International Reactions



The official position of Iraq regarding the Syrian conflict is one of neutrality. However, because Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has strong links with Iran, US officials suspect that Iranian’s weapons and aid are getting into Syria through Iraq. The Iraq government has been mild supportive of al-Assad since the beginning of the conflict when it stated that Baghdad would not be participating in the imposition of sanctions and abstained from the Arab League resolution. Iraq’s cooperation with Damascus was demonstrated when Baghdad opposed giving a seat to Syrian opposition in the Arab League, rejected a US attack and called for dialogue between both sides within the framework of the Geneva II conference. Iraq’s main concern is that the empowerment of jihadist groups in Syria presents major security challenges for Iraq and causes destabilization of the region. In fact, sectarian violence in Iraq has increased since the beginning of the Syrian conflict. Iraq’s policy on Syria is determined for three regional issues: terrorism, refugees and the Kurdish issue. The terrorist group “Islamic State of Iraq and Levant”, affiliated to al-Qaeda, has a strong power base in Iraq and has been reinforced when the jihadists have consolidated its position in Syria to the point it has been capable of taking the city of Fallujah, highlighting the sectarian division of the Iraq society. Refugees coming from Syria are concentrated especially in northern Iraq, close to the border with Turkey and in the heart of the Iraqi Kurdistan. The Kurdish leader in Syria, Massoud Barazani stated that the Kurdish regional government shares the same opinion as the central government regarding Syria; however, Barazani is taking advantage to extend his regional influence.


Jordan’s official position towards the Syrian conflict is one of neutrality, and calls for a diplomatic solution, stating that no attack would be launched from its territory. However, it will be difficult for Jordan to continue claiming neutrality. First of all, because it has imposed sanctions on Syria as per the Arab League resolution, though it previously asked to abstain. Secondly, as a member of the so-called “Friends of Syria”, Jordan is in favour of the Geneva II conference but adds the precondition that the Assad regime not be included in the formation of a transitional government. An finally, because unofficially, Jordan is cooperating with its allies (USA and Saudi Arabia) on training and aiding the rebels in the border with Syria. In fact, USA have deployed “boots to the ground” to safeguard one of its main ally in the Middle East. What Jordan fears is the spill-over effect and the all the possible consequences of the conflict. Registered Syrian refugees are increasing in Jordan, making the Zaatari camp the second largest camp in the world. There are voices, like the one of the Minister of state for media affairs, Mohammad al-Momani that blames the influx of refugees for straining the economy and skewing the labour market. At the same time, Jordan faces a dilemma. On the one hand, if al-Assad stays in power, it is likely the refugees will stay in Jordan increasing unrest among the local population. On the other, if al-Assad is toppled, jihadists may turn their attention to Jordan and the Muslim Brotherhood could attain a dominant role in Syria, which may result in the Islamic Action Front in Jordan challenging the monarchy’s legitimacy.


Lebanon fears contagion because of the strong influence Syria has always had over Lebanon. Although there are views believing that it is unlikely that the spill-over effect will turn Lebanon into a new civil war there is increasing unrest inside Lebanon among pro and anti al-Assad supporters. Beirut claims to be neutral and practicing the politics of dissociation. Thus, Lebanon abstained from the sanctions imposed by the Arab League on Syria, arguing that the ongoing Syrian conflict has already had its repercussion on economic and domestic politics in Lebanon. Unlike the government, non state actors such as Hezbollah have implicated themselves in the conflict by helping the Syrian regime. The survival of Hezbollah is to a large extent dependent on the Syrian regime and its ally Iran. At the same time, Sunni groups are clearly supporting the rebels setting a battlefield in Lebanon, which has increased sectarian violence since the beginning of the conflict. The bombing in front of Iran’s embassy in Beirut shows clearly that unrest and insecurity in Lebanon will increase unless there is an end to the Syrian conflict.


Israel has kept a low profile in this conflict, although it has expressed its worries regarding the regional consequences of the conflict, for example, the possibility of al-Assad transferring chemical weapons to Hezbollah. Israel could benefit if al-Assad is defeated because it will be a considerably hard blow for Iran, whom Israel considers a major threat. However, Israel is wary that jihadist groups could turn their attention to Israel and pose a new and unknown threat to its internal security. Thus, Israel prefers to have a “devil you know” neighbour rather than risk to share its frontiers with jihadist groups. Despite this dilemma, when chemical weapons were used in the outskirts of Damascus, the possibility of a limited strike by the United Sates had Israel’s complete support. That possibility would not have changed the course of the war at all, but it would have been highly beneficial for Israel because it would have maintained the status quo.As said by a former Israeli consul general in New York, potential enemies like Hezbollah and radical Sunni groups “are bleeding each other”.


