Geopolitics

Syrian border reopened to Jordan, Israel

In a victory for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Jordan and Israel both reopened border crossings with war-torn Syria.  The recent developments are indicative of Assad’s reasserted control in southern Syria.

Assad was able to secure control of the area in large part due to Russia airstrikes that drove out rebel forces. Rebel forces seized control of the two border crossings in 2015 and cut off important trade and peacekeeping routes.

On October 15, Jordan reopened the Nasib border, a vital trade artery that opens Syria up to regional export trade through Jordan.  Along with Syria, the Jordanian and Lebanese economies will also benefit through increased employment and trade.

Lebanon will see massive economic benefits from the border reopening as Syria is the country’s only usable land connection.  Lebanon’s only other land border is with Israel, but the two countries have no formal ties.  Lebanon’s Minister of Economy and Trade Raed Khoury has previously said that Lebanon’s exports fell by 35% since the Syrian conflict began.

Jordan had previously supported rebels opposed to Assad’s regime, but now that the tide is turning in favour of Assad, Jordan looks to be changing their opinion on the conflict. 

The Syrian border with Turkey remains closed, so the connection with Jordan allows both Syria and Lebanon to re-enter trade with various regional partners land-based trade.

From trade to peacekeeping, Israel reopened the Quneitra crossing in Golan Heights, a point primarily used by United Nations peacekeeping observers.  Russia recaptured the area from rebel forces in July, and Russian forces intend to stay to collaborate with UN forces.

The border is not a formal border between Israel and Syria, and no trade is conducted between the two countries.  However, it does offer the international community a further window into the war-ravaged region.

The border developments are a significant win for the Assad regime, and the reopened borders will bring economic benefits and increased legitimacy.  Many of the surrounding Arabic countries have boycotted Syria since 2011, but now the country has a gateway to reconnection with key neighbours.

Iraq has also expressed interest in reopening their border with Syria and reintegrating the country into the regional community.  The Iraqi foreign minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari even floated the idea of readmitting Syria to the Arab League.

Syria was ousted from the Arab League when the civil war broke out and Assad used repressive and inhumane tactics to control the population.  However, some countries seem to be changing their tune, and economic interests may now supersede disgust at Assad’s previous indiscretions.

Assad will use the increased relations with surrounding countries as evidence of his eventual return to power over the whole country, but in terms of border control, he still has a way to go.

Syria’s relationship with Turkey is still icy, and the nine border points with their neighbor are still closed. Two border crossings are controlled by Turkish allied rebels, and two separate points are controlled by American-backed Kurdish rebels.

Of particular note in recent months has been tensions in one of the last strongholds of the Assad resistance, Syria’s Idlib province. A buffer zone was arranged and rebel groups were to leave by October 15 in order to avoid a Syrian offensive on a region housing hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians.  However, the rebels have yet to leave, and Assad insists his country will act to oust what he views as radical groups.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently stated his military will maintain a presence in Idlib for humanitarian purposes, likely in order to prevent another large influx of refugees into Turkey.

While Assad has made progress in some regions of Syria, he still is far off seizing control of the entire country.  Multiple international actors and rebel groups are still at play in the region, and it will not become simple any time soon.

Furthermore, Assad has to contend with international condemnation for his use of chemical weapons in his fight against rebel forces.  A recent BBC report found 106 chemical weapons attacks have occurred in Syria since Assad pledged to destroy the country’ stockpile in 2013.

When the dust settles on the Syrian conflict, international organizations like the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the UN will not take accusations of chemical warfare lightly.  Assad’s regime will face another battle once the war is over, and this one on an international diplomatic stage.

But, the reopening of borders and rhetoric from Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq indicate that Syria is regaining important regional partners in the country’s bid to reintegrate economically and politically with their neighbors.  Economic interests in the region may give Assad the necessary momentum to maintain power in the fragile country.

And, with the movement of people and commerce through the Jordanian border, there has been an indication that the Syrian people just want to return to a version of regular life.  Assad and his neighbors are trying to mend broken ties and reinstate some version of normal in a country and region ravaged by civil war and atrocity