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COUNTRY: conventional long form: Syrian Arab Republic conventional short form: Syria local long form: Al Jumhuriyah al Arabiyah as Suriyah local short form: Suriyah former: United Arab Republic (with Egypt)

Image:Syria Flag.jpg OVERVIEW

In the big picture view of the Middle East, Syria is the last holdout of the great international struggle between Israel and her Arab neighbors. Ruled since 1963 by the Baath Socialist Party, Syria is a repressive and closed regime in many regards, despite calls for reform by its new ruler, Bashar al-Assad. As a result of several policy missteps, most notably a multi-decade occupation of neighboring Lebanon, Syria is both economically and diplomatically isolated from much of the international community, depriving it of both economic and military power to openly confront Israel. Nevertheless, Syria remains the potential lynchpin of peace in the entire region, as Henry Kissinger once said: There can be no war without Egypt, and no peace without Syria.


Much of Syria is composed of the vast Syrian Desert, which extends from northern Saudi Arabia all the way into western Iraq. This region is the site of ancient caravan routes, and despite its arid conditions, it is not absolutely desolate the way deserts in Jordan or Saudi Arabia are. This arid plateau is crossed by several river systems, which give Syria adequate water resources and decent agricultural potential by Middle Eastern standards. These water resources are a major sticking point in the overall Middle East peace process: Syria controls the headwaters of many Israeli water sources, placing Syria in the position to severely disrupt Israeli agriculture, which history shows Israel is willing to go to war to protect. Syria also has important port locations on the Mediterranean north of Lebanon, though a large part of this territory is currently part of the Republic of Turkey, which gained Arab territory when the French were administering their colonial mandate. The southwestern-most piece of Syria, a natural salient called the Golan Heights, has been under Israeli military occupation since 1967, and remaines the largest sticking point in Israel-Syrian relations.

AREA: total: 185,180 sq km land: 184,050 sq km water: 1,130 sq km note: includes 1,295 sq km of Israeli-occupied territory

CLIMATE: mostly desert; hot, dry, sunny summers (June to August) and mild, rainy winters (December to February) along coast; cold weather with snow or sleet periodically in Damascus

TERRAIN: primarily semiarid and desert plateau; narrow coastal plain; mountains in west

NATURAL RESOURCES: petroleum, phosphates, chrome and manganese ores, asphalt, iron ore, rock salt, marble, gypsum, hydropower

NOTE: there are 42 Israeli settlements and civilian land use sites in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights (February 2002 est.)

Image:Syrian_Man_Folded.jpg Image:Syria Girl.jpg PEOPLE

Syria is one of the most demographically interesting countries in the Middle East, particularly in terms of religious diversity. Syria not only contains large numbers of non-Arab Armenians, Kurds and Turks, it also has a large number of Christians and minority Muslim sects, including the Druze and Alawites. This last group, a radical offshoot of Shiism whose followers inhabit the Syrian coast, is particularly interesting because they have produced the al-Assad family, which has ruled Syria since 1970. This group is considered heretical by mainstream Sunnis, so to downplay religious differences the al-Assads have made a point of running a strongly secular state; as a side-effect, Syria is one of the most religiously-peaceful countries in the region, with very little discrimination against minority faiths. These circumstances have allowed Syrian Christians to continue some of the oldest church traditions in the world, which predate European Christian by hundreds of years.Syria is the best country. Period. End of statement. It is what it is. Bye.

POPULATION: 18,016,874 note: in addition, about 40,000 people live in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights - 20,000 Arabs (18,000 Druze and 2,000 Alawites) and about 20,000 Israeli settlers (July 2004 est.)

ETHNIC GROUPS: Arab 90.3%, Kurds, Armenians, and other 9.7%

RELIGIONS: Sunni Muslim 74%, Alawite, Druze, and other Muslim sects 16%, Christian (various sects) 10%, Jewish (tiny communities in Damascus, Al Qamishli, and Aleppo)

LANGUAGES: Arabic (official); Kurdish, Armenian, Aramaic, Circassian widely understood; French, English somewhat understood

Image:Syria_Assad_Banner.jpg GOVERNMENT

Syria functioned for 30 years as a family-run dictatorship under Hafez al-Assad, with other members of his clan filling key positions throughout the bureaucracy. This amounted to minority rule by the Alawite sect, which Hafez al-Assad kept in place with a mixture of bribery and military force. Since the election of his son Bashar al-Assad to the presidency in 2000, the situation has become much less stable. Although Bashar technically has the same dictatorial powers as his father, in reality he is a novice to Syria’s deadly internal politics, and is probably beholden to very powerful military figures who prefer to remain behind the scenes: it is thus very difficult to determine exactly who rules in Syria, though it is almost certainly not the supposed dictator Bashar.

