Julien Barnes-Dacey (European Council on Foreign Relations)
Five years have passed since the beginning of the civil war in Syria and its impact on the country and the region has been devastating. In June this year, a series of attacks by the Islamic State sparked the fear of escalation and expansion of the conflict to the neighboring countries, in particular Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Similar concerns have arisen many times since the beginning of the crisis and the individual countries have dealt with the problems in different ways.
Despite the influx of the refugees, the economic problems caused by the war in the neighboring countries and the attacks by the Islamists, Jordan and Lebanon have coped with the crisis well. Lebanese Hezbollah and the Jordanian army closed the border at the right time and thus prevented an uncontrollable arrival of refugees and ISIS units. Both countries have also experienced internal unrests, which they, however, endured while they continue to prevent any escalation and spread of the conflict from Syria.
In Turkey, though, the situation is completely different. The Turkish government is actively involved in the Syrian crisis, which has become a big problem. Not only has Turkey exacerbated relations with its Kurdish population, it has also openly launched a campaign against the Syrian Kurds but has also failed to prevent the arrival of 2.7 million refugees. Turkey’s position has also deteriorated outside the region when the downing of a Russian aircraft over the country’s borders provoked retaliatory sanctions by Russia, which has so far cost Ankara about 10 billion euros. The relations with the EU have deteriorated as well since the EU does not agree with the Turkish policy in Syria.
However, in addition to the disagreement, the Union can engage in the conflict in a different way. Member States should increase financial and other support for Syria‘s neighbors. For example, the number of refugees in Lebanon accounts for around 25 percent of the country’s population, and therefore Lebanon is dependent on foreign aid. The EU can neither forget about the cooperation within the region, nor can it, at the same time, turn a blind eye to the policies of President Erdogan, which are targeted against the Syrians and Turkish Kurds. That does not, however, mean that the EU should rashly send resources to the region. The EU’s support must arrive where it is supposed to go and not to the hands of other gunmen and gangsters, who will further destabilize the region.
(The study can be downloaded here:http://www.ecfr.eu/publications/summary/the_war_next_door_syria_and_the_erosion_of_stability_in_jordan_lebanon_7066)