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Author's Note: The following is an excerpt from an upcoming article entitled Intervention in Syria: What Could Happen? in which the interests of several major countries are examined in relation to the ongoing crisis in Syria.

There are several major players in the Syrian crisis on both the regional and international scene, each with its own interests and objectives concerning Syria in the geo-political, military, and economic realms. While many of these actors are allied with one another, be it military pact or an alliance of convenience, it does not mean that their interests are the same and as such one must examine the interests of each actor on an individual level.

The United States

The United States has its concerns with Syria that are primarily linked to Iran and terrorist organizations. In April 2010, the US government acknowledged that Syria “continue[d] to support Hamas and Hezbollah” and had financial relations with Iran as Iranian companies “invested in concrete production, power generation, and urban transportation.” [1] At that time, such involvement with Iran was viewed as a problem for US interests due to their being the possibility of an Israeli strike on Iran. [2] The Syrian-Iranian alliance would potentially prove a problem for the US and Israel if a strike had occurred as it could have allowed the Iranians to wage an effective retaliation on Israel, thus harming America’s interests by damaging a main regional ally. Today, the unease concerning the Syria-Iran alliance remains.

As of the recent civil war in Syria, the US seems to be hoping for the ousting of the Assad regime, stating that rebels were found victorious in the civil war, “a more democratic Syria may seek to broaden its relationships with Western democracies and could choose to reduce its dependence on its current alliance with Iran.” [3] Yet, while the US may want a rebel victory, they are worried about infiltration of the Syrian opposition by terrorist groups, namely Al Qaeda.

The Americans have been worried about the Syrian opposition being infiltrated for quite some time, with US officials stating this year that “the violence and disorder paralyzing Syria appears to be creating opportunities for Al Qaeda operatives or other violent Islamist extremists to infiltrate the country and conduct or plan attacks” and that “Sunni extremists have infiltrated Syrian opposition groups, which may be unaware of the infiltration.” [4] Yet, this infiltration of Sunni extremists becomes rather interesting when one acknowledges that the US knows Al Qaeda is in the Syrian opposition and that the US is supporting the opposition. Al Qaeda’s presence in the Syrian rebel groups was acknowledged in February by Director of Intelligence James R. Clapper when he said that “Members of al-Qaeda have infiltrated Syrian opposition groups, and likely executed recent bombings in the nation’s capital and largest city.” [5] Most recently, it was reported that the CIA was giving arms to the Syrian rebels. [6] Thus, not only is the US aiding to arm elements of Al Qaeda, but also the US and Al Qaeda are (however indirectly) working together to dismantle the Assad regime. What peculiar bedfellows this situation is making!

The final interest that the US has in the Syrian crisis is taking out a major Iranian ally. As was stated earlier, a Syrian-Iranian alliance deeply troubles the US and taking Syria out of the picture would aid America in its quest to isolate Iran on a regional level. If the Assad regime were to fall, it would “cut off Iran’s access to its proxies (Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza) and visibly dent its domestic and international prestige, possibly forcing a hemorrhaging regime in Tehran to suspend its nuclear policies.” [7] Furthermore, with the Assads gone, it would result in Iran having no Middle East ally and being fully isolated, which would make it easier to invade or attack, seeing as how regime change in Iran is not off the table either.


Regarding the Assad situation, Israel is in a rather unenviable situation of essentially having to choose between an enemy it does know or siding with an unknown group that may be even more hostile to Israel.

Israel may choose to deal with the Assad regime, but not due to any fondness for it. It should be acknowledged that “Syria fought Israel directly in October 1973 and via proxy in Lebanon between 1982 and 2000. Since 2000, Syria has continued to support Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.” [8] Yet, while Israel is no fan of the current government, they do realize that “the Assad regime will not attempt to repossess the Golan Heights by military force and will meet with Israeli leaders to negotiate for peace, which occurred in 1991, 1995-1996, 1999-2001, and 2008.” [9] Thus, while Assad may not be the friendliest neighbor, they are better than the alternative.