The political changes in Egypt have conditioned the country’s position regarding the Syrian conflict. After Mubarak’s fall, the SCAF supported dialogue to solve the Syrian crisis and opposed a military intervention by Gulf States, but voted in favour of the sanctions imposed by the Arab League. When Morsi became president of Egypt and visited Teheran in the framework of the Non-Aligned Movement summit, he made a speech in favour of the Syrian rebels and against al-Assad, calling for a regional solution leaded by Egypt, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia. He even spoke on behalf of the Egyptian army and the Egyptian nation stating support for the Syrian uprising. Moreover, Egypt has been hosting Syrian refugees, who were especially welcomed during Morsi’s mandate. However, upon Morsi’s ouster, Syrian refugees have started to be mistreated as they are identified with Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. A possible intervention in the Syrian conflict by the US was totally rejected by the interim government as anti-Americanism has grown due to perceived American support for Morsi. The military backed government has advocated for a no intervention policy in the Syrian conflict, preferring instead an international solution and hoping for a positive outcome from Geneva II.


For the Turkish government, the only solution to the Syrian conundrum is regime change. However, this position has been evolving since the beginning of the protests in March 2011. When the protests started in Syria, Erdogan urged Bashar al-Assad to undertake democratic reforms but his demands were ignored. The Turkish Foreign Minister visited Syria several times in order to reach a solution but failed. At the same time, the Turkish government also established contacts with the opposition. When the violence of the conflict escalated, Turkey changed its strategy: it called for al-Assad to step down, applied economic sanctions on Syria and allowed the Free Syrian Army and the political opposition to operate from Turkish territory. As a response, al-Assad threatened to set the Middle East on fire. During 2012, tensions between both countries escalated as Syria attacked a Turkish jet. After shelling from inside Syrian territory killed five Turkish civilians the Turkish parliament authorized the military to conduct cross-border operations. There were more operations against Turkish territory, including the bombing of Reyhanli, one of the worst terror attack Turkey has witnessed. In order to face these threats, Turkish responses to cross border attacks increased in their intensity, culminating in Ankara’s request for NATO assistance. NATO responded by deploying Patriot missiles on south Turkey early in 2013. During all this time, Turkey has supported military and politically the Syrian opposition insomuch the US is concerned that weapons handed over by Turkey may end up in the hands of jihadists who pose a bigger threat to the United States than al-Assad. Turkey has not been able to unify the opposition and has been supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and Sunni groups. While an eventual military intervention lead by the US was still on the table, Ankara gave full support to a possible US attack on Syria but stressed that such an attack should be decisive instead of limited. With the possibility of military intervention fading, the United States encouraged Ankara to support Geneva II. Turkey’s position in the conflict is affected by three issues: First, managing more than half a million refugees, most of whom are located along the increasingly porous border. Secondly, the Kurdish issue: The Kurdish control of parts of the Syrian territory bordering Turkey is seen as a political threat as these territories could become a base for the PKK. Turkey hopes to neutralize this threat through the ongoing peace talks with the PKK. Finally, the internal criticism on Syrian policy has risen significantly as a significant part of people in Turkey do not support a military intervention, and some think Turkey has a regional agenda on a Sunni basis. In the context of the Arab Spring, it appears that Turkish aspirations of becoming an influential player in the region have been frustrated not just because of the ousting of Morsi in Egypt but also because of the turn of events in Syria.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia advocates for regime change in Syria in an attempt to curtail Iran’s influence in the region. Initially, Saudi Arabia was apprehensive of the Arab Spring and also the Syrian uprising. However, as the conflict in Syria degenerated, Saudi Arabia saw that Bashar al-Assad’s victory would reinforce Iran’s regional power. Consequently, Riyadh recognized the Syrian opposition, represented by the Syrian National Coalition and agreed on imposing sanctions on Syria through the Arab League. Since the beginning of the conflict Saudi Arabia has been aiding the rebels with weapons and training and calling on their allies to do the same. In the summer of 2013, Ahmad al-Jabra was elected president of Syrian National Coalition. His candidacy was favoured by Saudi Arabia and the West who were wary of uncontrollable radical groups, and of a divided opposition. Riyadh eventually supported the option of a limited attack by the United States in Syria as a response to the chemical attacks, hoping that it may alter the balance of power on the ground. As a result, Saudi Arabia intensified its arming of the rebels so they could take advantage of the American strike. However, rather than a US military attack materializing, there was a rapprochement between the US and Iran following the election of a new president in Iran, following which Saudi Arabia has repositioned itself in the conflict and has expressed its discontent with the US, even abandoning its temporary seat in the Security Council.


