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Could Protests in Turkey Hurt U.S. Effort to Arm Syrian Rebels? Could Protests in Turkey Hurt U.S. Effort to Arm Syrian Rebels?

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Could Protests in Turkey Hurt U.S. Effort to Arm Syrian Rebels?

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Hundreds of police in riot gear forced through barricades in Istanbul's central Taksim Square early Tuesday, pushing many of the protesters who had occupied the square for more than a week into a nearby park.(AP Photo/Kostas Tsironis)

Now that the U.S. is moving toward arming the Syrian rebels, American allies in the region will play an increasingly important role in the coming months. But some of those countries have their own security issues that could hamper that effort.

Turkey is currently dealing with violent protests in Istanbul that have grabbed international attention and disrupted daily life, while Jordan continues to face a burgeoning number of refugees from Syria. Both of those conflicts could present roadblocks to U.S. plans.

 

After weeks of violent protests in Istanbul, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his government would halt redevelopment plans opposed by anti-government protesters, hoping that the demonstrations that have claimed five lives will calm down. Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said these protests are not likely to harm the Turkish effort in Syria.

"Clearly the stuff that's happening in Turkey is taking up a lot of time and attention of the government there, but at the same time, the Syria situation is a high priority for them," he said.

During the protests, Turkey continued to host meetings between Western countries and leaders of the rebel Free Syria Army. And though the Erdogan administration had to mobilize its military to combat the violent protests, Badran said that any Turkish effort in Syria would primarily be providing logistics and intelligence information to rebels across the border.

 

The Turks have also been able to secure several border crossings for Saudi and French weaponry to cross into Syria.

Although the White House has yet to confirm reports, the U.S. is also expected to heavily rely on Jordan as the base for any military training and equipping of rebel fighters. Additionally, if there is to be a limited no-fly zone, the U.S. would base operations in Jordan.

Western leaders, though, have concerns that King Abdullah II of Jordan is at risk of political upheaval because of refugee camps that have swollen to hundreds of thousands of people.

The primary thing to watch out for in the coming weeks is the backlash that these two countries will face—either from Iran or  Hesbollah—for helping the U.S. provide weapons to Syrian rebels. Already, cross-border shelling and car-bombings have caused significant damage in the region. But despite the political and military backing from the U.S., Jordan and Turkey are at risk for more attacks on their borders.

 
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