In addition to this, if a new regime is established that has more popular support than the current government (last checked, Assad had the support of 55% of the population [10]), it would allow for the Syrian government to position its military resources to external threats, namely the Jewish state. Thus, from an Israeli security standpoint it is better for the Syrian government to be tied up in suppressing rebels rather than potentially threatening Israel.

Just like the Americans, the situation regarding Iran is also at the front of the minds of the Israeli government, however it may not be for the reasons that one would assume. While governments and the media have been stating for years now that Iran is attempting to get nuclear weapons, in reality, Israeli (along with American and European) intelligence has acknowledged that “Tehran does not have a bomb, has not decided to build one, and is probably years away from having a deliverable nuclear warhead.” [11] (emphasis added) Thus, if Iran is “years away from having a deliverable nuclear warhead,” much less building a nuclear weapon, this leads one to wonder what the real reason is that Israel is so worried about Iran possibly attaining nuclear weapons? The real reason is that Israel is worried about losing its nuclear monopoly in the region and security risks that come with it.

Israel's real fear -- losing its nuclear monopoly and therefore the ability to use its conventional forces at will throughout the Middle East -- is the unacknowledged factor driving its decision-making toward the Islamic Republic. For Israeli leaders, the real threat from a nuclear-armed Iran is not the prospect of an insane Iranian leader launching an unprovoked nuclear attack on Israel that would lead to the annihilation of both countries. It's the fact that Iran doesn't even need to test a nuclear weapon to undermine Israeli military leverage in Lebanon and Syria. Just reaching the nuclear threshold could embolden Iranian leaders to call on their proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah, to attack Israel, knowing that their adversary would have to think hard before striking back. [12] (emphasis added)
Thus, Israel does see Iran as a threat but much more to its regional military hegemony than rather a threat to its very existence.

Finally, Israel both the current Assad regime and Iran come into play with Israel’s final regional interest, Hezbollah. Israel is worried that they may gain non-conventional weapons if the Assad regime fell. Most likely, Israel is concerned about Hezbollah coming into chemical and biological weapons as they are already rehearsing drills for if such a situation were to occur. [13] Such an occurrence would empower the terrorist group and by extension its financier, Iran, as well as become a potential security concern. The Israeli government realizes that “The outcome of the internal conflict in Syria will have a decisive impact on Hizbullah's strength and behavior, as well as on the political and security situation in Lebanon generally, and on Israel's relationship with Lebanon,” [14] and this are keeping a close eye on the situation in Lebanon and how what occurs in Syria affects their northern neighbor.


Russia’s concerns about Syria stem from its military and commercial interests in Syria as well as its worries about the radical Islamist elements in the Syrian opposition and protecting its own borders.

Putin is pushing against military intervention due to the fact that the Kremlin think that “allowing the United States to use force at will and without any external constraints might lead to foreign interventions close to Russian borders, or even within those borders—namely, in the North Caucasus.” [15] This possibility of intervention near Russia’s borders alarms the government as NATO has already been busy allying itself with many of the satellite states of the former Soviet Union in addition to the creation and implementation of the European missile shield. Russia may view such a possibility as an attempt to isolate and intimidate Russia.

Two other concerns of Russia are its commercial and military interests. In Syria, Russia maintains control of its naval base in Tartus, its only access to the Mediterranean Sea. However, If Russia were to lose this base, it would hurt doubly as not only would Russia lose Middle East projection power, but also access to much of the natural gas and oil that is in the Mediterranean [16] and the power that comes with controlling such resources. There are also commercial interests at stake as “Russia has long been Syria's primary military supplier and currently has about $4 billion worth of contracts for future arms deliveries to Damascus.” Having a client for military weaponry is important but beyond that, “Russian companies have made a number of investments in Syria. These projects are worth roughly $20 billion and include some from Russia's powerful energy sector, such as a natural gas production facility and pipeline.” [17] Thus, the loss of the Assad regime would not only hurt the defense sector, but would also harm the massive investments made in the Syrian energy sector.