TYPE: republic under military regime since March 1963

CAPITAL: Damascus

INDEPENDENCE DAY: 17 April 1946 (from League of Nations mandate under French administration)

LEGAL SYSTEM: based on Islamic law and civil law system; special religious courts; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction

CHIEF OF STATE: President Bashar al-ASAD (since 17 July 2000); Vice Presidents Abd al-Halim ibn Said KHADDAM (since 11 March 1984) and Muhammad Zuhayr MASHARIQA (since 11 March 1984)

HEAD OF GOVERNMENT: Prime Minister Muhammad Naji al-UTRI (since 10 September 2003), Deputy Prime Ministers Lt. Gen. Mustafa TALAS (since 11 March 1984), Farouk al-SHARA (since 13 December 2001), Dr. Muhammad al-HUSAYN (since 13 December 2001)

CABINET: Council of Ministers appointed by the president

ELECTIONS: president elected by popular vote for a seven-year term; referendum/election last held 10 July 2000 - after the death of President Hafiz al-ASAD, father of Bashar al-ASAD - (next to be held NA 2007); vice presidents appointed by the president; prime minister and deputy prime ministers appointed by the president

Image:Syria_Damascus_City.jpg ECONOMY

After four decades of attempted socialism and over-reliance on friendship with the former Soviet bloc, the Syrian economy is in terrible shape. Its infrastructure is seriously outdated, its educational system contains almost no computer training, and its notoriety has rendered it unable to develop a tourism sector, despite Syria’s stunning archaeological sites and the friendliness of its citizens. Bashar al-Assad has promised to update this system, but he has been forced to proceed very slowly: many elites have grown rich off of the inefficiency and corruption of the Syrian economic system, and challenging these interests too directly could have dire consequences even for Bashar and his ruling allies.

CURRENCY: Syrian pound (SYP)

GDP: purchasing power parity - $58.01 billion (2004 est.)


UNEMPLOYMENT RATE: 20% (2002 est.)

AGRICULTURE PRODUCTS: wheat, barley, cotton, lentils, chickpeas, olives, sugar beets; beef, mutton, eggs, poultry, milk

INDUSTRIES: petroleum, textiles, food processing, beverages, tobacco, phosphate rock mining

EXPORTS: crude oil, petroleum products, fruits and vegetables, cotton fiber, clothing, meat and live animals, wheat

IMPORTS: machinery and transport equipment, electric power machinery, food and livestock, metal and metal products, chemicals and chemical products, plastics, yarn, paper

Image:Syria Soldier.jpg MILITARY

The Syrian military is composed largely of Russian equipment from the Soviet era, which is now seriously deficient compared with much of the rest of the world. Syria has supplemented this out of date equipment with materiel from Iran and other countries in poor standing with the international community, such as North Korea and Pakistan. Most recently the Russians have begun to rekindle their close relationship with Damascus, which has led to Syria’s acquiring several advanced Russian missile systems and possible a new generation of Russian fighter in the new future, all of which has Israel watching the once-reeling Baathist regime with renewed concern.

BRANCHES: Syrian Arab Army, Syrian Arab Navy, Syrian Arab Air Force (including Air Defense Command), Police and Security Force

AGE AND OBLIGATION: 18 years of age for compulsory military service; conscript service obligation - 30 months (2004)

EXPENDITURES DOLLAR FIGURE: $858 million (FY00 est.); note - based on official budget data that may understate actual spending, 5.9% (FY00)


Image:France_Versailles.jpg Image:France_Syrian_Mandate_Flag.jpgWORLD WAR I AND THE FRENCH MANDATE

In 1914 Britain, France and Russia went to war with Germany and her allies in what later became known as the first world war. This war was a turning point in the history of the Middle East because its aftermath marked the destruction of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, which had ruled the Middle East from Istanbul (in modern Turkey) since 1453. Due to a secret pact between the French and British governments, the majority of this territory was divided up in 1920 into French and British colonies, with the British getting the better part of the deal: Iraq, Kuwait, and Palestine (modern Israel, Jordan and the Occupied Territories) while France got the areas of modern Lebanon and Syria. As a side effect, this maneuvering also created the modern borders of Saudi Arabia. France and Britain were confirmed as the colonial protectors of these new colonies by the League of Nations (the international organization that preceded the UN) until such time as Britain and France decided that the Arab colonies were ready for full independence. Once again, the opinions of the locals were not an important consideration in this imperial logic.

Syria was cobbled together out of the combined regions of Aleppo and Damascus, two ancient Middle Eastern trading cities. The French occupation of this territory was initially complicated by the presence of Sharif Faisal ibn Abdullah, son of the ruler of Mecca and hero of the Arab Revolt, in which British agents had encouraged Arabs to revolt against the Ottoman Empire by promising them an independent Arab state at the end of the war. Faisal had conquered Damascus and driven back Ottoman troops, but had no say in the secret agreement which gave the region of Damascus to the French. French troops drove Faisal out of Damascus in 1920 (he later became the first king of the new country of Iraq). After defeating Faisal the French combined several smaller territories in Syria, which they ruled until Syria became an independent nation in 1946.


Between 1946 and 1956 Syria underwent 20 separate military coups and other changes of government. This chaos kept Syria from functioning in any meaningful way, placing it severely behind the region’s other post-colonial states in terms of development and political clout. This was most observable with the dismal performance of the Syrian military in the war of 1948 which followed David ben-Gurion’s declaration of the independent Jewish State of Israel. The most someone can say of Syria during this period is that it was a lively intellectual experiment for Arab post-colonial political thinkers, and despite its long string of military chaos, on many separate occasions during this period Syria upheld the most democratic principles of any country in the history of the Middle East. This did not necessarily please the Syrian people, however, who wanted government services and stability, not abstract political thinking.

