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Growing Syria Crisis will Hurt Region's Economy

The violence in Syria now entering into its 18th month will begin to target the country’s economy in a major manner if a threat made by the opposition to target the country’s two international airports is acted upon. Civil aviation was until now spared but a recent communiqué issued by the forces fighting the regime of President Bashar Assad accused the government of using the civilian airports in Damascus and Aleppo for military purposes and say these airports have now become fair targets and they will act accordingly.

The Free Syrian Army (FSA) issued a 72-hour advance warning to airlines to suspend flights to Syria before they try to seize civilian airports in Damascus and Aleppo. The 72-hour period began on Saturday, September 1, the FSA told the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

Syria’s economy, already struggling after a year and a half of a devastating civil war will further feel the effects of its two international airports shutting down if the opposition carries out their threat. Several airlines, among them Aeroflot, the Russian carrier have already suspended flights to Syria.

The fighting in Syria is getting consistently worse and gaining momentum with both sides gearing up for what could well be a long, protracted conflict.  The West has been tepid about getting involved in yet another conflict in the Middle East, understandably, no one is too excited about getting dragged into another war in which there is no visible outcome. Rather, the conflict is expanding, creating a massive humanitarian crisis that without a doubt is going to reflect in one manner or another on the economies of the region. 

First the emergency response teams in the countries concerned are being stretched beyond their limits. And second the economies are taking a toll. Already Lebanon, whose economy survives largely on the tourism trade, most of it provided by the millions of petro-dollars that the Arab Gulf counties usually like to spend in Lebanon are going to feel the crunch with  Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and other Gulf countries asking their citizens to leave Lebanon due to the growing insecurity.

But are there other reasons why some might find reasons to allow the conflict to linger? Quite possibly.

This may be somewhat Machiavellian, but then again, to really understand the Middle East one needs to start thinking a little bit more along those lines. So with this in mind, let’s look into what reasons play in favour of allowing the conflict to continue as it is.

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First, there is the argument that Syria has no substantial amounts of oil, so unlike tiny Kuwait where the United States jumped to its rescue in 1990 when Saddam Hussein declared Iraq its 19th province and invaded the country, Syria’s oil reserves does not rank very high. 

Syria, according to the CIA World Factbook, produced 401,000 bbl/day in 2010. During that same year Kuwait produced 2.45 million bbl/day. Hence the importance that a country such as Kuwait holds in the eyes of the West, particularly the United States when compared to Syria.

Second, Syria has long been a thorn in the side of US foreign policy, standing up to the United States and as the last remaining Arab country still technically at war with Israel and refusing to accept a peace treaty that did not meet its demands; basically, the return of the occupied Golan Heights.

Third, the US saw Syria as not only going against the grain of its Middle East policy, but Washington saw Damascus as actively supporting what the US considered to be terrorist groups. Among those are the Palestinian Islamist movement, Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, headed by Ahmad Gebril, and the Lebanese Shiite movement, Hezbollah.

The US has also frowned upon Syria’s alliance with Iran, whom Washington has accused of supporting terrorism. With the exception of a brief period during the Iraq war when US and Syrian intelligence cooperated, relations between the two countries have been dismal, to say the least.

Then there might well be another reason why some might find it advantageous to allow Syria to become the new killing fields of the region, and that is because the conflict is attracting scores of jihadist fighters from Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. And rather than have them stay in their respective countries where some could become potentially dangerous, why not draw them out and have them come to Syria where they will get bogged down in a long conflict.


Just as the war in Iraq attracted hundreds of jihadis who went to fight the Americans, ironically, this time the jihadis find themselves on the same side as the United States and its allies supporting the anti-government rebels.

By Claude Salhani

Claude Salhani, a specialist in conflict resolution, is an independent journalist, political analyst and author of several books on the region. His latest book, 'Islam Without a Veil,' is published by Potomac Books. He tweets @claudesalhani.

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