Finally, Russia is deeply concerned with the extreme Islamist elements in the Syrian opposition. Russia backs Assad as they realize that “if the regime in Damascus falls, the whole ‘terrorist international’ that is now fighting against Bashar al-Assad will begin to fight elsewhere. It is quite possible that the fighting could spread to the Caucasus or Central Asia.” [18] Such a possibility worries the Kremlin as the rebels in the Chechnya region have many Islamic links, including having Al Qaeda fight alongside them. [19] In the mind of the Kremlin the Islamist threat is quite serious as it potentially threatens not only their rule but also the stability of the country.


Turkey, a close neighbor of Syria, also has many vested interests in seeing the fall of the Assad regime. The Turks view the situation through the lens of their economic and foreign policy interests as well as their domestic interests in relation to the Kurdish situation.

Turkey has viewed Syria quite some time as a stepping stone on its way to “become a political, economic and self-described ‘moral’ leader in the Middle East.” Economically, the Syrian crisis concerns Turkey, who has made major economic gains because of trade between the two nations. The Turkish government is concerned about

creating an environment that is conducive to the flowering of Turkish trade and the expansion of the Turkish economy. In that sense, one of Ankara’s main interests vis-à-vis Syria is to use the country as an outlet for Turkish exporters, particularly from the highly entrepreneurial regions bordering Syria, such as Gaziantep and Hatay. The statistics from the last few years demonstrate the success of this policy: Turkish exports to Syria skyrocketed from $266 million in 2002 to $1.6 billion in 2010. (emphasis added) [20]
On a regional scale, there is a battle between Iran and Turkey over influence in Syria. Turkey and Iran are both attempting to influence the Syrian regime for their own purposes. To Turkey, Syria would be “the proving ground for Turkey’s moderating effects on its neighbors and the place to showcase Turkey’s role as a kind of regional reform whisperer. Ties to Syria were seen as the cornerstone of a new regional order, one based on more open borders and the free flow of goods and people.” [21] Turkey needs to keep Syria in its sphere of influence if it is to establish a new regional order in which Turkey is the leader.

The Kurdish question also plays into Turkey’s concern about the situation in Syria. The Turkish leadership looks forward to the fall of the Assad regime as it would allow for “Kurdish rights [to] be recognised within ‘the unity of the Syrian state.’ Thus, Syria's Kurds would be prevented from gaining any form of autonomy, the PKK's branch in Syria - the Democratic Union Party (PYD) - would be undermined, and Turkey's own Kurdish separatist movement would not be further inflamed.” [22] Keeping the Kurds in line and pacification them is quite important to the Turkish government as the Kurds have demands that range from recognition of cultural rights to the creation of a Kurdish state that includes majority Kurd areas in Turkey. Thus, Turkey must attempt to play all sides in order to ensure that it comes out on top.


Iran is a steadfast ally of Assad and a longtime ally of Syria. Yet even close allies have their own reasons for supporting the current regime. While economic and military interests play a role, a unique factor in this relationship is that the leadership of both regimes are of the Shite sect of Islam in a region that is filled with those of the Sunni sect.

Just like Russia, Iran has major economic ties to Syria as can be seen by the fact that Syria gives Iran a place to invest money and a trading partner. “Iran has high-profile assets like auto factories, a cement plant, and an oil refinery in Syria, all of which rely on the stability of the Assad regime. Leaders in the two nations also share theological ties, as Shiite Muslims, and a mutual distaste for the West.” [23] This economic alliance is made all the more important with the international trade sanctions that have afflicted Iran’s economy for years.

Iran is also concerned about its aid to Hezbollah as such a blow would affect Iran itself. Syria has allowed Iran to “transform Hezbollah into a force that the Israeli military cannot defeat.” If the Assad government falls, Iran will find itself without a way to back Hezbollah and result in a “[decrease in] Iran's ability to deter Israel from attacking its nuclear facilities.” [24] Thus, Iran needs Syria as part of a larger strategy to deter Israeli aggression.


While far away in Asia, the Chinese government has extremely large investments in Syria and is backing the Assad government as a way to ensure the needed stability- and cash flow- continues unabated.

China has made major investments into Syria. In 2007 it was reported that the real figure of Chinese exports to Syria is around  $1.2 billion and that Syrian officials predicted it would double by 2011 [25], meaning that the Chinese government has about $2.4 billion in investments that are currently at stake.