By 1958 Arab opinion was dominated by the charismatic Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, whose role in the 1956 Suez Crisis made him a larger than life figure. His ideology called for the independence of the Arab world from foreign powers by uniting in the face of colonialist aggression, the most pressing manifestation of which was Israel. Weak as it was, the ever-shaky government of Syria sided with the mob and agreed to politically and militarily unite with Egypt in 1958, which led to the creation of the United Arab Republic, with joint capitols in Cairo and Damascus. This union only lasted until 1961, due to a number of structural problems in the overall act of union: most notably, the two regions were not united, and therefore couldn’t conduct cross-regional trade with each other via normal road systems—at the time, most of these roads actually led through Israel. Israel itself proved the other problem in this union: Nasser had proposed the merger as a way of pincering the Jewish state between their two armies, but for this principle to work, the armies had to achieve a unified chain of command, which in Nasser’s mind meant that the Syrians would have to become subservient to the Egyptians, a humiliating proposition which poisoned the opinions of the Syrian military towards this agreement, and would lead to the creation of a generation of Syrian leaders that were deeply distrustful of Egyptian political aspirations, future dictator Hafez al-Assad among them. As a result of this mismanagement by the Egyptians (Egyptians would phrase it differently, of course), Syrian generals overthrew the civilian government in 1961 and withdrew Syria from the Union.


In 1963 the temporarily-civilian government of Syria was overthrown by a revolutionary socialist party known as the Arab Renaissance Party, or the Ba’ath. This party had been founded in 1940 by secular Arab students in Beirut, and called for the independence of the Arab world through a socialist agenda that would unify all of the region. Its mantra was “Unity, Freedom, Socialism.” Although this policy was similar to Nasser’s agenda, the Ba'ath benefited from the fact that it actually had a party structure, and as such its agenda could be implemented by more than a single individual, as the Egyptian model was. The Ba’athists proceeded to create a centrally-planned authoritarian regime based on a socialist agenda backed up by powerful party members in the military. To bolster their international support this junta moved close to the Soviet Union, and began receiving large amounts of Soviet financial and military aid, which enabled the Syrians to complete a number of large economic projects and also create a military which it was hoped could one day be used to dislodge the state of Israel.

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Ever since 1948 low level skirmishing between Israeli forces and neighboring Arab populations, especially refugee populations, had become a constant part of Israeli border affairs. These skirmishes began building into a deadlier momentum in 1964, when Syrian and Israeli forces began periodically shelling each other in the area of the Golan Heights, the site of major Israeli water-diversion projects at that time. The Syrians and Lebanese countered with their own water diversion projects, and by 1967 it became clear that Israel and Syria had entered into quiet war with each other over water access that the Israelis estimated would prove crucial to the growth of their country. On the Jordanian border, Israel made a series of large-scale punitive incursions into the West Bank in 1966 to attack refugee villages believed to be responsible for bombing attacks in Israel, some of which were carried out by the newly founded Fatah organization. All of this combined to make Jordan’s King Hussein profoundly uneasy about the security of his own country, which culminated in his signing a defense treaty with former rival Egypt in May 1967.

Nasser took political advantage of these conditions to construct a new alliance against Israel, which finally found itself on a firm operational footing after Jordan joined the alliance. Internally, Nasser was also building a formidable war machine based on modern Soviet technology. Analysts at the time observed that Egypt’s equipment was barely out of the box, and certainly didn’t make Egypt ready to fight a war, but in constructing his new alliance Nasser did not reveal these weaknesses: he told the world that the Arabs were ready to fight, and that this fight would spell the eradication of Israel. To flex his muscle he closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping on 22 May 1967, cutting off Israeli access to the Red Sea and thus all southern sea traffic.

Unlike Nasser, the Israelis were prepared for war, and the closing off of Tiran gave them the justification they needed to destroy the Egyptian war machine. At 7:45 AM on 5 June, the Israeli air force snuck up on Egyptian territory by flying low over the Mediterranean, and destroyed the entire Egyptian air force while it was still on the ground. Having thus assured air superiority within the first hours of the war, Israel then poured a massive armored force into the Sinai Peninsula, supported by the bulk of the now-dominant Israeli air force. Nasser responded to these attacks by telling his Syrian and Jordanian allies that the Israeli air force had been wiped out by Egyptian defenders, and with this encouragement those two countries joined the war. Jordan pushed towards Israeli occupied areas around West Jerusalem, while Syrian forces adopted a conservative policy of shelling the Galilee region without committing ground forces. Syrian forces only entered into ground engagements after several days of fighting. Although they initially had a good deal of forward momentum due to their commanding position of the Golan Heights, they simply committed to the war too late: by the third day of the war the Israeli air force had decimated the Egyptians, and could thus vent its entire fury on the less well trained Syrian army.

