April 28th, 2011
09:55 AM ET

What Syria's neighbors are thinking

Editor's Note: Andrew Tabler is a Next Generation fellow in the Program on Arab Politics at The Washington Institute, where he focuses on U.S.-Syria relations.

by Andrew Tabler, Special to CNN

Instability in Syria has substantial consequences for Iran, Israel, the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Lebanon among others. Here's how those countries are looking at Syria:

Iran – Tehran is very worried. Syria gives its proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah, "strategic depth" by serving as a key supplier of weapons. Chaos in Syria will make the regime of Bashar al-Assad regime more dependent on Iran. But in the end, Tehran is worried a Sunni-led government inimical to its interests will arise in Damascus – something that would stress and then likely break the “resistance axis” of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah.

Israel – Israel is worried that the protests sweeping Syria will lead to chaos and possibly civil war in Syria. The Assad regime has kept the border with Israel quiet for over 40 years. But Israel also sees opportunity in the protests to pressure and break the "resistance axis".

The United States – The regime’s reaction to the protests have shifted Washington’s previous policy of “principled engagement” to a more confrontational approach driven by events on the ground. Last Friday’s protests and death tolls were a watershed event – not only were the 103 killed the highest number killed so far in Syria, it’s the highest single day death toll in the entire “Arab Spring” outside Libya. The United States is preparing for all eventualities.

Saudi Arabia – This is an interesting case. Syria supported Saudi Arabia’s intervention into Bahrain to support its Saudi-backed Sunni government against its Shia majority. This angered Syria’s ally, Iran. But at the same time, Al Arabiyya Television, which is backed by Saudi Arabia, has covered the Syrian protests critically from the beginning, something that has led to a backlash against Riyadh in the Syrian media.

Lebanon – The Lebanese government yesterday helped block action at the UN Security Council against Damascus. But many in Lebanon see development in Syria as an opportunity to change that country’s heavy handed policies with Lebanon. There are also many who are worried, however, that instability in Syria could spill over the border, setting off Lebanon’s delicate sectarian system.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Andrew Tabler.

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Topics: Middle East • Security • Strategy • Syria

soundoff (108 Responses)
  1. muin

    I saw assad's interview w/charlie rose. Recent events don’t make sense to me cuz I thought he is capable of making serious reform. Very disappointed.

    April 28, 2011 at 10:26 am | Reply
    • King Kong II

      So sad that Syria's proud history has degenerated into dictator after dictator. What whery could be & what they are today is a sign of the times.

      April 29, 2011 at 9:21 am | Reply
      • fdsmith905

        What proud history?

        April 30, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
    • fdsmith905

      He is his father's son. Don't ever forget that the father killed 25,000 of his "own" citizens in Hama

      April 30, 2011 at 9:14 pm | Reply


        May 29, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
    • Jon

      Who knows if he's even in charge, for that matter? He could just be a figurehead for the military powers that be that served under his father. A disappointment on many, many different levels.

      May 16, 2011 at 10:04 am | Reply
    • Prof. Chunga Nyamburaka

      The views expressed are typical of the blinkered American and/or its European satellite views. The reality is much different in the world but you will never hear it in Western press. Not a chance. Otherwise, there would be no al Quaida which was created by Americans-including Osama, nor would there be such chaos in Iraq and Afghanistan. Anyway, the empire is collapsing and is flailing around as usual with endtime empires. It does not have money or resources to maintain itself and its far flung provinces and yet it keeps on fighting even as its home base has collapsed.
      Prof Chunga Nyamburaka

      June 9, 2011 at 9:03 am | Reply
  2. Tony

    states that kill civilians are 100% ilegimate and universally unacceptable. The only reason China and Russia don't say the same is because they want to reserve some kind of insane right to do the same.

    April 28, 2011 at 11:22 am | Reply
    • easter_bunny

      tony is absolutely right.

      It is amazing how hamstrung China and Russia are in responding to these events on the world stage. Seeking engagement with the West at large, they are loath to speak out FOR the repression of these freedom movements, but are looking warily over their shoulders at their own people.

      April 30, 2011 at 11:15 am | Reply
      • awojoone

        screw china and russia raise the tariffs on cheap chinese goods NOT . We the U.S.A. want the tariffs raised NOW Its so sad that ostupid one has no balls he is still kissing chinas ass phuucckkhead. obumster is pro wall street not we the people on main street phucckk the obassturd. Under ophucckked one the rich are getting really rich . WHY cant US LITTLE FOLKS get some relief?????? PHUCCKK the son of a beitch obassturd.