In addition to that, the majority of China’s imports from Syria are oil and crude oil imports. Oil is something that China greatly needs if it is to continue fueling its massive economic growth and growing military power. While the US has the governments of most of the major oil producing nations under its influence, China has been looking outward, from Africa to Middle Eastern enemies of the West, in order to attain natural resources. While it may not seem like it, China, without a doubt, wants to ensure that its investments as well as the transfer of oil are protected whether regime change occurs or not.


1: Jeremy M. Sharp, Syria: Background and U.S. Relations, Congressional Research Service (April 26, 2010)

2: Ian Black, “Israel primed to attack a nuclear Iran,” Guardian [UK], November 28, 2010 (

3: Jeremy M. Sharp, Syria: Issues for the 112th Congress and Background on U.S. Sanctions, Congressional Research Service (April 28, 2011)

4: Christopher M. Blanchard, Jeremy M. Sharp, Syria: Unrest and U.S. Policy, Congressional Research Service (May 24, 2012)

5: Greg Miller, “Al-Qaeda infiltrating Syrian opposition, U.S. officials say,” Washington Post, February 16, 2012 (

6: Eric Schmitt, “C.I.A. Said to Aid in Steering Arms to Syrian Opposition,” New York Times, June 21, 2012 (

7: Efraim Halevy, “Iran’s Achilles’ Heel,” New York Times, February 7, 2012 (

8: Giorgio Cafiero, “Syria: America versus Israel,” Asia Times, June 6, 2012 (

9: Asia Times, June 6, 2012

10: Jonathan Steele, “Most Syrians back President Assad, but you'd never know from western media,” Guardian [UK], January 17, 2012 (

11: Mark Hosenball, Tabassum Zakaria, “Special Report: Intel shows Iran nuclear threat not imminent,” Reuters, March 23, 2012 (

12: James P. Rubin, “The Real Reason to Intervene in Syria,” Foreign Policy, June 4, 2012 (

13: Yaakov Katz, “IDF tests siren for rogue non-conventional missiles,” Jerusalem Post, July 3, 2012 (

14: Jadaliyya, The Israeli Position Towards Events In Syria, (February 11, 2012)

15: Dmitri Trenin, “Syria: A Russian Perspective,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, June 28, 2012 (

16: F. William Engdahl, “New Mediterranean oil and gas bonanza,” Russia Today, February 26, 2012 (

17: James O’Toole, “Billions at stake as Russia backs Syria,” CNN Money, February 10, 2012 (

18: Alexey Pilko, “The Syrian crisis and Russia's interests,” The Voice of Russia, June 22, 2012 (

19: Scott Peterson, “Al Qaeda among the Chechens,” Christian Science Monitor, September 7, 2004 (

20: Yigal Schlefier, “From Endearment to Estrangement: Turkey’s Interests and Concerns in Syria,” United States Institute of Peace, October 25, 2011 (

21: United States Institute of Peace, October 25, 2011

22: Maria Fantanpple, “Turkey eyes Syrian crisis through lens of Kurdish stability,” The National, March 23, 2012 (

23: Jessica Rettig, “Iran Has Much to Lose if Syria's Assad Falls,” US News, September 2, 2011 (

24: Asia Times, June 6, 2012

25: Executive, Syria - China - trade partners, (September 2007)

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Comment Preferences

  •  Looks like the Syrian people are just pawns (7+ / 0-)

    in another incarnation/chapter of the "Great Game".

    The real winners will be the MIC and the multinational corporations. Same old, same old....

    •  that's right. The Syrians aren't real people (4+ / 0-)

      they're just pawns.  All these uprisings are just chess moves--the people involved had nothing to do with them.  Since they don't have free will or anything.  They're actually on strings--can you see them?

      •  The point is that (5+ / 0-)

        the will of the Syrian people have been usurped by external players, not that they don't have agency themselves.