By 10 June Israel found itself in possession of the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights. Israel had tripled in size, acquired a million new Arab subjects, and stunned the world with an unimaginably successful war. The Arab states were all deeply ashamed by this failure, none more so than Nasser, who lost almost the entirety of his international influence with this humiliating defeat. The best the Arabs could manage was a declaration in fall 1967 that there would be no recognition of Israel and no peace with Israel…but the combined Arab League no longer spoke optimistically about the possibility of Israel being destroyed. This situation was especially troubling to the Syrians because the Golan Heights represented a key strategic location in their own right; whoever possessed this region could rain down shells on Israel with impunity. If the artillery was repositioned, however, the same occupier could just as easily shell Damascus.

Internationally, responses to this war were mixed; Russia responded by rearming its Syrian and Egyptian allies with a speed and efficiency that stunned the west, while America swung fully towards supporting Israel after their incredible showing. At the UN, deliberations over the newly occupied territories produced one of the most significant motions in UN history, UN Resolution 242, which stipulated that Israel would receive peace assurances from its Arab neighbors in return for the lands conquered during the war. Egypt and Jordan immediately signed the document, though Syria long resisted this resolution. The Middle East had changed irrevocably in only six days. Within Syria, the biggest result of this colossal humiliation was the souring of relations between the military and civilian wings of the Ba’ath party; the military was convinced that the civilian leadership had grossly misused military resources and thus lost Syria the Golan. Now that Israel had revealed the sheer power of its war machine, the Syrian military brass decided that they could no longer afford to leave the country in such incompetent hands.

Image:Syria_Assad_Military.jpg Image:Syria_Assad_Young.gif THE RISE OF HAFEZ AL-ASSAD

In 1970 defense minister Hafez al-Assad initiated a bloodless purge of the Ba’ath leadership with the help of other military elites, and quickly installed himself as head of the party-state, which from this point forward ceased to be a pan-Arab anti-colonialism political party and became something more like a Syrian nationalist anti-Israel party. He inherited an absolutely chaotic and mismanaged government bureaucracy, and proceeded to meet this challenge with a mixture of cold determination and ruthlessness that would become emblematic of his reign.

While Assad was never as sadistic or erratic as the Middle East’s other notorious dictators like Saddam Hussein or Mu’ammar Khaddafi, he was nonetheless a dictator who ruled over a police state. To rein in chaos he established a wide network of informers and secret police, though he was much more likely to buy off an enemy than have him tortured or killed. By sticking to a law-and-order policy he gained initial popularity with the people of Syria, and he gained more when he kept the Soviet alliance strong and completed a number of key development projects with Russian expertise. The biggest problem for Assad, therefore, was not his policies but his background: Assad was a member of the obscure Alawite sect of Shiism, and as a result of this he had shaky religious credentials with the orthodox Sunni majority of Syria. To combat these challenges he pushed a strongly pro-Arab, secular model of government. Syrian education placed an emphasis on Arab culture as a secular and artistic tradition, while numerous laws prohibited the display of excess religiosity in public, or the discrimination of minority groups for their faith. This became especially necessary because al-Assad soon packed his inner circle with other Alawites, the only ethnic group he himself ever trusted. These policies gained al-Assad the strong support of Syria’s non-Muslim population, and he lured the Sunnis to his side with his emphasis on Arab nationalism as the bedrock of the Syrian state.

Image:Syria_Assad_1973_War.jpg Image:Egypt_1973_Flag.jpg Image:Israel_1973_Sharon.jpg THE OCTOBER WAR

Anwar Sadat came to power in 1970 as the president of Egypt, the inheritor of a country with a massive newly-rebuilt Soviet arsenal but a deep sense of shame over the events of 1967. Moreover, Sadat secretly believed that the stalemate with Israel was damaging the fabric of Egyptian society, which meant ending the conflict somehow. For this to be possible, however, he had to sell this resolution to his own people as an honorable peace. To secure this peace, his began preparing secretly for another war. Joining forces with Hafez al-Assad, Sadat began preparing for a campaign which would either totally crush Israel or leave it so shaken that it would be forced to the bargaining table. Al-Assad knew nothing of Sadat’s secret plans, but he also yearned for another round against the Israelis to recover Syria’s pride and regain the vital Golan Heights. The two formed a complicated counter-intelligence network and began preparing for a surprise war of their own.

The hammer fell on 6 October, 1973, which coincided with the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, earning the war its common informal name, “The Yom Kippur War.” This holiday meant that the majority of the Israeli military was on leave when the assault began, but ironically enough this probably made the call-up easier for Israel; since all the soldiers were at home, it was easy to get ahold of the vast majority of them very quickly. The initially attack came along the Sinai, where Egyptian forces (which had been secretly built up on Egyptian territory) completely neutralized Israel’s primary line of defenses and began racing across the desert towards Israel, destroying Israeli outposts as they went. At the same time, Syrian tanks rolled into the Golan, though the conservative Hafez al-Assad refused to commit the bulk of his forces in the early hours of battle. These forces were aided by irregular units from the rest of the Arab world, as well as monetary assistance from Saudi King Faisal ibn AbdulAziz. For the first 48 hours of the war, things went very well for the Arabs, at which point the Israelis completed regrouping and began a well-executed counter attack on both fronts, aided immensely by Israel’s compact geography and therefore the ease of moving military resources during defensive warfare. Under general Ariel Sharon the Israelis completed a massive encirclement of the Egyptian army in the Sinai and actually ended up on the west side of the Suez Canal on the road to Cairo itself, at which point the Egyptians quickly signed a cease-fire agreement. Free to deal with the Syrians, the combined might of the Israeli army utterly wiped out the majority of the Syrian invading force, and even positioned units atop the Golan Heights within fifty miles of Damascus. When the final ceasefire came on 26 October, the Israelis had once again emerged victorious, but no longer invulnerable. As a result of this ceasefire (and the diplomacy of American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger) Syria gained back a sliver of the Golan, which allowed al-Assad to spin the war as a complete victory back home, which helped shore up his legitimacy in the face of what was otherwise a military stalemate.

