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Syrian Relations with the Arab World

In General . . .
Syria has an interesting relationship with its Arab neighbors. In the 1980s Syria supported Iran in the Iran-Iraq War, alienating it from the Arab world. However, with the end of the war, Syria began to reintegrate itself in the Arab world. Syria does not have relations with Israel which at times makes dealing with countries that have recognized Israel difficult. Syria also continues to have border disputes with several countries. That being said, Syria is seen as a leader in the Arab world.

Syria and Lebanon
Historically, Syria has a very tumultuous relationship with Lebanon. A year into the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1989), Syria entered Lebanon, first involved in minor operations, then in blocking Lebanon's ports from further arms deliveries, and eventually in armed conflict. Syria had many reasons to enter into the Lebanese conflict. (1) Syria was nervous that the violence might spill into its own territory. (2) Syria still held, at least somewhat, the idea of Syrian- Lebanese unity as under the French mandate, the two were ruled together. (3) Syria wanted to “bolster its independence vis-a vis the Soviet Union and . . . obtain American support for its policy in the Arab-Israeli conflict and for its regional ambitions” (Itamar Rabinovich). (4) Syria did not want a radical regime taking over in Lebanon which might create a region wide Arab-Israeli war. (5) Lastly, Syria still had a strong Arab Nationalist feeling, and the Arab nationalist movement was centered in Lebanon.

In 1989, after so many years, the Lebanese Civil War more or less came to a close in October with the Taif Accords. The Accords restructured the political power, giving more power to Lebanese Muslims and formalizing a relationship between Lebanon and Syria, in which Lebanon basically became a protectorate. Syria then had both a political and military presence in Lebanon for some time.
Finally, in 2004, the UN passed a resolution which called for the withdrawal of 'foreign forces' from Lebanon, and while Syria was not mentioned specifically it was implied in the text. In 2005, as Lebanese agitation about Syrian presence grew, Lebanese Premiere Rafik Hariri was assassinated. Many Lebanese suspected and continue to suspect Syria, although nothing has yet been proven. This blame lead to mass demonstrations and the eventual pull-out of Syrian forces.
The Hariri affair is still fresh in the minds of both Syria, which claims it did nothing, and Lebanon, which believes its premier was assassinated by the Syrians. Hence, the two countries' relationship remains rocky. The two also fight over the border line as well as arms smuggling. Recently Turkey has offered to bring the two together to improve their relationship. As of this writing it is unclear if the two will accept.

Syria and Jordan
Jordan and Syria also have a long tumultuous history. Throughout the 1950s Syria conducted minor “covert” operations within Jordan, and Jordan within Syria. Then in 1971 when Jordan ceased its support for the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) while Syria supported it, the two broke diplomatic ties. Relations began to improve when Jordan supported Syria's entrance into the Lebanese Civil War. However, relations soured again when Jordan supported Anwar Sadat's peace initiative with Israel, and troops from each country were massed on their shared border, though nothing further came of it. Syria was then implicated in several high-level attacks on Jordanian bureaucrats and politicians, to the further degradation of the relationship.
Currently, despite border disputes, Syria and Jordan are on fairly good footing. Many Syrians in fact use Jordan's ties with Israel and the Occupied Territories to conduct business in the region. That being said they do not always see eye to eye. In fact, Jordan often sides with Western interests, for example supporting Lebanon in demands for Syrian troop withdrawals. And this discrepancy in western alignment often pulls Syria and Jordan further apart than they might be otherwise.

Syria and Iraq
The history of Syrian and Iraqi relations brings to light a continuing power struggle between the two. In the 1950s both Syria and Iraq supported the idea of pan-Arabism (Arab nationalism), and they were brought together by their support of the pan-Arab socialist party, the Baath Party. However, each vied for the spotlight in the pan-Arab dream.
In 1980, Syria supported Iran in the Iran-Iraq war, severely injuring relations with Iraq. Currently Iraq (and the US) accuse Syria of aiding former Bathist factions in Iraq as well as harboring “terrorists” who fight in Iraq. Furthermore, there are many claims of Syrian moneys supporting destabilizing groups within Iraq. However, Syria does claim to be taking a tough stance on terrorism, and says that it would like to see a stable Iraq.
Yet another issue now in Iraqi-Syrian relations, is that fact that 1.2 million Iraqi refugees are now in Syria. Syrian and Iraqi relations are currently poor, especially due to the fact that the US deeply influences Iraqi political positions, and the US sees Syria as a terrorist safe-haven.

Syria and the Arab World (General)
Syria is seen as a strong country in the Arab world, that gives support to other Arab countries, especially since its reestablishment of formal relations with Egypt in 1989. Syria's staunch support of Palestine and the Palestinian cause is favored in the Arab world. However, Syria's sometimes rash judgments temper the Arab love of Syria. Syria's apparent connection to the Harari assassination and its support of Iran are at the forefront of Arab thought; however, these hiccups in Arab support generally do not greatly affect the pan-Arab bond that exists between this Arab leader and its Arab neighbors.


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