        Interesting news in the Arabic press today - and it's all over the Arabic facebook I've seen - showing that the National Coordination Group for Democratic Change Youth (NDC, not too sure of the official English translation) has decided to split from the Free Syrian Army. In the statement by the NCB, they reaffirm that only they have the right to determine the future of Syria rather than anyone else and that sectarianism is not the way forward. They specifically say that the FSA's militarization does not serve the revolution and they reject it.

        Here's hoping Syrians can take back control of the direction of their country and rid themselves of both the armed opposition supported by external actors for their own ends and the regime that suppresses their rights and freedoms.

  •  There is a lot of string pulling going on in Syria (6+ / 0-)

    since 2005.

    The Redirection
    by Seymour M. Hersh March 5, 2007

    To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has coöperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.
    The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, a branch of a radical Sunni movement founded in Egypt in 1928, engaged in more than a decade of violent opposition to the regime of Hafez Assad, Bashir’s father. In 1982, the Brotherhood took control of the city of Hama; Assad bombarded the city for a week, killing between six thousand and twenty thousand people. Membership in the Brotherhood is punishable by death in Syria. The Brotherhood is also an avowed enemy of the U.S. and of Israel. Nevertheless, Jumblatt said, “We told Cheney that the basic link between Iran and Lebanon is Syria—and to weaken Iran you need to open the door to effective Syrian opposition.”
    Nasrallah said he believed that America also wanted to bring about the partition of Lebanon and of Syria. In Syria, he said, the result would be to push the country “into chaos and internal battles like in Iraq.”
    There is evidence that the Administration’s redirection strategy has already benefitted the Brotherhood. The Syrian National Salvation Front is a coalition of opposition groups whose principal members are a faction led by Abdul Halim Khaddam, a former Syrian Vice-President who defected in 2005, and the Brotherhood. A former high-ranking C.I.A. officer told me, “The Americans have provided both political and financial support. The Saudis are taking the lead with financial support, but there is American involvement.” He said that Khaddam, who now lives in Paris, was getting money from Saudi Arabia, with the knowledge of the White House. (In 2005, a delegation of the Front’s members met with officials from the National Security Council, according to press reports.) A former White House official told me that the Saudis had provided members of the Front with travel documents.

  •  You put an awful lot of faith in one old poll. (0+ / 0-)

    Polling in a totalitarian dictatorship is always unreliable.  Polling in a totalitarian dictatorship that is also a war zone, doubly so.  Six-month-old polling in a totalitarian dictatorship that is also a war zone, even more so.

    There has been a whole lot of water under the bridge since January, a whole lot of Syrians who've had a chance to be reminded of how Assads deal with domestic opposition.

    Art is the handmaid of human good.

    by joe from Lowell on Sun Jul 08, 2012 at 05:09:32 PM PDT

  •  Had a quick read (6+ / 0-)

    and I will return for a deeper look later but I would just mention that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Countries have interests here too - part of which results from this manufactured sectarian fears about Shiites. The west is explicitly taking sides on the Sunni side of this split. The Gulf countries are attempting to use the revolutions in the Arab world for their own purposes. I've been waiting for opposition to grow in these countries, particularly Saudi Arabia and there appears to have been quite a large one in  Qatif yesterday.

    Thanks for this article.

  •  Annan back in Damascus (4+ / 0-)

    Mr Annan acknowledged on Saturday in comments to Le Monde newspaper that his peace plan has failed to stop the fighting.

    Mr Assad says the Annan peace plan is being hindered by countries including Turkey and Saudi Arabia who are providing support for 'terrorists'.

  •  You left out the Arab countries, the UN, (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    koNko, exlrrp, chipmo, Claudius Bombarnac

    the CIA, the Syrian rebel factions, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Syrian government defectors, and the places they are defecting from. Also evidence about which of these players are lying about what.

    We are seeing defectors from the military but not from the security services, for example. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are arming the rebels, allegedly with CIA assistance. Democrats, including Progressives, in the US are reportedly divided about intervention in Syria, while many Republicans are quite hawkish.

    Here are a few more links on some of these topics.