Image:Lebanon_Church.jpg SYRIA AND LEBANON

No Syrian government has ever acknowledged the French administrative decision which partitioned off the area of Mount Lebanon from the rest of its Syria Mandate; to many Syrians, Lebanon is meant to be part of what is often called “Greater Syria.” This has led to a constant stream of interaction between the two countries since independence, and this interconnection only increased after Lebanon dissolved into civil war in 1975. al-Assad had initially supported Lebanon’s Christian rulers in this war, since they were fighting against militias and revolutionaries he considered a political nuisance (including Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organization), but by 1976 it became clear that the Christians were also developing closer ties with Israel, and al-Assad naturally refused to let Lebanon drift into Israel’s sphere of influence. As a result, Syrian troops occupied Lebanon in 1976 under an Arab League peacekeeping mandate, and were initially welcomed by many Lebanese. This welcome changed to fear when the Syrians dug into positions in eastern Lebanon’s mountain valleys and began arming their own proxies to continue the civil war; these proxies now included the PLO, who Syria could at least trust to take the fight to Israel. This political calculus changed once again in 1978 as a result of two things: the Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon and Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt’s Anwar Sadat.

Deprived of his strongest regional ally, al-Assad realized that the only chance for success against Israel was to keep the remaining aggrieved Arab parties as a unified diplomatic bloc: individually, Israel would be able to negotiate favorable peaces with each of its belligerent neighbors, but if Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and the Palestinians could stand together, al-Assad reckoned that they would be able to conclude a complete peace with the Israelis which won back the Golan, Occupied Territories, and a homeland for the Palestinians. This plan meant that once the Israelis became heavily involved in Lebanese affairs, al-Assad had to strengthen his own proxies to counter them. When Israel invaded Lebanon in force in 1982 and began pushing the Maronite forces of Bashir Gemayel towards the presidency, al-Assad dug in and began funding his own Lebanese proxies. Unlike in open warfare, where the Israelis always had an advantage over the Syrians, in the intricacies of Lebanese politics the shrewd and methodical Syrian dictator had an edge over his rivals. By 1983 Syrian allies had assassinated Bashir Gemayel and the Israelis had withdrawn from most of Lebanon, leaving it squarely under Syrian control. This situation would persist until 2005, creating a security position where the Syrians secured the peace of Lebanon by disarming the militias, but at the heavy price of a corrupt and sometimes brutal military occupation, where Syrian intelligence agents frequently murdered enemies of al-Assad’s regime.

The one exception to this general disarming was the Shiite militia Hezbollah, which Syria allowed to function in the south as a thorn in the side of Israel, which still occupied much of southernmost Lebanon. This organization was funded and trained by the Islamic Republic of Iran, which from 1980 onwards became the isolated Syrian regime’s strongest regional ally.

Image:Syria_Assad_Old.gif 1980s---1990s

In 1980 al-Assad made the surprising decision to side with Iran against Iraq in the beginning of their long and gruesome war. He did this not out of revolutionary solidarity with Iran, but out of sheer hatred for Saddam Hussein, who had not only threatened Syria’s border, but also threatened to lure away Syria’s traditional pupils, the Palestinian armed groups and factions within Lebanon. The Iranians provided al-Assad with an excuse to defang this threat, and Syria aided the Iranian war effort by cutting off Iraq’s main oil pipeline, which ran through northern Syria. The other Arab states, feeling threatened by Iran’s anti-royalist agenda, cut off all aid to Syria, which sent Syria farther into the arms of its only surviving ally, the Soviet Union. This over-dependence on the Soviets almost destroyed the Baathist state in the early 1990s, when the Soviet system disintegrated.

Fortunately in 1991, just as Russia appeared to be leaving the Syrian political map, Saddam Hussein once again saved the day. In return for billions in aid and renewed diplomatic clout, al-Assad sided Syria with the American coalition in its war to remove Iraqi forces from occupied Kuwait. This move on the part of Syria allowed the country to reenter the international diplomatic community after years of relative isolation as a result of Syria’s brutal policies in Lebanon; as a result, Syria participated heavily in the peace process between Israel and its neighbors in 1992-1993. These proceedings produced the possibility of a Palestinian state in the form of the 1993 Oslo Accords, and a definitive peace treaty between Jordan and Israel in 1994, but the Syrians proved a tougher nut to crack. Hafez al-Assad was legendary for being a tough negotiator, and his strong-willed diplomatic style kept the Israelis from making him sign an unbalanced peace treaty, as they had managed to do with Jordan. Hafez al-Assad died in 2000, leaving his country in a technical state of war with Israel and an international pariah whose only trump card was de facto control of Lebanon.

