The Syrian opposition and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad are not the only groups fighting in the conflict. Other countries have also intervened to pursue their own interests.
What it’s done: Tehran has been one of Assad’s strongest advocates, supporting loyalist forces with money, weapons and intelligence. Iran has also sent military advisors from its Revolutionary Guard to Syria and directed fighters from Hezbollah, a Lebanon-based militant group backed by Iran, which is also involved in the conflict.
Why it’s there: Tehran’s involvement in the war has allowed it to portray itself as a guardian of Shiism — the branch of Islam that the majority of Iranians belong to. Syrian Shiites have been targeted by some militant groups that identify with Sunni, another major branch of Islam. Iran also wants to keep Assad in power. The Syrian leader allows Iranian aid to flow to Hezbollah in Lebanon, opposes US influence in the Middle East, and favors Iran over Saudi Arabia for regional leadership.
What it’s done: Moscow came to Assad’s aid when it started airstrikes in Syria in 2015. Russian officials said the airstrikes were targeting terrorist organizations like “Islamic State” (IS). But Russian bombers have also struck other anti-Assad groups.
Why it’s there: Moscow wants to secure its influence in the Middle East by keeping Assad in office and securing an important military airbase in the western province of Latakia and a naval base in the port city of Tartus. Russian President Vladimir Putin also appears to want to bolster Russian prestige and influence in the Middle East at the expense of the United States.
What it’s done: Riyadh has given money and weapons to Syrian opposition forces, including some Islamist militant groups. It has also flown airstrikes against IS as part of a US-led international coalition.
Why it’s there: Saudi Arabia, a majority Sunni country, has opposed Iran’s attempts to expand its influence in the Persian Gulf since the end of the Iraq War in 2003. Riyadh wants to replace Assad with a pro-Saudi, anti-Iranian leader.
What it’s done: Turkish leaders had a good relationship with Assad in the mid-2000s, but they have supplied non-Kurdish Syrian opposition groups with weapons since the war broke out in 2011. Turkey has allowed opposition fighters, including jihadist militants, to direct ground fighting from Turkey and to enter the fray across the Turkish-Syrian border. Ankara has also launched airstrikesagainst IS and has been fighting Kurdish opposition forces in northern Syria since mid-2016.
Why it’s there: Turkey wants to prevent Syrian Kurds from gaining autonomy in northern Syria. Ankara fears that Kurdish gains could embolden the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), a Turkish group, to seek greater autonomy within Turkey. Ankara also wants to defeat IS, which has conducted terrorist attacks in Turkey, and install a more pro-Turkish government in the Syrian capital Damascus.
What it’s done: Israel has primarily launched airstrikes against Hezbollah and Iranian targets in Syria since the conflict broke out.
Why it’s there: Israel wants to prevent Iran from gaining influence in Syria. Iranian leaders have repeatedly questioned Israel’s right to exist and funded anti-Israeli terrorist groups. Israel also wants to stop Hezbollah gaining any ground. The group has repeatedly fired rockets into Israel from neighboring Lebanon and Israel fears it could try and do the same in the strategically important Golan Heights in western Syria.
What it’s done: The US has led an international coalition fighting IS with airstrikes since 2014. It has also provided air support and weapons to opposition groups in northern Syria, including Kurdish forces currently fighting Turkey, a US ally in NATO. Washington has also deployed several hundred US special forces to fight alongside opposition groups.
Why it’s there: Washington’s foremost stated goal has been the destruction of IS and other extremist groups in Syria. US policy toward Assad is less clear. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, said “Assad must go.” Apart from its opposition to the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons, the Trump administration’s position on Assad’s future is more ambiguous.
What it’s done: Germany has flown surveillance flights over Syrian territory to support airstrikes against IS and helped train Kurdish opposition fighters.Berlin has also called on Russia and Iran to persuade Assad to leave office in any peace deal.
Why it’s there: Berlin also wants to see the defeat of IS, which has carried out and inspired terror attacks in Germany. It has also opposed the Assad regime. German officials have said there can be no lasting peace in Syria if Assad remains in power.
What it’s done: France initially sent medical supplies and weapons to opposition forces. In 2015, it began airstrikes against IS that intensified after an IS terror attack in Paris in November 2015. Paris has also warned Assad against using chemical weapons.
Why it’s there: Paris also wants to defeat IS after a string of IS-related terrorist attacks in France. It also Macron urges Putin to help ease Syria crisis . French President Emmanuel Macron said in 2017 his country would no longer condition peace talks on a promise by Assad to leave office.
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