Are the Saudis and the Qataris, strong supporters of the Syrian rebellion, worried by the turn of events in Syria and in neighboring countries? They should be. Of the many broken promises that Syrian President Bashar Assad has made over the years there is one promise that he is very likely to keep: that the fires raging throughout Syria today would, in due course, spread to the rest of the region.
So far he has kept to his word. From Syria the fighting has spread to neighboring Lebanon, a country that has always harbored a microcosm of the rest of the Middle East’s turbulent politics and with ample amounts of guns for hire ready to offer their services and sometimes their lives in exchange of a handful of dollars or a reserved place in paradise.
For months on end sporadic exchanges of gunfire erupted every few days between the Lebanese equivalent of the Hatfields and the McCoys in the northern port city of Tripoli. And for months on end, everyone in Lebanon would brush it off with a wave of the hand, adding, “this is Tripoli.”
But gunfire, much like fire, will spread if not contained. And so it has come to pass that the fires from the northern port city of Tripoli soon ignited similar fires in the southern port city of Sidon.
Angered by the support that the Lebanese Shia militia Hezbollah offered Syria in putting down a Sunni-led rebellion against the Alawite dominated regime in Damascus, a local sheikh in Sidon began to urge his fellow Sunnis to rush to the side of their fellow coreligionists in Syria. Perhaps a little too eager the cleric, who is believed to have enjoyed the support of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, soon got into an open dispute with the Lebanese Army and in an exchange of gunfire killed 17 Lebanese soldiers.
What happens next is anyone’s guess. The forecasts are not bright. For the moment the Lebanese army appears to have the upper hand in this round of clashes. The radical cleric, Ahmad al-Asir, has fled Sidon with a number of his followers and is currently sought by the Lebanese authorities. Some say he may have fled to Syria, or may be hiding in a Palestinian refugee camp close to where the gun battle with the Lebanese army took place.