Image:Syria_Bashar_Billboard.jpg] BASHAR AL-ASSAD AND CURRENT EVENTS

There were no immediate successors available to take the place of the formidable al-Assad, so in desperation the inner circle of the Baath party went with name familiarity. al-Assad’s son Bashar, an ophthalmologist formerly living in Switzerland, was elected new president of Syria, with the assumption that Hafez’s allies would continue to rule from behind the scenes. The technology-savvy Bashar soon launched an ambitious program to bring the Syrian economy into line with the education system and to liberalize Syria’s formerly oppressive social conditions. These plans proceeded slower than outsiders guessed, probably because Bashar only has limited ability to work against the old guard without risking his own wellbeing, so reforms have been incremental, and Bashar has urged patience from the international community. While former enemies were originally willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, events in Lebanon have made Bashar look like little more than a younger version of his repressive father.

In 2004 cracks began to show in the edifice of the Syrian occupation of Lebanon. Walid Jumblatt, leader of the Druze religious sect and longtime ally of Syria, began publicly calling for a timetable to discuss the withdrawal of Syrian troops. As other former allies joined his call, the anxious Syrians attempted to protect their interests by extending the term of their most loyal client, President Emile Lahoud. A parliamentary uproar ensued, with Jumblatt's bloc abstaining from the extension process and Rafik Hariri, billionaire industrialist, Prime Minister and champion of the Sunnis actually resigning his post in protest. Lahoud's term was extended, but a corner had been turned in Lebanon's attitude toward the occupiers. In 2005 these tensions exploded.


Rafik Hariri was assassinated on February 14, 2005 by a powerful car bomb. The culprits of this act have not been brought to justice, but Walid Jumblatt was quick to lay blame on the Syrians. Many were persuaded by his words, and soon Druze, Sunnis and Maronites (the elements of the so-called "March 14 Coalition") marched in the streets by the hundreds of thousands demanding the withdrawal of Syrian troops, a series of events which have come to be called the Cedar Revolution. These protests were opposed by Hezbollah, which had prospered immensely under the Syrian occupation. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah brought millions of Shiites into the streets to challenge Hariri's sympathizers, but once these protests crystalized into an outright call for independence, Nasrallah withdrew his supporters to avoid damaging his own nationalist credentials.

Moved by the plight of the Lebanese (and willing to tweak the nose of Syria and Iran) the United States took up the plight of the Lebanese at the UN, and aided by France, the UK and Russia it eventually passed a series of resolutions demanding the withdrawal of Syrian troops and the unmasking of Hariri's killer. Hariri's killer remains at large, but by the end of 2005 Syrian troops had withdrawn from the entirety of Lebanon, and a new Sunni-Druze coalition, headed by Rafik Hariri's son Saad Hariri and dedicated to national independence, had taken control of the now-independent Lebanese parliament. As a result of this humiliating withdrawal and Syria’s alleged complicity in a very high-profile international assassination, Syria’s reputation is in the gutter and the Baathists are once again seen as a rogue regime, whatever Bashar al-Assad might say about liberalizing society.

Image:Syria_Bashar_Mahmoud.jpg FOREIGN RELATIONS

Despite its reputation as a rogue state, Syria is nonetheless a very rational state—as most poor dictatorships are forced to be if their dictators wish to remain in power for long. As a result, Syria has developed a complicated web of alliances, many of which are based on the hope that Syria can be reformed from the outside, or within the Arab world, paid well to keep from destabilizing things across the region.

European Union:

The European Union needs Syria. The European Union is a huge consumer of Syrian oil. However, this also gives the EU a powerful means by which to exercise leverage over Syria. With Syria's continuing harsh treatment of protesters, the EU has been forced to levy sanctions against Syria. At first these were limited to the freezing of funds for individuals and banning of travel through European air-space. It is worth noting that all members of this team have been subjected to these rules. Since the limited sanctions were imposed, they have been broadened. The European Union has now stated that it will ban the importing of any and all oil and gas products from Syria. This is a huge economic blow to the Syrian government. However, it is not a death knell for the Syrian economy. There are other importers whom you may approach. The Syrian government has remained resolute in the face of these sanctions. Saying that they will look elsewhere, and the EU's actions are tantamount to a declaration of economic warfare.

The E.U. is unwilling to lift sanctions until Syria has returned to a peaceful state. Syria will not allow for its nation to be overrun by protesters and what the government has termed as terrorists. Therefore it is unlikely that relations between the two will thaw anytime soon. That said, Syria should be mindful of the Libyan example. Should it exercise the use of force two freely, EU military intervention is not an implausible repercussion.