        June 10, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
  3. Yehuda Ben Ariel

    May G-d bless the blue-eyed Alawite!

    April 28, 2011 at 2:13 pm | Reply
    • sam kohen


      May 5, 2011 at 6:32 pm | Reply


      May 29, 2011 at 9:37 pm | Reply
      • Scott Jacobs

        Typical of a Middle Eastener to point a finger at someone else. I would like to export to the Middle East about a million mirrors so people like Trini Syrian can take a good look at themselves. Sniping innocent civilians in Syria has nothing to do with Israel, which should look in its own mirror. Stand up like men, and take responsibility for your actions, Trini Syrian.

        June 7, 2011 at 7:30 am |
      • Syriana

        Typical western mentality! I would like to export to USA and Europe about a million eye glasses to people like Scott so they can take a real look at other countries and stop dealing with serious issues in double standards. USA and Europe supported the Saudi invasion to Bahrain. But they are against Syria in her fight against terror on her own land. People like Scott can comment here attacking the Syrian government but not a word against the Saudi behavior against innocent Shi’a in the Wahhabi Kingdom, simply because Syria is not an ally to USA like Saudi is and Syria has no crude like Saudi has.
        People like Scott explode in tears on “innocent civilian protesters” in Syria and turn a blind eye against the very same “innocent civilian protesters” killing peaceful people, hanging them on lamp posts and cutting their heads ALIVE!
        Stand up like a humane and take responsibility. At least to protect your country and yourself from the terror which will destroy your citadels sooner or later.

        June 9, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • awojoone

      and to your beitch asszhole phucckk your musslimm ass. I know youll like it so take it twice

      June 10, 2011 at 9:55 pm | Reply
  4. j. von hettlingen

    The West is not unanimous in its taking measures against Syria. It wants status quo and is afraid that any intervention would change for the worse. This stance makes its military foray in Libya all the more questionable. No doubt the fate of Syria will tip the scales in all relations between the Shia and Sunni groups in the region. Of all Syria's neighbours, Isreal worries the most, whatever comes out, wouldn't be inimical to its fortune.

    April 28, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Reply
  5. joe

    It's a syrian issue not an international issue .I know that syria's government respected all religion and races ,also provided security in unstable reigon for a long time . I'm syrian living in the USA and i believe that reform is must but not down with the regim

    April 28, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Reply
    • deedz

      Then maybe YOU should be living in Syria.

      April 29, 2011 at 10:28 am | Reply
      • Mark

        deedz you are an Idiot.

        May 24, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
      • Mako1863

        Deedz...ever heard of freedom of speech? Are you saying that if someone who comes from overseas receives US citizenship and then expresses their view should then go back to their country that their family comes from? So much for freedom of speech. Perhaps you would be happier in a country that has strict control over what people can say.

        May 31, 2011 at 8:15 am |
      • jessica

        and u should get lost in israel =) WHY DONT U TELL UR F*CKIN TRIBE TO STOP TRYING TO TAKE OVER SYRIA! ur losen time n money SYRIAS TOUGH stay the f*ck away from it ITS NOT YOUR COUNTRY TO STICK UR D*CK IN

        June 8, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
    • Delmar H. Knudson

      Most or all of the vicious selfish dictators in that part of the world should be humiliated and publicly hanged. The people should have the right to a government of their choosing. Will this cause instability for a while? Most likely. But, I don't think we should worship the kind of stability where the dictator stands with his foot on the necks of the common man, and he and his family and friends become wealthy at the expense of everyone else. The muslim countries were once the repositories of learning and progress. I think this could happen again if the heavy handed governments got off their backs. Most of us in the U.S. wish the common people in the muslim countries well.

      April 29, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Reply
      • Nino


        Wake up man. If you don't see that here in the U.S. the politicians and other leaders of our supposed "Free world" are standing on the necks of the "common man" (Middle class in this case) for power and wealth purposes, then there is no helping you. They are effectively phasing out the middle class and turning the U.S. towards socialism.

        – No one is more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.

