From 2003 to 2008, when the Bush White House was working hard to encircle and isolate Syria, with a definite view to overthrowing the Asad regime, Damascus’s strengthening tie to NATO member Turkey provided what regime insiders have described as “almost literally, a lifeline for us.”
Today, Syria’s relationship with Turkey has matured even further. At the official level, Syria now has a “no-visa” open border with Turkey, and just last week Turkey’s large, state-backed company Turk Telekom announced a massive deal to install a 2,500-kilometer, state-of the-art fiber-optic network in Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia that will link those three countries through Turkey to European networks.
At the popular level, Syrians have really appreciated the opportunity to travel freely throughout Turkey, and to trade with it. (Along the way, they even somehow forgot their country’s longtime claim to the lovely seaside province of Alexandretta, which is now Turkey’s province of Hatay.) Many Syrian citizens see their ties to Turkey as providing a valuable counterbalance to their government’s much older ties to Iran. They see Turkey as providing a much more attractive example than Iran for how a traditional Middle Eastern country can successfully modernize.
The Turkish government’s growing activism on the Palestinian cause, and in particular on Gaza, has been more recent icing on the Syrian-Turkish cake.