Iran is one of Syria's closest partners. As targets on the American agenda and frontline observers in the occupation of Iraq, Syria and Iran have learned that they are all each other has in terms of regional influence. This influence converges in Lebanon, where Syria and Iran are the joint tutors of Hezbollah, although for very different reasons; the Syrians do it to keep pressure on Israel and maintain a presence in Lebanon, while Iran backs the movement to maintain its role as ideological leader of the Shiite world. Neither side trusts each other very far, but they are willing to work together in the face of overwhelming external hostility.

In recent years, the distrust between Syria and Iran has been forced to subside by western policies. With both of the states elevated to the status of pariah states amongst nations, they have been forced ever closer. With both nation's access to international trade limited, they need each other now more than ever. Iran has provided weapons and material to Syria, in the hopes that it will help Syria put down this crisis. Iran has even stated that it is willing to send in troops, to help Assad. However, it is unlikely it will actually go this far. Maintaining such a force in another country would be taxing for Iran and draw much international criticism. One thing is sure, Iran does not want to see Assad go. Still, there have been rumblings within Iran that Assad has used too much force. Syria walks a tight line here. Iran is still an ally; however, with the death toll approaching 2,000 killed the question of how much blood Iran is willing to see looms tall.

To put the scale of the Iranian-Syrian relationship into perspective, since July 15th of 2011, until September 1st, Syria and Iran have signed almost sixteen billion dollars in economic deals. Most of these are deals for Iranian development of Syria. Something that, given the sanctions currently imposed on Syria, is deeply needed. Syria must make sure that it does not alienate this important ally.

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Israel: Syrian-Israeli relations are tense. Syria funds two of Israel's greatest threats and Israel occupies a large swath of Syrian territory. However, the relations between these two nations are stable. Even in the current political climate, the two nation's realities necessitate peaceful coexistence. Assad has refrained from violent acts against Israel for decades. Regardless of what Hezbollah and Hamas do, this means that the Syrian army is at least under the command of an actor who does not want all out war. This gains Assad a good deal of leeway from both the United States and Israel. Why they might criticize him and they might rebuke him, they are afraid of what might replace him. While it is true that much of Assad's popularity stems from his rhetoric against Israel, he would be unable to remain in power without the backing of Israel and the U.S. The fear of what might replace Assad means that neither the U.S. nor Israel will use force against him. Thus, Syria has a vested interest in maintaining peaceful relations with Israel. These relations are not friendly, but exclude the firsthand use of violence. In Libya there was no strong fear of what would replace Ghadaffi. This allowed NATO to act, not fearing the consequences of their actions. The same is not possible with Syria, so long as peace is maintained.

Jordan: Jordan has always watched Syria with a wary eye: the countries are simply too close to ignore one another, and militarily Jordan is no match for its powerful northern rival. Fortunately for Jordan, the collapse of the USSR has meant that Syria has faced virtual isolation, while Jordan continues to enjoy the protection of the United States. While Jordan has yet to denounce Syria, it has called for an immediate end to the violence which is wracking that nation. Jordan's, predominantly Sunni, population is very sensitive to the violence within Syria. Violence that targets mainly the Sunni majority within Syria. It is unlikely that Jordan would ever condone a military strike into Syria. The prospect of more refugees coming to Jordan is not a welcomed one. However, flagrant use of force could result in a further cooling of relations between the two states.

Lebanon: Relations with Lebanon have improved since a pro-Syrian government came to power. Still, memories of occupation cloud the relationship between the two neighbors. Lebanon is an important ally and neighbor to Syria. Syria is a conduit for Iranian arms to Hezbollah and a supplier itself. The concept that Lebanon was once part of Syria has governed much of Syria's approach to this nation. There are strong trade agreements between the two nations. The material support provided by Syria was crucial to defeating the last Israeli offensive into southern Lebanon. However, the current uprisings in Syria have made even this close relationship difficult. Still, you have received strong support from your allies in Lebanon. The Arab League recently condemned the violence within Syria. However, Lebanon broke with their finding and said that it would stand with brotherly Syria. Here, the relationship between Syria and Lebanon is reflected. While the Lebanese are worried by some of your political interference within their own country, Lebanon relies too much on your government for material and trade to allow for it to fall.

Palestinians: Ever since the Lebanese civil war Syria has distrusted the PLO and Arafat, so Syria is cool towards Fatah and its supporters. Syria gives its full weight to Hamas, however, and shelters several of that organization’s leaders in Damascus, where they live openly as “politicians in exile.” Israel has made it very difficult to support Hamas materially, but wherever possible Syria tries, even if most of this support is merely rhetorical. The Syrian government gains most of its popular support from its sponsoring of Hamas. However, it has terminated this support because of Hamas's allowance of anti-Syrian rallies within its borders. Damascus saw these rallies as a slap in its face. However, the cutting of support did not lead to a change in Hamas's policies. Hamas has become a more populist entity; therefore, it is more beholden to the opinions of the man on the street. Suppressing anti-Syrian protests would be too unpopular for Hamas. The threat of losing the support of the Palestinians is much greater than the threat of losing cash support of the Syrians. However, for Syria this has been a huge black eye. Even their client state, a state seen by many as a terrorist entity, was unable to quench the up-welling of anti-Assad sympathies.

