a think tank, and a former diplomat during the Clinton and Bush presidencies.

As the conflict widens, it creates greater risk for U.S. allies, such as Turkey and Israel, and for U.S. economic interests in the Persian Gulf, Dobbins said.

Firefights have erupted between Sunni and Alawite militias in Lebanon, which endured a 15-year civil war on sectarian lines.

Conflicts also have been reported between Iraqi Kurds and Iraqi government forces along the Syrian border with Iraq, where sectarian conflicts unleashed by the 2003 U.S. invasion are not entirely healed.

Syrian government forces have fired into refugee camps in Turkey. The Syrians have also invited the PKK, a Kurdish group at war with Turkey, to operate out of Kurdish areas of Syria, said Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. The State Department has designated the PKK a terrorist organization.

Syrian intelligence operatives have harassed and beaten Syrian dissidents in Jordan, and the Jordanian military has clashed with Syrian government troops on the border, Badran said.

Complicating matters more is the fact that many in the region view the Syrian conflict as a proxy war, Badran said. Shiite Iran is backing President Bashar Assad's regime in Syria and considers him a critical ally.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which have Sunni-dominated governments, have voiced support for the rebels. Assad and his inner circle are Alawites, a minority sect. The rebels are mostly Sunni.

“I think the Saudis and Qataris are concerned about the nuclearization of Iran and are viewing this much like people in the United States, as a means of weakening the Iranians,” said David Schenker of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Oil-rich Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain also have Shiite minorities, however, and are vulnerable to a spreading sectarian conflict that Iran might then try to exploit, Dobbins said.

The concerns come amid a flurry of diplomacy Thursday. France signaled that it was prepared to take part in enforcing a partial no-fly zone over Syria.

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