Qatar is one of the main opposition backers in the Syrian conflict. It has increased its role in the Arab Spring countries, including in Syria, where it has sided with the rebels. Qatar’s first act was to withdraw its ambassador from Syria; then, its Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, chaired the meeting of the Arab League that led to sanctions being placed on Syria. Qatar was also in favour of an Arabic military intervention. Though such an intervention never materialised, Qatar continued supporting the rebels with financial and military aid. Doha is particularly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and Sunni radical groups counter to what Saudi Arabia is doing, causing tension not just between the two states, but also within the Syrian opposition. Following the chemical weapons attack, Doha gave support to an eventual American strike hoping it will give a much needed advantage to the rebels. However, the US-Russia deal is paving the way for Geneva II. Qatar is sceptical towards the conference because the opposition groups Doha is backing are not willing to take part in a dialogue that offers the possibility of having Bashar al-Assad play a future role in a possible transition in Syria.




Iran is the main regional ally of Bashar al-Assad. Iran and Syria have been partners since 1979 and together with Hezbollah and Hamas have formed the ‘Axis of Resistance’. When the Arab Spring began, Iran supported the uprisings as Tehran saw the protests as a continuation of its revolution. Its support was also forthcoming because Iran remained insulated from the affects of the Arab Spring. However, regarding Syria, Iran chose its strategic alliance with Syria over the ideals of the Arab Spring. Iran could ill afford losing its only Arab ally in the region; and it provided Assad with military assistance and advice on how to crush the rebellion. For Iran, the survival of al-Assad’s regime is vital as its aid to Hezbollah goes through Syria. Syria has thus become the battleground of a regional war being waged between Saudi Arabia and Iran. When the US threatened to attack Syria, Iran stated that it would do whatever was needed to stop the attack, including a possible attack on Israel. However, Iran knows that the outcome of the Syrian conflict is uncertain and is therefore willing to collaborate on a multilateral initiative to end the conflict and avoid major losses, as it already has demonstrated by signing the agreement that freezes its nuclear program. Though willing to participate in a multilateral initiative, Iran has stated firmly that it will be not be willing to accept any precondition to peace talks.


Source: Syrian Observatory for Human Rights

The Arab League

The Arab League has been active in the Syrian conflict and despite its internal differences has positioned itself against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Its first act was to call for a dialogue between al-Assad and the opposition which did not materialize. As the death toll mounted, the Arab League suspended Syria of its membership and imposed economic sanctions for the first time in its history. Later on, on December of 2011, the Arab League launched a new initiative which consisted sending an Observer Mission to Syria. After the report of the observers was submitted to the Arab League, Qatar called for a peacekeeping mission to stop the bloodshed. The Arab League also demanded that the International Criminal Court hold accountable those responsible of committing crimes in Syria and defended a UN resolution to condemn al-Assad’s regime. When the chemical weapons were used in Syria, the Arab League blamed al-Assad but the Arab League as a whole did not support an eventual strike of the United States. On the contrary, it backed the Russian plan to dismantle Syrian chemical arsenal. As the rest of the relevant actors, the Arab League has supported and contributed to the preparation of Geneva II.


The European Union

The European Union has always called for an end to violence in Syria. It has tried to put pressure on the Syrian regime via embargos and a variety of sanctions. The last pack of sanctions was agreed upon the European Council of Foreign Affairs conclusions of May 2013 and will last until 2014. Politically, it has recognized the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. The EU has also provided 843 million in humanitarian assistance and accepted asylum seekers and refugees. After the chemical weapon attacks, in the Vilnius meeting of Foreign Affairs Ministers, Catherine Ashton remarked that a strong response was needed. However, the EU wanted to wait until the UN released its report. Since then, the EU has advocated for a political solution and has given full support to the Geneva II conference. As a block, it stood divided regarding a military intervention but stands united supporting the Russian proposal for Syria for the dismantling of its chemical arsenal.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom is against al-Assad’s regime but has not been able to carry out a coercive policy which would include the use of force against the Syrian regime. The UK is a member of the Friends of Syria group and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has its headquarters in London. London applied the embargos on Syria imposed by the EU on May 2011. What started as aid to the refugees, non-lethal support to the opposition fighting al-Assad and recognition of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the official representative of the Syrian people has now turned into willingness to arm the rebels in order to achieve balance on the ground. The United Kingdom has backed all the Security Council resolutions condemning the violence in Syria and even put forward a resolutionauthorising all necessary measures to protect civilians” in Syria after evidence of chemical weapon use emerged; this resolution was subsequently vetoed by Russia and China. In this resolution, the United Kingdom expressed its will to strike Syria so as to deter any future use of chemical weapons. However, because of the memory of Iraq’s war, the House of Commons rejected PM David Cameron will to attack Syria and he respected the result of the voting. When the US yielded to the Russian proposal of Syria destroying its chemical arsenal, the UK joined the agreement, asking the opposition groups of Syria to attend Geneva II conference while also insisting that there is no role for al-Assad in the future of Syria.