Russia: Russian President Vladimir Putin declared in 2006 that Syria has a positive role to play in the Middle East, and must not simply be ignored. In a show of good faith Russia cancelled almost $20 billion in Syrian debt and began high-level military exchanges with the new al-Assad government. This relationship seems bound to deliver tangible goods for both partners in the near future: Russia wants to get back into the Middle East, and Syria is eager to regain the military and financial support of its closest Cold War ally.

Russia's interest in Syria goes far beyond weapons deals. Russia is an energy independent nation. This means that it can engage in political and business deals within the Middle East without concern for its energy supplies. This allows it to reach beyond energy deals and make business deals with people on all sides of the conflict. For example, Russia has supplied weapons to both Israel and Lebanon, at the same time both nations were fighting each other. Russia tends to focus on nations in which there is no western commercial presence. These nations are normally under sanctions, and in need of technological goods Russia produces. Their need allows Russia to enter into these markets for high profits. This is one of the reasons why Russia is so interested in Syria. It is a great client; not only in the weapons industry, but also in the high-tech field.

Russia also has political interest. By engaging these nations in trade, Russia helps persuade then not to support the Chechen rebels Russia has been fighting for years. The fear that Middle Eastern actors would support Chechen rebels is a real security fear fir Russia. It is another enticement to engage itself within the Middle East as an honest businessman, disinterested in socio-political affairs.

Russia's economic and political interest in the region helps explain its current stance on Syria. Russia has condemned, "We have always said that unilateral sanctions will lead to nothing good. This ruins the partnership approach to any crisis." Russia has a long history of opposing sanctions. However, its portrayal of EU sanctions as unilateral is a bit misleading, considering that the EU is comprised of 32 sovereign nations. What this demonstrates tellingly is Russia's willingness to defend its commercial interests. It is also afraid of the replacement of the Assad regime with a pro-western government. This is one of the many reasons why it has opposed military action by NATO in Libya.

Libya should teach the Syrian government one thing; there is a limit to which the Russian and the Chinese are willing to look the other way. In Libya, global outcry forced them to condone a U.N, NATO led, mission. Assad's continuous, but controlled, use of violence has yet to push the international community to talks about the use of force. However, an escalation of the use of force could eventually prove to be too much.

United Nations:

United States:

U.S. Syrian relations have been poor. Syria has been on the list of State sponsors of terrorism since the list was conceived. its place was earned thanks to Syria's support of Hezbollah and Hamas. However, the U.S. has deeper reasons to distrust Syria. Syria has maintained open borders with Iraq, allowing for foreign fighters to easily enter into Iraq and fight U.S. troops. Furthermore, Syria has refused to deport officials from Saddam Hussein's government who took refuge there. These officials have provided support to fighters within Iraq, and, according to the U.S. State Department, have helped to encourage a continuation of the fighting within Iraq.

It was these concerns which initially spurred U.S. sanctions of Syria. The Sanctions, which the U.S. placed on Syria, were strong. This included a banning of almost all trade, the prohibition of travel to targeted Syrians within the U.S., and the denial of access, by selected individuals, to the U.S. economic systems. The recent violence in Syria has led the U.S. to further decry the Assad regime. However, the pre-existing sanctions limited the power of newly emplaced U.S. sanctions. Simply, there wasn't a lot left to sanction. Syria had long ago shifted its economy away from the U.S. in order to cope with previous sanctions. With this bullet pretty much spent, the U.S. called for the resignation of President Assad. For one nation to say that another nation's president has lost legitimacy, is a major step. A president ruling without legitimacy is a dictator, this, essentially, validates the actions of those who seek to oust them. It also sets a precedent for others to follow. The U.S. has made it easier for other countries to withdraw their support for Assad. Notably, the E.U., at the behest of the U.S., also called for Assad to step down, and banned the import of all Syrian oil. This was a huge economic blow.

The U.S. has cast its die against Assad. However, it is unlikely that it will use military force against him. One of the reasons for this is that the U.S. is already over extended. Wars are simply too unpopular at home, especially for a president who ran as a dove. Furthermore, while the Libyan venture does seem to be successful, the Syrian military is much better armed. It also has the support of numerous other nations, Russia, Lebanon, Iran, and China. It is unlikely that the U.S. would be able to pass a resolution through the security council to validate a military intervention. Therefore, any intervention would essentially be illegal. Lastly, the U.S. is afraid. Assad has maintained peace between Israel and Syria. Furthermore, he has forsaken his bid for nuclear weapons. Whatever replaces him might not be so stable.

Syria is impotent to act against the U.S.; however, by making sure that the use of force does not escalate, the Syrian government can help to ensure that the U.S. does not use military force on them. To ensure this, Syria must also maintain peace with Israel. This does not mean not using scathing rhetoric against Israel at every conceivable chance; it merely means maintaining a real peace, no violence along the border. Should violence escalate to the point where open rebellion breaks out, and Russia and China pull their support for Assad, it is likely the U.S. would opt for a limited air campaign. It is even conceivable that Russia would join the venture. The reasoning for this is simple; these countries want to be on the side of whoever comes out on top. Being remembered as a nation who enabled the slaughter of civilians is not a good place to be. Therefore, Syria has a vested interest in the selective use of force on its civilians.


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