Syria

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Syria's civil war and the rise of the terrorist group known as the Islamic State has contributed to an unprecedented global refugee crisis, with millions of Syrians displaced internally or seeking refuge elsewhere. RAND's work has analyzed military options for the United States in Syria, strategies for defeating the Islamic State, and pathways to restoring peace.

  • Workers in a textile factory in Igdir, Turkey, May 20, 2017

    Research Brief

    Win-Win Solutions for Syrian Refugees—and Their Hosts

    Dec 13, 2018

    Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan have generously received the majority of Syrian refugees. Many are working, but their sheer numbers have strained local labor markets, public services, and social harmony. Which policies might help create new economic opportunities for both the refugees and host-nation workers?

  • A soldier stands guard near a poster of Syria's President Bashar al Assad and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Rastan, Syria, June 6, 2018

    Commentary

    Confusion Over the U.S. Withdrawal from Syria

    Jan 9, 2019

    Washington's strategy in Syria has been to impose costs on the Syrian government by diplomatic ostracism and economic sanctions. This punitive approach is morally satisfying and politically expedient, but as a practical matter it just helps perpetuate the conflict and sustain Assad's dependency on Iran.

Explore Syria

  • Loading cargo onto a container ship in Istanbul, Turkey, photo by Czgur/Getty Images

    Report

    Potential Benefits of Economic Integration in the Levant

    A comprehensive free trade agreement among six of the core Levant nations—Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey—could increase their average gross domestic product by 3 to 7 percent. It could also reduce regional unemployment rates by 8 to 18 percent.

    Sep 16, 2019

  • An Israeli soldier stands guard under an Israeli national flag in the Jordan Valley near the Jewish settlement of Maale Efrayim, January 2, 2014, photo by Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

    Commentary

    Israel’s War with Iran May Be Going Too Far

    Israel has a right to defend itself from Iranian threats to its country. American leaders should consider balancing support for Israel's efforts to counter Iran with firm redlines about activities negatively impacting American interests.

    Sep 16, 2019

  • A member of Iran's Revolutionary guards sits in front of a picture of a soldier at a war exhibition to commemorate the anniversary of Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), in southern Tehran, September 26, 2007, photo by Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters

    Commentary

    Syria Changed the Iranian Way of War

    To get a sense of the playbook that Tehran might consult in any future conflict with the United States, Washington should pay close attention to what the Iranians have learned in Syria.

    Aug 16, 2019

  • News Release

    Follow the Money: How the United States Can Counteract the Islamic State's Plans for a Comeback

    With the end of its territorial caliphate, the Islamic State will almost certainly attempt a comeback. Such efforts will require money. A new RAND report examines the group as an insurgency and a self-styled caliphate, with a focus on how the group managed its finances, drawing from the literature, the group's documents, and interviews with individuals who lived under the caliphate.

    Aug 8, 2019

  • Armed fighters over a background of Syrian, Iraqi, and U.S. currencies and gold ingots, photos by zabelin, Cimmerian, Vitoria Holdings LLC, and johan10/Getty Images

    Report

    U.S. Efforts Are Essential to Counter an Islamic State Comeback

    The Islamic State can no longer rely on local funding sources as it did when it controlled territory. But as an insurgency, its expenses are far lower. With revenue from criminal activities and the cash it hoarded, the group will survive as a clandestine terrorist movement. Counterfinance, intelligence, and possibly military action will be needed.

    Aug 8, 2019

  • A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces escorts a blindfolded civilian detainee suspected to be a member of Islamic State militants in Raqqa, October 12, 2017, photo by Issam Abdallah/Reuters

    Journal Article

    Options for Dealing with ISIS Foreign Fighters Detained in Syria

    The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are holding thousands of fighters who had joined ISIS's ranks from abroad as well as members of their families. What the world does (or does not do) about them could affect the future stability of the region and the countries from which they came.

    May 31, 2019

  • Damaged artifacts inside the museum of the historic city of Palmyra, Syria, March 27, 2016, photo by SANA/Reuters

    Commentary

    We're Just Beginning to Grasp the Toll of the Islamic State's Archaeological Looting in Syria

    During the Islamic State's rise, looted artifacts were said to be a significant source of income for the group. But no one had identified the value, using empirical data and systematic calculations, of the artifacts that were known to exist in Syria's archaeological sites. Until now.

    May 15, 2019

  • A Syrian refugee girl stands near luggage of Syrian refugees returning to Syria, in Beirut, Lebanon, December 6, 2018, photo by Jamal Saidi/Reuters

    Commentary

    Syrian Refugees Won't Be Going Home Any Time Soon

    Active fighting in Syria is dwindling. But Syria remains divided in a frozen conflict and empty peace, unstable and unlikely to attract the investment in reconstruction, public institutions, job creation, and local reconciliation efforts needed to motivate Syrians in large numbers to return home.

    Apr 19, 2019

  • Children walk as they hold stacks of bread at al-Hol displacement camp in Hasaka governorate, Syria, April 2, 2019, photo by Ali Hashisho/Reuters

    Commentary

    When Are Economic Sanctions Worthwhile?