Regne Unit

Source: The Guardian


France supports the rebels fighting against al-Assad’s regime and has been the most active European country in doing so. As a member of the European Union, France has imposed sanctions on Syria and during the conflict has asked the international community to intensify sanctions against the Damascus regime. During 2012, France closed its embassy as a response to the violent crackdown by the regime. Later on, as a member of the group ‘Friends of Syria’, France insisted, along with the UK, in lifting the arms embargo to help the rebels achieve military parity with the regime. France accused the al-Assad’s regime of using chemical weapons in Syria and backed a limited strike by the United States against Syria; becoming the one of the few European countries to do so. France also supported the US-Russia deal but tried to push the UN to issue a strong resolution with the possibility of including Chapter VII even though it recognized that Russia and China would veto it. Following the American lead, France has pushed for achieving a wider participation in Geneva II , and is even open to including Iran in the talks.


Germany is opposed to the Assad regime but Berlin has been very prudent regarding a military intervention. When the conflict started, Germany supported the sanctions imposed by the EU and, like other European countries, called for al-Assad to step down. In 2012 Germany backed the imposition of new sanctions by the EU. Germany also expressed dismay at the China and Russia boycott of the Friends of Syria meeting. Germany has called for more involvement of the Security Council and the UN and has expressed doubts about assigning responsibility for the chemical attacks to the regime. It was doubtful about participating in a limited strike and finally rejected participation. Despite its opposition to direct military intervention in Syria, Germany recognizes that a chemical attack should not go unpunished. Germany has looked for a united European response to the Syrian conflict which was finally achieved in the Vilnius summit where European countries called for a political solution. Berlin backed the Russian proposal and offered to help the OPCW Mission Team. It also backed the Geneva II conference trying to convince opposition forces to attend; while trying to help the rebels by lifting the embargo. The last development within Germany with regard to the Syrian conflict was when al-Assad asked Germany for mediation; a task which Germany rejected. Although, Germany has the capacity to act as a major player even in the military area, prefers to remain in the background.


Spain’s position on Syria is in the mainstream of the European Union. Spain tried to convince al-Assad to undertake reforms during the first months of the uprising and some sources even say that it could have offered asylum to Bashar al-Assad. In face of regime immobility, Spain supported Kofi Annan’s plan for Syria and followed the main stream European Union stance of condemning the crackdown of the opposition, suspending diplomatic activity in Syria and recognizing the opposition which was received in April 2013 by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the 9th of January 2014 different factions of the opposition met in Cordoba trying to bridge the gap between moderated groups and the Islamists for the forthcoming peace conference in Geneva. When a military intervention was a possibility as a response to the utilization of chemical weapons, Spain blamed al-Assad, lined up with is allies and asked for a strong response to the attack. Nevertheless, Spain would not have been able to participate in an eventual military intervention because Spain is banned by the Law on National Defence to join a military action without the approval of the United Nations Security Council, the EU or NATO. Thus, Spain sought a Security Council resolution that would call for an international military response. Following the US-Russia agreement, Spain called all parties to attend the Geneva II conference.