        May 26, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • Ibrahim

      This is not true and your name is not joe. I am sure you are paid to write here, because there are no freedom at all for muslims and all security system in the hand of one group

      May 3, 2011 at 6:12 am | Reply
      • Iyad

        @ Ibrahim – You are right that there is no security for all because the power lies in the hands of one group BUT "there is no freedom at all for muslims" – this is SOLELY from the holy Qur'an, my friend, NOT from a govt. The qur'an doesnt give freedoms to women, non-muslims, or any one who criticizes islam – it is more harsh and exclusionary and problematic than ANY government will ever be. That is why life is so terrible in places like yemen and afghanistan, where there is NOT one govt, but many tribes and people killing each other in the name of allah – and trying to prove who is a better muslim. These people need to learn how to COEXIST, an idea found nowhere in the qur'an.

        May 12, 2011 at 9:34 am |
    • Dave

      Really? Like when this guy's father held thousands of Jews hostage?
      Heck, I could write a book about the foul deeds of the Assad family against all and sundry. Who do you think you are kidding?

      May 28, 2011 at 6:21 pm | Reply
    • awojoone

      then why are syrians killing fellow syrians???? the only good muslim is a VERY dead muslim. keep killing each other!!!

      June 10, 2011 at 9:58 pm | Reply
  6. Ephrem the Syrian

    Mr. Fareed Zakaria, please shed a light on the future of Syria's Christians after the hypothetical fall of the Assad regime. I'll help you out: the Sunnis take over, and they start acting like the Sunnis of Lebanon, i.e. agents of Saudi Arabia purchasing the Levant. It's leaving Christians and other regional minorities marginalized.

    April 28, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Reply
    • Ibrahim

      I do not think so, Syrian people are different. Never in history was any problems between different factions.

      May 3, 2011 at 6:08 am | Reply
      • Fairouz

        Totally Agree.

        May 22, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
      • Mark

        Sunnis are Sunnis, they are all the same.......

        May 24, 2011 at 12:48 pm |


      May 29, 2011 at 9:46 pm | Reply
      • jessica

        OMG thanks u! THESE JEWS ARE CAUSING US TROUBLE leave syria alone u will never hurt it...its selfmade ! + i agree w/ u on that! LEAVE ASSAD ALONE! HES A GOOD GUY!

        June 8, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
  7. Share

    Here goes CNN propaganda starting against Syria. CNN is being US Government mouth piece, CNN I challenge you to cover "Yemen", "Bahrain" & Saudi Arab awaking as you are covering Libya, Syria. Now their is no Difference left b/w FOX & CNN. Normally CNN removes the postings that it does not like, Let see if CNN can keep mine.

    April 28, 2011 at 10:54 pm | Reply
    • lana

      That is true

      April 29, 2011 at 1:49 am | Reply
  8. levend

    CNNs reporter quality is low, Saudi Arabia is not Syrias Neighbour, least look at an Atlas idiots. Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel are its neighbours. Must your readers also think for you CNN?

    April 29, 2011 at 2:30 am | Reply
    • James

      I didn't read the words "next door" anywhere, did you? Saudi Arabia is the big Sunni powerhouse in the area; hence why they're mentioned. It's like saying the USA isn't neighbors with Cuba.

      May 4, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Reply
      • MR Canada

        IS the USA a syrian neighbour as noted in the article.??

        May 19, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  9. St1ngR

    Ephrem, what makes you think democratic governments in Syria and Egypt would somehow bring them closer to the authoritarian monarchy in Saudi Arabia. Don't worry the Christians have been living with Muslims for centuries in these countries, nothing dramatic is about to happen now.

    April 29, 2011 at 2:30 am | Reply
    • ez

      to those who think chiristian arabs can live peacefuly in muslim countries just check what happened and happens to chrisitians in the palestinian authority especially in the Hamas ruled Gaza strip they are persecuted and driven out

      April 30, 2011 at 7:40 am | Reply
  10. gary

    I still think that Syria has already been passed the kitchen pressure cooker 'stuff' from Iran and they are waiting to give a demonstration when time comes of what the oldest arab country can do to their detractors. It has always been the most mysterious nation of the middle east. Not much is known about them though they occupy the most crucial location both geographically and politically as Israel worst enemy along the Jewish state.

    April 29, 2011 at 4:04 am | Reply
  11. Khalil

    Syria and president Assad the only hero in the Arab world are fighting the terrorests. All the nations should support Al assad. Any government supports the deminstrations in Syria means they support the terrorests and the Islamic radicals. 99% of the Syrians love Al Assad and trust him so I think the westren governments should keep thier nose in thier own countries and focus on solving thier own lots of problems and take care of thier own people, and must stop spending our tax money to support terrorisms groups to destroy Syria. Soon Syrian Army will clean the country of those evils and country will be back safe and stable. God bless Syria and President Bashar Al Assad Jesus be with you.

