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SYRIA

 
  
  

 

Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 21,517 21,900  19,500 67
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 1,160 1,130     1,040 130
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

Books on Syria

REPUBLICAN REFERENCE

Area (sq.km)
185,180


Population
17,585,540

Capital
Damascus

Currency
 Syrian pound (SYP)

President 
Bashir al-Asad


Update No: 032 - (03/07/06)

Prestige Regained… at Israeli Expense 
Syria's current allies in the Middle East Iran and Hamas have once again put Syria at the centre of attention (apart from Iraq) in the region. The Israeli invasion of Gaza, supposedly instigated by the kidnapping by Palestinian militants of an IDF corporal and during which several Hamas government members were arrested, provided Israel the opportunity to menace Syria as Israeli warplanes flew over president Bashar Al-Asad's summer home in northern Syria. Meanwhile, the US isolation of Syria has brought the country closer to Iran, potentially involving it in any resolution or exacerbation of the crisis over Iran's nuclear capability. This turn of events may have embarrassed Syria, but it has also had the effect of rallying Arab support around Damascus. Indeed, Israel said that it considers Khaled Mashal, the leader of Hamas' Syrian branch, responsible for the abduction of Israeli soldiers and wants Syria to expel Palestinian leaders from the country, threatening to kill Hamas members living in Damascus, as well as members of the Palestinian government itself. Some press sources, including al-Jazeera, quoted The Israeli Public Security Minister Avi Dichter saying that Israel knows the whereabouts of Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders in Syria and that it would not hesitate to kill them. The Israeli Justice minister, meanwhile, pressed the world community to put pressure on the Syrian government to expel Khaled Meshal, whom Israel consider to be the instigator of the Palestinian incursion into Israel and the most recent abduction of one of its soldiers. 
Such is the background, against which two Israeli F-16 aircraft flew, at low-altitude, over the palace of Syrian President Bashar Al-Asad in Latakia, in northwestern Syria. Even more provocatively, perhaps, is the fact that Israel also threatened to kill the Hamas Prime Minister Ismael Haniyeh if the Israeli corporal was not released unharmed. The declared proximity between Syria and the Palestinian Hamas leadership will certainly be tested should something happen to Haniyeh or other leading Hamas members, who have been arrested in the last week of June. Nevertheless, Israel's action, which was intended to intimidate, has actually helped to boost Syria's position, one that many Arab governments believe was compromised by strong allegations of Syrian involvement into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. Lebanon's own anti-Syrian Prime Minister, Fuad Seniora, publicly sympathized with Syria over the Israeli fly-over, as did Jordan and Qatar. Indeed, Syria might well benefit from this support to regain some lost prestige among with some neighbours and Gulf States as well as the Arab diplomatic driving force of Egypt. President Mubarak issued a strong statement to Israel, implying that its bilateral treaty might be repealed should it continue such policies, playing into Syria's long held view that Middle East peace should be guaranteed by a comprehensive treaty, rather than piecemeal efforts. 
In addition, Syria's proximity to Hamas has also become important, as Arab diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis related to the kidnapping of corporal Gilad Shalit have focused on leveraging Syria's relations with Hamas to procure his release. Predictably, the United States has taken a different view, one that blames Syria because it hosts elements of the Hamas leadership. Hamas and Islamic Jihad faction members were expelled from Jordan (as that country tried to mend relations with the USA) going to Syria in the 1990's. President Bashir al-Asad has refused to expel the Hamas leadership, as the US demanded. The Israeli flyover complicates the US/Israeli position. Syria has regained Arab support over the issue, whether or not Syria actually has any real influence over Hamas (an organization of Sunni radicals, whereas the Syrian government is dominated by the small Alawite sect, in conjunction with Ismaelis and Druses), even as the wanted Mashaal has denied any role in the abduction of Shalit, contrary to Israeli claims. Nevertheless, the issue has not been resolved and the Israeli invasion of Gaza continues, making something of a mockery of the so-called unilateral pullout of 2005 and jeopardizing bilateral treaties with the Palestinian National Authority, which had even persuaded, just hours before the Israeli invasion, Hamas to recognize the state of Israel. The question remains, whether or not Israel will gamble (bilateral treaties with Egypt, Jordan and the ANP) by taunting Syria again with a targeted assassination of Meshaal in Damascus. 
Should Israel continue to target Syria, it would boost president's Bashir al-Asad's prestige further, and increasingly soften the position of regional critics of his policies such as Lebanese prime minister Seniora or even president Mubarak of Egypt and King Abdallah of Jordan. Syria would be seen by the masses of the Middle East as the defender of Arab nationalism against the encroaching influence of the United States and Israeli hostility. More neutral parties - the European Union? - might also quietly interpret the current Israeli position of refusal to consider a prisoner swap to secure the release of corp. Shalit as provocative, softening its own position on Syria. Syria also has the other advantage in that it can try (try being the operative word, as Syria's influence over Hamas is questionable), to persuade Hamas to release Shalit quietly, earning some diplomatic currency with the United States - which is already forced to pay some US$50 million to replace the power station that Israel destroyed in Gaza, which was insured by an American government agency. 
Meanwhile, Syria has strengthened ties with its ally Iran, complicating matters in view of efforts to influence the latter country's nuclear program and a possible negotiated solution to the standoff. The Syrian and Iranian ministers of Defence, Hassan Turkmani and Mustafa Mohammad Najar signed a military cooperation agreement aiming to increase bilateral cooperation and "eliminate weapons of mass destruction". Moreover, says the Syrian National press, the agreement states that Iran shall consider Syria's security "as its own". Interestingly, Iran has been strengthening diplomatic relations with a number of countries including Egypt as President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt recently met Iran's national security chief, Ali Larijani, in Cairo, while the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, visited Tehran this month and declared the two nations to be good friends. This may be one of the ironic results of the US invasion of Iraq and the ascendancy of Shiite power. As Iran carefully constructs its position in the Middle East, Syria's own position will inevitably be bolstered in view of the long relationship it has with Teheran. Syria may well be the interlocutor between Arab states and Teheran. Syria's credibility is ensured by the fact its government is still secular, as well as the fact that Syria has been able to maintain close relations to Sunni as well as Shiite groups in the region such as Hamas and Hezbollah. The question remains as to what will happen should Iran and the United States reach an agreement over the nuclear program where Syria itself might be involved as part of the deal. 

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ENERGY

Syria inks deal with US firm for oil, gas fields

The Syrian government has signed a US$127m contract with a US company for oil and gas exploration in the central region of the country, SANA News Agency reported recently.
Under the 25-year contract signed with the state-run Syrian Oil Company, the US-based Marathon Oil Company is to finance and develop two oil and gas fields, the al-Shae'r and al-Sharyfah fields in north Homs, 162 kilometre north-west of Damascus. SANA said some two million cubic metres of gas per day are expected to be produced at the start of the exploration, in addition to some 5,000 barrels of oil and 100 tonnes of liquid gas. Syrian Oil Minister, Sufian al-Allaw, said Marathon would allocate US$50,000 per year for training employees of the Syrian Oil Company throughout the period of the contract. Syria currently produces 600,000 barrels of crude oil per day and 22 million cubic metres of gas. Damascus hopes to increase oil production by 100,000 barrels a day. Syria is one of seven countries on a US list of state sponsors of terrorism, a matter which prevents American companies from transferring advanced technology to the Arab country. Nonetheless, a number of US companies are investing in Syria, especially in oil and gas fields.

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