    C.I.A. Helping Arm Syrian Rebels

    Obama will not arm Syrian rebels; Romney sees a 'lack of leadership'

    Syrian rebels get influx of arms with gulf neighbors’ money, U.S. coordination

    Despite administration hopes that the Sunni-led Syrian National Congress would become an umbrella organization, it has failed to win support from minority Syrian Christians, Kurds, Druze and Assad’s Alawite sect. All have resisted what they say is the group’s domination by the Muslim Brotherhood.

    The Free Syrian Army, the opposition military force, has resisted direction from the fractured political opposition. Its troops, many of them Syrian army defectors, are said to operate in independent entities spread across Syria, leading the United States and others in the past to express caution about assisting them.

    Don’t arm Syria’s rebels
    Liberals arguing that the U.S. should give weapons to Syrian rebels underestimate Assad's power at home
    Syrian’s defection signals eroding support for Assad
    President Assad’s bigger military challenge is the swelling number of silent objectors — soldiers of all ranks lacking the means to flee, or the interest, but no longer cooperating with the government.
    Syria: WikiLeaks begins publishing 2.4 million emails as regime defections mount
    Syria’s economy is foundering, too, according to its recent statistics. Inflation has risen more than 32 per cent since last May, the trading volume of stocks fell 50 per cent in the past week, and tourism has dropped nearly 80 per cent in the first quarter of 2012.

    Hands off my ObamaCare[TM]

    by Mokurai on Sun Jul 08, 2012 at 10:37:03 PM PDT

    •  A majority of Security Services are Alawites (0+ / 0-)

      Most of whom can be expected to remain loyal to Assad until the end, given the fact they owe their livelihood and possibly survival to him.

      One likely outcome for Alawites is a reversal or fortune or worse, maybe the most likely outcome.

      What about my Daughter's future?

      by koNko on Mon Jul 09, 2012 at 03:37:00 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I would add this (4+ / 0-)

    Russia also has, paradoxically, a humanitarian concern due to the fact that historically, a large number of Syrian men emigrated to Russia to attend university and married Russian women, who then emigrated to Syria to live.

    Second, is the fact that both Russia and China reflexively resist foreign interventions and protect sovereignty on principle, primarily, in the case of China, because of the history foreign military intervention, forced treaties and colonization in the past 2 centuries.

    Any country with significant investments in another facing a protracted civil war would logically seek resolution of hostilities as the most likely way to protect investments and seek to align themselves on both sides of the street, if possible, and if not, with the party most likely to prevail - if we are going to argue economic self-interest as the primary motivator.

    Lastly, I'd stress a bundle of problems with the situation in Syria all of these countries seem to be struggling with: the fragmentation of the Syrian resistance, the lack of a clear popular leader and the serious ethnic/religious divisions that suggest the situation could spin out of control when (and I do think when) Assad passes from the scene.

    What about my Daughter's future?

    by koNko on Mon Jul 09, 2012 at 03:28:32 AM PDT

  •  There will be hell to pay for NATO's Holy War (2+ / 0-)
    By Pepe Escobar

    US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is running out of rhetorical ammunition in the US's Holy War against Syria. Perhaps it's the strain of launching a NATO war bypassing the UN Security Council. Perhaps it's the strain of being eaten for breakfast routinely by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

    Hillary has just called on "Western powers" and their Arab stooges - the NATOGCC compound [1] that passes for the "international community" - to "make it clear that Russia and China will pay a price because they are holding up progress" regarding weaponized regime change in Syria.

    In non-newspeak, this means, "If you block our new war, there will be payback".
    Car bombing tourism, anyone?
    It's useful to examine what price Washington itself, not to mention its NATO subjects, could be paying for this Holy War branch-out fought with - who else - the same bunch of "terrorists" who until yesterday were about to destroy Western civilization and turn it into a giant Caliphate.
    The SNC - and the FSA - could not be more un-representative. The "Friends of Syria" - as in Hillary and the Arab stooges - barely acknowledge the existence of the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change (NCB), the main indigenous opposition movement in Syria, composed of 13 political parties, mostly from the Left, Arab nationalists and including one Kurdish party. The NCB firmly denounces any form of militarization and totally dismisses the FSA.

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