3 Sep 2013

Friend or foe? Syria, the west and Middle East relations

As Barack Obama says he is “confident” congress will vote in favour of military action in Syria, Channel 4 News explores the relationships between Syria, her Middle Eastern neighbours, and the west.

Click on each country below to see its friends, foes and situations where the relationship is unclear.

(Graphic: Ciaran Hughes)

Syria’s relationship with other Middle Eastern countries is a fraught one, and is often tied up with the divide between Sunni and Shia Islam.

Bashar al-Assad, as a part of the Shia Alawite faith, has allies in Iran and Iraq – both of which are Shia majority countries. This is despite the fact that the country his family rules has a Sunni majority.

Beyond these two countries, Syria’s main, and most important, ally is Russia – which, along with China, has blocked UN Security Council resolutions condemning the Assad regime’s actions.


Sunni majority countries, on the other hand, generally fall into the camp of Syria’s “foes” – Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Libya and the Palestinian territories are all amongst Syria’s opponents.

But there are more complicated relationships. Lebanon is majority Shia, but not significantly so – however, it has also been traditionally governed by Sunni Muslims.

Syria enjoys the supports of Shia Muslims in the country, which importantly includes militant group Hezbollah, while Sunni Muslims in the country support Syria’s rebel forces.

Western support

For the west, and specifically the US, Syria’s neighbours offer many friends – a strategic advantage in Barack Obama’s military planning.

Turkey and Jordan, for example, are both allies who have allowed US Patriot missile batteries to be stationed in their territory.

“The west” is on friendly terms with all of Syria’s neighbours, though political sensitivities, in particular in Iraq and Lebanon, make the picture more complicated.