    April 29, 2011 at 5:04 am | Reply
    • deedz

      WOW! That is the most ignorant comment I have read so far.

      April 29, 2011 at 10:30 am | Reply
      • Sam

        Khalil is right, Deedz who the - are you to say he is ignorant, I am a Christian from Damascus I left Syria 8 years ago when I thought out is better and I wish I did not. Now I live in USA and I will go back to where I know the people are peaceful and the gov. is doing the impossible to please the people, I know that the business was booming in Syria when the rest of the world was suffering the global depression, let's face it, and stop convincing yourself with what you hear from the medias. I love Syria and I don't think a new gov. will do what Assad is doing to the sake of the country and its people. You just know what the medias want you to know but the people in Syria know what is really going on, and who is killing who and where the money and weapons are coming from (for the "peaceful" demonstrators) – The plan is to stop Syria from growing and divide it into small, poor and weak Muslim emirates. God bless the Syria and its Assad's government

        May 22, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
      • george

        Deedz is a Moran , who knows nothing about Syria or Syrians. it is just blowing words off its A** which i find it hard to understand since that is where its head is. and i refer to Deedz by it since i do not classify it as a human; humans think before they speak .

        May 26, 2011 at 12:08 am |
    • ez

      They syrians love Assad – great. that means that arabs like rulers who belong to a marginal corrupt minorty (alawites) who rule over the suni majority they amire rulers who murder tens of thousands of them (i.e in Hamat in the 80s and whats happening there now ) they like rulers who opress freedom of speach they like being imprisoned in awful jails and they adore being servants of iranian shiite exremists. Wow – now i get it.

      April 30, 2011 at 7:49 am | Reply
    • Free Syria

      If 99% loves Bashar Al Asad then hold free elections where he is not the only candidate!!!!!!!!and see how your 99% becomes 9%...............Are you trying to fool us with such statement? this is not the Syrian media webpage!

      May 10, 2011 at 7:18 pm | Reply
      • frankhope to see syria free from those thugs s

        I agree with you belive me even the alawiat minority who is not part of his mafia hate him I hope to see syria free from him and his Iranian frieds soon.

        May 11, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
      • H.W

        To all of those who dont like our perfect Presedent Basha AL Assad . when to reach the level of the USA peaple accepting a prisedent like M. Obama half black muslim for the meajuority of chritian ,then u have the right to aske for feedom and dmocracy so u still have beby mind and killing instinct .Time ,ll prove that Bashr is pefect not to only lead syria but the world in shaallah

        May 24, 2011 at 3:31 am |
    • frank

      If all the syrian love there dictator let us see how much they love him in free election I use to live there they all hate him and all his family for that matter killing your an arm people who is asking for freedom what a jok you must be in his secret service pr part of his mafia to say that

      May 11, 2011 at 10:22 pm | Reply
    • fadi

      You coward you chicken your kissing asads behind for what? either because your family are benefiting from his ruling by stealing money or ur just a coward and want to kiss behinds you should be ashamed of yourself. When Asad is gone and he will be soon just like mubarak i wanna see what your opinion is then your coward i hope you get killed with bashar the real terrorist.

      May 15, 2011 at 12:52 am | Reply
      • jasmin

        you need to shut up hater!!!!

        May 23, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • Archie

      Too right. Quality is a problem there. The West dislikes the best. The subordinate mediocre is the champion of the day because their a#@$e are easily kicked. Just check around. In fact the mob in Bengazi riding the armored carriers now would not be able to determine how to dig even a desert latrine right let alone rebuild what they destroyed for the sake of it.

      May 18, 2011 at 1:37 am | Reply
  12. Jim

    I am just back from a week in Lebanon, where I spent the Easter holiday with my wife's family. They are Maronite Christians. Maronites were in the majority in Lebanon two generations ago but through emigration and a lower birth rate than Sunni and particularly Shia Lebnanese, they now represent about one-third of the population. I discussed the current events in Syria with a half dozen men and women there. Each had a different viewpoint but all were concerned for the welfare of the minority Syrian Christians, who might not fare so well in a Sunni led state, and for how a change in government might tip the delicate sectarian balance in Lebanon. Maybe half of them were not so troubled by Syria's support of Hezbollah, which is a Shia group with significant political and paramilitary power in Lebanon, as they would be of a Sunni dominated state in Syria that might spill over to Lebanon. A very confusing and complex area.