    For American policymakers, economic sanctions are too often the soft choice between doing nothing and taking effective but risky or expensive action. Yet, before they inflict years, perhaps decades of impoverishment and worse on entire populations, they should ask if their efforts are likely to succeed and are worth punishing an entire people to do so.

    Apr 15, 2019

  • Men work on a damaged building in the northwestern province of Idlib, Syria, December 27, 2014, photo by Mahmoud Hebbo/Reuters

    Commentary

    The Syrian Civil War Is Coming to an End

    Coalition forces have driven ISIS from its final patch of territory in Syria. But the bigger challenge will be ending the ongoing civil war and rebuilding Syria to bring home millions of refugees and internally displaced people. This means creating a state that can provide safety, security, and opportunity that forestalls further rebellion and devastation.

    Apr 8, 2019

  • A Syrian refugee man works at a bakery in Gaziantep, Turkey, May 16, 2016, photo by Umit Bektas/Reuters

    Commentary

    Economic Burden or Opportunity? How Syrian Refugees Can Contribute to Local Economies

    The influx of refugees escaping the war in Syria has placed an enormous economic burden on the countries that host them. Despite the challenges, host countries have an opportunity to capitalize on the presence of refugees to grow their own economies for the mutual benefit of all.

    Mar 25, 2019

  • Syrian refugee metal shop trainees work at one of the vocational training centres near Al Azraq city, Jordan, June 27, 2016

    Commentary

    Jobs Can Improve the Lives of Syrian Refugees and Their Host Communities

    Host governments, international development agencies, and donor countries like the United States could take several steps to improve Syrian refugee employment. This would increase self-reliance among Syrian refugees and ease pressures on host communities.

    Mar 11, 2019

  • Um Akram, a Syrian refugee, creates soap under Jasmine, a project which hires and trains Syrian refugee women to create handicrafts, in Amman, Jordan, July 11, 2016

    Commentary

    As Refugees, Syrian Women Find Liberation in Working

    Syrian refugee women in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan want opportunities to work. But there are multiple barriers and challenges that limit them. Improving the chances of safe and dignified work opportunities for Syrian women in these countries could yield broad positive social benefits for both the refugee and host communities.

    Feb 19, 2019

  • UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen shakes hands with China's President Xi Jinping as King Harald of Norway looks on during a visit to China, October 16, 2018, photo by NTB Scanpix/Heiko Junge via Reuters

    Commentary

    The U.S. Withdrawal from Syria Is an Opportunity for China

    The U.S. withdrawal from Syria could allow Beijing to further assert its role as a key international partner in Syria and, by extension, further its interests in the Middle East. The extent of Sino-Syrian cooperation remains ambiguous but it has reportedly deepened, with China supplying intelligence personnel, strategic advisors, and special forces.

    Feb 15, 2019

  • Workers in a textile factory in Turkey

    Commentary

    Syrian Skills: A Missed Opportunity

    Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon are finding ways to get by. But many refugees are not able to fully use their skills, and that is a lost opportunity both for the Syrians and the host countries.

    Feb 14, 2019

  • Syrian residents watch as U.S. troops patrol near Turkish border in Hasakah, Syria, November 4, 2018

    Commentary

    Intelligence Losses Pose Large Risks as U.S. Troops Head Home

    Departing theaters such as Syria and Afghanistan carries a host of associated risks, challenges and potential benefits. Leaders would be well served to factor into the debate the importance of U.S. intelligence collection capabilities, its connection to U.S. presence overseas and its role in anticipating current and future threats.

    Jan 24, 2019

  • News Release

    Middle Eastern Communities Can Resist Sectarianism

    Middle Eastern communities are generally resilient to the worst sectarian impulses and even communities that experience sectarian strife can recover from it. Indeed, at least at the local level, communities can resist the slide toward sectarianism and promote resilience and cross-sectarian cooperation.

    Jan 14, 2019

  • Beirut Madinati candidates and activists after announcing their list of candidates for the municipality elections in Beirut, Lebanon, April 22, 2016

    Report

    Countering Sectarianism in the Middle East

    Scholars and policymakers have sought to understand what drives sectarianism in the Middle East and its relationship to multiple conflicts. Far less attention has been focused on how communities inoculate themselves from sectarianism or recover from it.

    Jan 14, 2019

  • Beirut Madinati candidates and delegates cheer

    Research Brief

    Middle Eastern Communities Can Resist Sectarianism

    Sectarian violence in the Middle East has been destructive, but it is still the exception rather than the norm. Communities are generally resilient to the worst sectarian impulses. Lessons from Lebanon, Bahrain, Syria, and Iraq show that there are a range of actions that can curb sectarianism.

    Jan 14, 2019

  • Syrian Democratic Forces and U.S. troops are seen during a patrol near Turkish border in Hasakah, Syria, November 4, 2018

    Commentary

    America's Absence Could Be Syria's New Nightmare

    President Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria reverses his administration's recent policy of retaining them as long as Iranian troops stay. U.S. withdrawal would give Bashar al-Assad, Iran, and Russia freer rein to subdue opposition forces. And Assad could feel emboldened to act with greater impunity and brutality.

    Jan 10, 2019