The war next door: Syria and the erosion of stability in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey

Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey have so far been resilient to the spillover from Syria’s civil war, but now the region’s stability is hanging by a thread

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Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey have so far been surprisingly resilient to the spillover from Syria’s civil war, in terms of refugees, terror, and domestic divisions. But now the region’s fragile stability is hanging by a thread – with Turkey the most precarious of all.

“The war next door: Syria and the erosion of stability in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey”, argues that European states should act fast to bolster stability in these three key states, or risk greater refugee flows and a heightened terror threat from the region.

Turkey is being hit by the worst of the spillover from Syria, with a reignited internal conflict against the Kurds, an influx of 2.7 million refugees, and a wave of deadly attacks in its territory – most recently last week’s ISIS bombing of Istanbul airport. At the same time, President Erdoğan’s growing authoritarianism is creating greater tensions.

In Lebanon, the delicate balancing act between rival political factions – who made a tacit agreement to freeze their struggle as the Syria crisis took hold – is wavering amid electricity and water shortages. Jordan’s appearance of calm hides a number of worrying signs, and the country’s main opposition party faces restrictions from the government.  

All three countries face an expanding terror threat as ISIS responds to losses in Syria and Iraq with an increased focus on the region as a whole.

European member states should increase their support to these key countries. The UN aid package for Syria’s neighbours – the Syria Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan 2016 – is less than one-third funded. European financial support should be channelled not just into the immediate humanitarian response to the refugee crisis, but longer-term schemes to develop local economics and benefit host communities. This should be accompanied by intensified security cooperation and intelligence-sharing to thwart the ISIS threat, both to the region and to Europe. 

At the same time, it is vital for European governments to support the political consensus that holds these states together, preventing outright collapse. In Turkey, this means doing more to encourage government peace talks with the Kurds, including through dialogue between Ankara and Syrian Kurds.

In Lebanon, Europe should press local and regional actors to step back from recent escalatory moves. These include possible Hezbollah involvement in the bombing of a local bank over its compliance with US sanctions against the group, and Saudi Arabia’s withdrawal of financial and political support from the country. In Jordan, King Abdullah should be encouraged to strengthen avenues of popular representation.

In the end, a negotiated solution in Syria is the only path towards stability in the region. European states must not lose sight of that goal.

Author Julien Barnes-Dacey said:

“To date, regional implosion has been avoided. While the strains on all three countries are immense, none appear at risk of near-term meltdown. But these countries are very vulnerable – not just in terms of the challenge posed by ISIS, as well as the pressure of refugee inflows, but in terms of the destabilising impact that the crisis is having on their fragile political consensus.”

“European states must think carefully about cutting short term migration deals with Turkey, and avoid turning a blind eye to the growing authoritarianism of the Erdoğan government and the war being waged against the Kurds.”

“In Lebanon, Europe should prioritise governance over politics; highlight the risk of state implosion; and make clear that all actors will lose out if there is no solution that keeps the state functioning. European governments should maintain an intense mediating dialogue with all key domestic actors, including Hezbollah, which remains a critical stabilising actor within Lebanon despite its negative role in Syria.”

“Ultimately, only a resolution to the Syria conflict can lower the regional temperature. The recent ceasefire efforts show that a degree of de-escalation is possible with a strong diplomatic push – and this needs stepped up European support. Those advocating European military escalation should think carefully about its ramifications for regional stability.” 

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.

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