    April 29, 2011 at 7:27 am | Reply
    • Lebanese

      Lebanese Christians are 41% of the Lebanese population.

      May 31, 2011 at 8:41 am | Reply
  13. Roelof

    Islaaam is peaaaace.. don't you all understand that by now?

    April 29, 2011 at 9:24 am | Reply
    • deedz

      Yes, of course. Now wake up you were dreaming!

      April 29, 2011 at 10:32 am | Reply
  14. LexLuthor

    All these other middle eastern countries need to keep there dumb shit protests and chaos away from Lebanon. We don't give a shit about your countries, just stay in yours. Keep your government and people away.

    April 29, 2011 at 9:49 am | Reply
    • fadi

      listen buddy u selfish arrogant person, keep the protest away? all you care for is yourself you selfish people are fighting for there freedom and all you can think of is yourself thats how your gonna be when you die all by yourself just like you like

      May 15, 2011 at 12:56 am | Reply
      • Lebanese

        When we were fighting against the syrians in Lebanon, where were you? The cedars revolution 2005! were you helping us? NO! so we won't help. ur wlc! 😀

        May 31, 2011 at 8:46 am |
  15. needamap

    Since when USA is a neighboring country to Syria? Oh I remember: Since 2003 when USA invaded Iraq. Still that does not explain how Turkey has disappeared from the map.

    Countries bordering Syria: Turkey 822 km, Iraq 605 km, Jordan 375 km, Lebanon 375 km, Israel 76 km

    April 29, 2011 at 10:02 am | Reply
  16. Jason Belkin

    Cival war in Syria could mean Israel can keep all Golan Heights since be Syria it self divide many different state.

    May 1, 2011 at 9:26 am | Reply
  17. Hase

    People forget that Syria is a (more or less direct) neighbor of Greece, Italy and Spain via its 186 kilometer Mediterranean coast line. The dictatorships & secret deals with Israel make that into an economically orphaned coast. Just look what the Turks are earning along their beaches! A democratic Syria may enjoy this too!

    May 1, 2011 at 6:51 pm | Reply
    • sam kohen

      President Assad I and President Assad II have done so much for Syria. Thanks to them Syria has had law and order and peace (even with Israel), universal healthcare and education and prosperity for all. These people have absolutely no sense of gratitude for all that they have been given. Shame on them.

      May 5, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Reply
  18. Jamie

    Egypt, Libya, Syria....annddd who is our next contestant? Step right up!!

    May 4, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Reply
  19. TITUS

    Iran ,presstv and komeni tittled all these ISLAMIC AWAKENING.But why are they also blaming U.S and the West for these?
    I think they should rather praise them for such good jobs . Or is AHMEDINIJAD their president confused? Or presstv is
    only engaging in propaganda?

    May 7, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Reply
  20. TITUS

    OBAMA and U.S,I strongly beleive that you are lying by alleging that OSAMA is dead. My friends in presstv too are never
    in ageement with you on this. They know where he is: in the back- yard of their president. Please, help us look for him
    their and get him down.

    May 7, 2011 at 6:01 pm | Reply
  21. KS

    Life just isn't as easy as it used to be for a dictator in the Middle East and Africa since Arab Spring. They might want to start looking into a career change about now.

    May 10, 2011 at 10:25 am | Reply
  22. Jason Belkin

    It good Israel fact Syria split four mean none claim Golien Heights

    May 13, 2011 at 7:24 pm | Reply
  23. Fred M

    Have you ever heard the story about what you have you know, but what you may get could be worse. There are reasons NATO is not hot on Syria, and the reason could be that we could end up with a clone of i RAN! maybe better to keep what they have for the United States of America.

    May 15, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Reply
  24. smokenmirror

    They should be thinking: Who's next?

    If you want to hear a TRUE HERO then Google or Youtube this:


    May 18, 2011 at 8:52 pm | Reply
  25. A Muslim

    Countries all over the world should support the Syrian movement for rights and freedom if they are truthful when talking about human rights and so on, otherwise they are not but hypocrites.

    May 19, 2011 at 9:34 am | Reply
  26. Halil

    Turkey has 400 miles of border with Syria, and you didn't even mention anything about Turkey, Saudi Arabia doesn't have any border with Syria neither Iran, when you write a article about neighbors of Syria it should include all the neighbors, other wise it is useless.

    May 19, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Reply
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