United Nations

The role of the United Nations has been conditioned for the discrepancies between the permanent members of the Security Council. All members agree on the need to stop the violence and support humanitarian assistance. The Human Rights Council asked for a mission to investigate what was happening in Syria; the president of the Security Council in August 2011 expressed his concern about the deterioration of the situation in Syria. Later on, the Security Council issued a resolution condemning the crackdowns but this was vetoed by China and Russia. However, the General Assembly was able to condemn the violence in Syria. In order to mediate between both parts, the United Nations appointed Kofi Annan, former UN’s General Secretary, as special envoy for Syria. Annan designed a six-point peace plan. The plan was ignored, leading to his resignation and the appointment of Lakhdar Brahimi as special envoy. While Kofi Annan was still the special envoy, the United Nations sent an observer mission to Syria, the UNSMIS, which was constituted by the Security Council. The UNSMIS was supposed to monitor a cessation of the armed violence within 90 days. Due to the increasing hostilities, the UNSMIS was not able to do its task. At the same time the General Assembly asked for a political transition and the special envoy suggested al-Assad should step down. In May 2013 the General Assembly condemned indiscriminate violence against civilian population again without any real impact on the ground. It was in August and September 2013 when the United Nations played a critical role in Syria. After the chemical attack, the United Nations sent specialists to verify if the attacks indeed had happened. The envoys of the United Nations issued a report confirming the use of chemical weapons. This accelerated the US-Russia agreement regarding the delivering and the destruction of the chemical weapons. The proposal was seconded by a resolution of the Security Council. At the same time, Mr. Brahimi has increased his efforts to find a political solution to the conflict assuring there should not be any preconditions to the peace talks and that Iran should participate in such talks to avoid further fails. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, have delivered their first report; and now as during the whole conflict, one of the main concerns of the United Nations is that the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs could not deliver the international aid.

United States of America

US-Syria relations have always been tense but they have deteriorated since the beginning of the conflict. The US has criticized the regime and have established dialogue with the opposition whilst adopting a pragmatic approach and leading from behind. This is because of three reasons: Washington does not want to see itself involved in yet another war in the Middle East; Obama lacks internal support for a military intervention from the society and the military; and the fear of jihadist ascendancy in Syria after the fall of al-Assad. Nevertheless, the US imposed sanctions on the Syrian regime in 2012 and humanitarian aid has been constant during the ongoing conflict. The US initially provided lethal help to the Syrian rebels but this was stopped because American weapons were reaching jihadists. In August 2012, Obama fixed a red line for a military intervention with regard to the utilization of chemical weapons. When chemical weapons were used the United States blamed al-Assad. In consequence, the States saw themselves bound to intervene. Obama sought internal support stating he would ask Congress before taking any further decision while the rebels were waiting and hoping for the attack. However, when the Syrian regime accepted the Russian proposal to dismantle its chemical arsenal military intervention as an option was discarded. During the United Nations General Assembly, Obama defended its position regarding Syria and warned that the States are still ready to use the force; however, in collaboration with Russia, they are looking for a political solution of the conflict and are one of the main promoters of Geneva II. They have even considered allowing Iran to attend the conference to the dismay of its traditional allies, such as Saudi Arabia.

Estats Units

Source: CNN


Russia perceives Syria as an ally in the Middle East as is keen on preserving their cooperation which includes strong commercial relations and military cooperation, mainly but not only, because of the Russian base in Tartus. However, this is not the only reason explaining Moscow’s support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime and its opposition to a US-led military attack. Russia does not want to repeat what happened in Libya, as Russia understands that the limits of the UN Security Council resolution were overwhelmed and seeks to protect its energy exports. In addition, Moscow is afraid of the reinforcement of Sunni jihadism in Russia’s vicinity. Russia tried to act as a peacemaker in February 2012 but failed; plus, Moscow has been helping al-Assad with bypass western sanctions, especially by selling arms to Syria in 2011 and an even bigger amount in 2012, at odds with important members of the international community and despite the pressure of NGOs. After the chemical weapons were used and the United States hinted on an attack on Syria, Russia warned of the catastrophic consequences of intervening in Syria and Putin himself expressed his discomfort through a letter in the New York Times simultaneously flexing its military muscle by selling more weapons to Syria. Moscow also put forward the proposal of Syria dismantling and handing over its chemical arsenal. The Security Council approved a mission to identify the chemical weapons. Russia has continued to defend a political solution, supports Geneva II conference and wants Iran to attend it.


Source: Syrian Observatory for Human Rights


China has been following Russia’s stance on Syria and together with Moscow, has vetoed the Security Council resolutions that condemned al-Assad’s regime. China insists that this is an internal Syrian problem and has urged all sides to stop the violence. What China does not want is a repetition of what happened in Libya; and therefore, it opposed a military intervention in Syria. Beijing is also keen in pursuing its economic interests in Syria and of avoiding a regional escalation. It supports the US-Russia deal to dismantle al-Assad’s chemical arsenal and the Geneva II conference, which ought to, according to China, include all important stakeholders.


Other contents of the Dossier of Syria

˙ What does CIDOB think?

˙A guide of the Syrian conflict: 10 key questions