ECFR’s Syria: Views from the Region project aims to explore the regional ramifications of the Syrian uprising. While the conflict is first and foremost a domestic struggle, it has also become the epicentre of a wider struggle – part power-projection, part sectarian, part ideological – with implications for the shaping of a region in flux. The regional aspect of the struggle not only complicates prospects of producing de-escalation and a resolution within Syria but also raises the spectre of a spill-over effect, destabilising and re-shaping the region well beyond Syria’s now porous borders.
This regional essay series follows ECFR’s recent policy brief "Syria: The imperative of de-escalation” which looked at the dilemmas of the conflict dynamics and advocated support for an inclusive political track.
Israel’s strategic approach to Syria can be described as wary, pragmatic and broken down into specific micro areas of threats and interests rather than comprising a comprehensive picture of what kind of Syria it would like to see, and what it could do to facilitate this outcome. Practically, Israel is now focused on weapons transfers and the security of the immediate border area. So far, Israel appears confident that it can select very specific points at which to intervene, while allowing the two sides of the conflict to bleed each other out and taking advantage of other impacts (the potential toll on Hezbollah is a particularly welcome side-effect). From a regional perspective Israel views Syria through the Iran prism and globally as part of its prodding for a more militarily active US in the region. By Dimi Reider
Tensions in Lebanon, whose political fate has long been intimately tied to Syria, are sharpening rapidly as its neighbour sinks deeper into a sectarian civil war. For two years Lebanese actors have effectively waged a proxy war in Syria through direct support to the warring parties, but mounting tensions and a growing number of clashes within Lebanon are raising fears that a domestic eruption is becoming hard to avoid. The influx of up to one million refugees, equal to nearly 20% of the Lebanese population, is, meanwhile, placing the state under immense strain just as the economy suffers a significant down turn as a result of the crisis. Hezbollah has upped the ante recently, but divisions on the Sunni side of the political map and rising militancy are equally noteworthy. By Julien Barnes-Dacey
The civil war has offered the region’s Kurds an opportunity to assert their shared vision of deepening political emancipation. With the weakening of central government control over Syria, the most pressing question now facing its Kurdish population is which power centre - the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq or the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) - will take the lead. The answer will go some way towards shaping the response of regional neighbours, who are wary of a strengthened Kurdish region. Turkey is particularly cautious: Ankara’s current peace talks with the PKK partly reflect this concern and the fate of these talks will be vital in determining just how the Kurds emerge from the conflict. By Dimitar Bechev
Having previously been close allies, the Syrian rebellion has presented a profound challenge to Ankara’s orientation towards Damascus, forcing it to adapt to changing conditions on the ground that confounded the expectations of Turkish policy makers – as well as challenging its Zero Problem with Neighbors (ZPwN) foreign policy. Turkey’s Syria policy has been driven by a domestic political need to merge the values of the AKP government with Turkish national interests, regarding stability, preventing a regional war with sectarian spillover, and (crucially) limiting the impact of the weakening of Syria’s central state on Turkey’s domestic Kurdish conflict. Developments in Syria have both reflected and shaped Turkey’s emerging regional posture and salience. By Nuh Yilmaz